Editor’s note: CNN media analyst Bill Carter covered the television industry for The New York Times for 25 years and has written four books on television, including The Late Shift and The War for Late Night. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.
I haven’t read all the books about former President Donald Trump; I can’t remember all the books about Donald Trump.
I know Bob Woodward has written three. So does Michael Wolff. Sean Spicer wrote one (or was it two?). “The Mooch” — that is, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s White House communications director so briefly — wrote one. So did Omarosa, for heaven’s sake. (That’s Omarosa Manigault Newman, for those unfamiliar with “The Apprentice.”)
Another one will be released this week: New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.” This adds to the already absolutely awful; In August 2020, the Times, citing an analysis by NPD BookScan, counted more than 1,200 “unique titles” about Trump since his first presidential campaign in 2016.
Of course, that number doesn’t even include the surge of books about the surreal post-2020 election period, which has put Trump-lit at the forefront of publishing over the past couple of years.
The strong sales of many of these books attest to the hunger among readers to hear all the fascinating details about a real-life character that is beyond the imagination of most fiction writers.
But even the highest levels of hunger can be satisfied, eventually. After seven or eight – or 12 – courses, you may start to feel a little bloated. With Trump’s books, it’s starting to feel like an endless Thanksgiving dinner, with more than enough for family, cousins, insiders. laws and the lonely old neighbor next door – every night.
Each book seems to contain a sufficient number of “bombshell revelations” to garner media attention, along with some combination of amusing, outrageous, or revolting personal facts (previously unreported, of course, and almost always discussed by the former president).
These may include Trump acknowledging that Covid-19 was a “deadly thing” while downplaying the coronavirus (Trump said he didn’t “want to create panic”); Trump staffers find documents flushed in his bathroom (which the former president called “another bogus story”); and Trump told then-Chief of Staff John Kelly that he wanted “his” generals to be like the ones who reported to Hitler (Trump responded by telling CNBC that Milley and the other generals were “very untalented people and once I realized that, I didn’t trust them, the real insiders of the system I relied on generals and admirals.”)
From early reviews, Haberman (full disclosure: his father, Clyde Haberman, was my colleague at the Times ) seems to supply all the usual “Confidence Man” ingredients, though no consensus has yet emerged in the “bombshell” category. Maybe he wanted to bomb drug labs in Mexico? Maybe he says he’s kept in touch with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? Maybe he was suspected of impersonating a journalist while he was president?
As for personal side dishes, there are apparently plenty: Beyond bathroom practices, Trump considered firing his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner via tweet; He called former German Chancellor Angela Merkel the b-word; He thought he could “sue” Congress; He mocked Kushner as an “effect.”
But perhaps because “Confidence Man” follows so many others, Haberman, a Pulitzer winner who has broken numerous stories about Trump and his circle, also chose to draw from his own experience, emphasizing the augury of Trump’s tabloid-saturated nature. years in New York City and how they shaped the chaotic presidency he imposed on the country.
Of course, like many other Trump chroniclers, Haberman has come under fire on social media for the sin of “withholding” information that could have influenced events if it had been disclosed earlier. Starting with the legendary Woodward, these authors have consistently faced this criticism. (Okay, maybe not Omarosa).
It’s completely understandable if people get upset that journalists deliberately sit on major news stories to improve book sales later. This seems to go against the first principle of journalism: get the news out.
The other side of this argument is that non-fiction books are inevitably accounts of past events. They are mostly about context and narrative. Having written books like this myself, I know the difference between breaking news and book news.
Is it different when it’s a national issue of dire consequence? It is obvious. The line can be more difficult to navigate.
Woodward has been in a precarious position his entire career. In the case of “Peril,” his latest Trump book (with Robert Costa), the biggest outcry came with the book’s revelation that Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley had called the Chinese to assure them that Trump would not be rogue and that the US would not. make a surprise attack. Also, many of Trump’s allies, including Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon and Jason Miller, gathered in a “war room” at the Willard Hotel the night before the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
How could all this be done for a book rather than reported as soon as it was known? It was clearly big news, though the writers said they didn’t find out many of those details until after Trump left office.
In theory, it could affect Trump’s future attempt at the White House.
But that information is out there now, ahead of the 2024 election.
That doesn’t absolve the journalists, but it’s worth asking: can this information – or any of the news in these books – really change people’s opinion of Trump? Another defining aspect of the collected works on Trump is that almost nothing in any of them contains “bombshells” or details about his character that have significantly changed public opinion. That may be because Trump acolytes don’t tend to read critical accounts of him, and opponents won’t read hagiographies.
Given the world’s exposure to Trump in recent years, it seems inconceivable that any further “revelations” of any size could change their perception of him.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be added to the album, or that “Confidence Man” isn’t worthy. What has been revealed in most of these books about Trump remains historically mind-blowing, and best of all, the result of extraordinary work by extraordinary journalists.
Another thing is always included in the ritual service of a Trump book: a pro forma statement of denial from his camp that a little of what is in them is true. “Fake news!” – or some version of it – is the claim.
Here’s why the sheer volume of this work is invaluable: After hundreds and hundreds of books, is there anything about Trump that can be considered unbelievable?