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“He’s a different kind of idiot”: Michael Wolff talks Trump at Con Hall

Fire and Fury author speaks about journalism in the age of Donald Trump

“He’s a different kind of idiot”: Michael Wolff talks Trump at Con Hall

Michael Wolff, a journalist and author of the bestselling book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, spoke at U of T’s Convocation Hall on March 7 about the state of American politics and journalism.

The event was hosted by the School of Public Policy and Governance (SPPG), and it featured a talk with SPPG Director Peter Loewen, followed by a panel discussion with Althia Raj, Ottawa Bureau Chief of HuffingtonPost Canada, and Joseph Heath, professor of philosophy, public policy, and ethics at U of T.

Wolff said that he pitched the idea of writing a story on the first 100 days of the presidency to Steve Bannon, the President’s former Chief Strategist. “I said to Trump, ‘I’d like to come into the White House as an observer,’ and Trump thought I was asking for a job — deputy assistant observer,” said Wolff. “Almost from the beginning, I was looking forward to the ending.”

With the departures of many senior staff members, such as Bannon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Wolff decided to write on the “first act” of the Trump White House.

Wolff said that his philosophy going into the White House was not to ask questions and to keep a low profile. Eventually, he said, he gained the trust of political staffers and became a “black hole where people just began to narrate their experience.”

Wolff claimed that Sam Nunberg, a former aide on Trump’s presidential campaign, said Trump was “an idiot.” Wolff added that “he’s a different kind of idiot because he’s the President of the United States.”

Wolff compared many of Trump’s actions to his time on reality television. “The nature of reality television is conflict. You have to manufacture and produce and sustain conflict in every show… Essentially, that’s the way he’s run this presidency. Every tweet is designed to produce conflict.”

In the end, Wolff believes that Trump’s presidency will not survive. “I think it’s a failed presidency,” said Wolff, adding that his book was designed to open the discussion about the nature of Trump’s failure in the White House. “I asked [Trump], ‘What’s your goal here?’ He said, in a very straightforward way, ‘To be the most famous man on Earth.’”

Following Wolff’s talk, the event moved into a short panel discussion that focused on modern political journalism. Raj made the case that reporters need to be increasingly focused on fact-checking in an era when readers consume news very quickly on digital platforms and increasingly demand well-researched stories.

Wolff refocused the discussion on Trump, asking, “How do you report on this guy? He runs contrary — if you’re a political journalist — to everything you believe about being a political journalist.”

When Raj asked Wolff about scenes in his book that were allegedly recreated, he said that many parts were either something he witnessed or something a trusted source observed. The problem, Wolff said, was that his sources have remained anonymous.

School of Public Policy and Governance pulls ads from Breitbart News

Facebook ads unintentionally placed on Breitbart, SPPG director explains

School of Public Policy and Governance pulls ads from Breitbart News

U of T’s School of Public Policy and Governance (SPPG) has pulled digital advertisements for a lecture on government use of digital resources from Breitbart News following criticism from advocacy groups. The SPPG says that the advertisements appeared on Breitbart as a result of affiliate advertising through Facebook.

Web sites like Breitbart News are able to show ads connected to Facebook. When an advertiser purchases an ad on Facebook, an algorithm is used to determine who would be best suited to see the ad.

“So it’s not that we went to Breitbart and said we want you to show our ad; we went to Facebook and said, ‘We want you to advertise this event to interested people who are engaged in public policy in Toronto,’ and then Facebook determined that Breitbart was one site where eyeballs would meet those criteria,” said SPPG Director Peter Loewen.

Advertisers can choose which affiliate web sites they would like their advertisements to appear on with Facebook. According to Loewen, when SPPG learned that advertisements for their lecture were showing up on Breitbart, they made the decision to pull their ads from the web site.

“If somebody who’s a Breitbart reader wants to come to one of our events, of course they’re more than welcome,” said Loewen. “I personally don’t love the way Breitbart engages in public debate; I think it’s sensational and inflammatory often…So we’d rather not be advertising on their site for that reason.”

The lecture, titled “Citizens, Surveillance, and the Public Good,” is set to take place on November 16 at the Isabel Bader Theatre and will feature David Eaves, a technology expert and lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“The real takeaway here is that when you advertise to Facebook, you advertise through its affiliate network, which is a really smart way of advertising because it really casts the net widely — it can show up on sites you may not like, right? In this case it was brought to our attention. We took the steps necessary to make sure those affiliate ads don’t show up on Breitbart,” said Loewen.