Michael Wolff Talks Trump's Reality TV-Like Approach to Presidency

Michael Wolff attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media 2017 - Getty-H 2017
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

“It is very hard to cover him in a way that doesn’t end up, whatever you say, working for him,” said the 'Fire and Fury' author and Hollywood Reporter columnist.

“We will shortly find ourselves in the mother of all constitutional crises,” predicted Fire and Fury author and Hollywood Reporter columnist Michael Wolff when he took to the stage at Cannes Lions to talk about the Trump White House.

Wolff also discussed how the Donald Trump presidency has changed the media business.

“It’s not news that we are watching, it’s some other thing — entertainment. And we’re all a captive audience.”

What that entertainment is is the latest season of The Apprentice, Wolff suggested. 

“The best way to look at it is through the reality TV show prism. What is reality TV? It is conflict, conflict, conflict. The more conflict a show has the more a show succeeds,” he said, noting that it doesn’t have to be real, it just has to drive the plot. "You just want to create conflict and say the opposite of what anyone might think, and that’s what he understands.”

Trump also treats employees like contestants, wanting them to be a flunky until he tires of them, and then he fires them in an embarrassing way. That has led to his not having a strong team around him now.

“This is a man in more legal peril than anyone on earth right now,” he said. “Not only does he not have anyone to protect him, but perhaps the most salient point is that he has no lawyers." Outside of Rudolph Giuliani, who is more politician and political hack than legal mind, "no reputable lawyers will work for him.” Wolff predicts Giuliani will be fired as well.

He cited the New York Times’ timeline of his attempt to fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller but said that that discounts the many other times Trump has said Mueller should be fired and was ignored by underlings.

“He does this constantly to virtually everyone, so the Times story wasn’t wrong but missed the fact that this is constant [behavior]," he said.

“It is very hard to cover him in a way that doesn’t end up, whatever you say, working for him,” he said, adding that D.C. political journalists keep searching for reason and what he called “cause and effect” of his actions and utterances, which doesn’t exist. “The moment is the moment, and nothing else exists. So as a political reporter, how do you write about that? When you continue to try to discern cause and effect, you actually help make Donald Trump sound rational.”

He predicted we will eventually have a Mike Pence presidency, and when that happens "the media will go into a deep depression.."

On the issue of migrant children, Wolff says Trump can change his mind as soon as it stops playing to the public and he feels the PR is making him look bad. “It is possible this will be reversed within minutes — nothing is fixed here and nothing is real here.”

Wolff compared it to the recent events surrounding North Korea — threatening military action one week, a best-buddy meeting the next. “What changed between those two paradigms? Literally, categorically, nothing," he said. "All it does is cancel the other thing out and nothing really happens.”

He also downplayed any possibility that he would be subpoenaed as there is nothing in his notes or tapes that has not been made public. “I think I’ve already flipped,” he joked. “I’m easy to find.”

Referring to the planned 10-episode TV adaptation of Fire and Fury, directed by Jay Roach, he added: “It’s the greatest story of our time — forget the fact that we may all die. It’s existential, it’s extraordinary, these are extraordinary characters. Donald Trump is truly larger than life.”