Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 34
Wolff at the Door
Long before he penned Fire and Fury, which offered an inside view
of the Trump White House, Michael Wolff '75 wrote for the Misc.
One Sunday morning in January, the two-year-old daughter of Michael Wolff '75
climbed into bed with him and pointed to a picture on his phone. "There's my
da-da," she said. But the image was actually of comedian Fred Armisen portraying
Wolff on Saturday Night Live the previous night. "I thought it was hilarious," Wolff
said in a phone interview around two weeks later. "That does look like me."
Already an award-winning writer, Wolff has now reached a new degree of fame.
In January, he published Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, containing page
after page of explosive details-some disputed-about President Donald Trump and
his administration. The book sold out fast and debuted at the top of bestseller lists.
Wolff largely thanks Trump for that success; the president's comments about Wolff
on Twitter and his threats of legal action seemed to generate even more publicity.
Long before he penned the controversial book, Wolff was writing for the
Miscellany News about Vassar scandals such as faculty tenure disputes. "The qualities
that you see in Michael today, you could already see more than 40 years ago," said
Jason Isaacson '74, who was the Misc's editor-in-chief when Wolff was a contributing
editor. Isaacson remembers the young Wolff as "opinionated, informed, aggressive,
curious about the world, eager to make his mark." Wolff and Isaacson have remained
in touch over the years.
Wolff said, "[Vassar] was enormously important to me, and many of the people
that I met at Vassar have remained friends-and formative friends-through
much of my career and life." As a student, he lived in Jewett and studied history
(though he recalls, "One did not do much studying"). At Vassar, he met a classmate
who would become his wife (they later separated),
and their son, Steven, class of 2014, would also attend
the college. Wolff's current companion is a member
of the Vassar class of 2003. Wolff transferred to
Columbia prior to graduation so that he could be
closer to his job as a copy boy at the New York Times,
but he says, "You can hardly get more Vassar than me."
After college and the Times, he eventually started an
Internet company and later chronicled the experience
in his 1999 book Burn Rate. He wrote for various
publications, including as a contributing editor at
Vanity Fair and a longtime columnist at New York
magazine, developing a reputation for his gossipy
accounts. He founded the
"news curator" website
Newser, and in 2008, he
published The Man Who
Owns the News, a controversial biography of media
mogul Rupert Murdoch.
He is now a contributing
editor at The Hollywood
But it wasn't until
January that he became
uber famous-or infamous,
depending who you ask. "I have written a lot of books,
and I have written a lot of words, so I'm sort of used
to that part of being a writer and of having people
respond," he said. "But I have never been at the center
of the vortex like I have been in the past few weeks."
It's easy to understand why Fire and Fury has
garnered such keen interest. It not only contains
dramatic claims, but it has had potentially historic
ramifications. After Wolff's books revealed comments
made by former White House Chief Strategist Steve
Bannon, Bannon stepped down from his role at
Breitbart News Network, candidates he had endorsed
for the 2018 elections distanced themselves, and
Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena for
him to testify in the Russia investigation. And Trump's
lawyer sent Wolff a cease-and-desist letter.
"One always hopes that when you write something
it will have an effect," Wolff said. "The truth is ... it
seldom really does." He views his book as part of "this
remarkable moment that we're living in of people ...
trying to figure out what all this means."
As for his critics-and he has more than a few-he
added, "I think people should lighten up."
-Max Kutner '11
Max Kutner '11 is a senior writer at Newsweek, where he covers
politics and other topics.
rolf Vennenbernd-picture-alliance-dpa-AP Images/ book courtesy Henry Holt & Co.