Here we go again: another juicy book about the White House, early leaks, a round of flat denials, shortly to be followed—in all likelihood—by a set of fevered interpretations and recriminations.
The book is Siege, by Michael Wolff. The Guardian obtained an early copy of the book, which is due out next week, and the first details suggest that it will provide fodder for days of news coverage and debate—following in the path of Wolff’s previous book, 2018’s Fire and Fury.
Yet it’s hard to imagine Siege achieving the same impact as its predecessor. In part that’s because Wolff didn’t have the same unfettered access to the White House this time, and in part that’s because of questions that were raised about his methods and results in Fire and Fury. But the bigger problem is the format. Tell-alls about Donald Trump’s administration feel increasingly obsolete. What more can we learn about a president who is already so heavily exposed?
Once upon a time, the tell-all would actually tell something new about a president. My colleague James Fallows’s 1979 Atlantic article on Jimmy Carter revealed the president’s strengths and shortcomings, including a tendency toward micromanagement that led him to personally approve requests to use the White House tennis courts. The former George W. Bush press secretary Scott McClellan’s 2008 What Happened offered just what its title promised—a full, inside account of the administration’s workings, especially in the run-up to the Iraq War. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates revealed the extent to which domestic political considerations weighed on Barack Obama’s foreign-policy decisions. Articles and books like these offered both new detail and new interpretation that could help the public understand leaders and perhaps change public opinion about them.