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It takes a rogue like Wolff to write about Trump

It takes a rogue like Wolff to write about Trump
A customer peruses a copy of "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff at a Chicago bookstore on Jan. 5. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. In a word, here’s something you should know about the week ahead for Los Angeles: RAIN. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

By now, dutiful consumers of the news — surely a category into which those who sign up for this newsletter fall — have read and marveled at the excerpts from Michael Wolff’s explosive new book about the flailing first months of Donald Trump’s presidency, “Fire and Fury.” The remarkable ability of Trump’s advisors to be both syncopathic and derisive of their boss, the cheeseburgers in bed at 6:30 p.m., the “postliterate” American president, and the “treasonous” (Steve Bannon’s word, not mine) Trump Tower meeting with Russians — most of us are already familiar with these scandalous vignettes.

But how much of this should we believe? Wolff, whose journalism produced the disturbing portrait of Trump’s White House, has been known for blurring the lines between gossip and hard fact, sometimes painting colorful re-creations of events he did not witness himself. In her first regular op-ed column, Virginia Heffernan says of course you should believe Wolff, because the stuff he writes is too good not to:

Among journalists, “Fire and Fury” has hydrated a handful of freeze-dried complaints about Wolff, a tireless panelist, devotee of the rich and snide opiner on media who is never not described as a “gadfly.” In a more serious key, Wolff has been faulted for making stuff up. Writing in the New Republic, Michelle Cottle argued in 2004 that “the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created — springing from Wolff’s imagination.” He has also been accused of flacking for [Rupert] Murdoch, although the Murdoch connection seems to have served him well in reporting “Fire and Fury.” A lion in winter, Murdoch is evidently bored by Trump’s idolatry of him, and now hardly conceals his contempt for his acolyte. My favorite line in the New York magazine excerpt is his. Here’s hoping it works without the obscenity: “‘What an idiot,’ said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.”

It’s clear that Wolff uses all manner of sleight of hand — tricks common to a more reckless period in 20th century magazine journalism — to generate operatic effects in “Fire and Fury.” The dialogue, for example, is suspiciously Netflix-ready, although Wolff claims to have reported all from what he told New York was his “semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing.” He conducted about 200 interviews with capricious flakes, and Wolff also has some skeletons in his sourcing closet that someone’s bound to drag out.

But who cares, really? Wolff’s dislikable. He plays by his own rules. Big surprise. No one likable or rule-bound would have been able to abide this unsavory crew — Murdoch, Bannon, Roger Ailes, or, for God’s sake, Trump — long enough to squeeze this much big, fat, soapy story out of them.

Wolff’s ace has always been his excitement about cartoonish power dynamics among insufferable old men. In the past, this excitement has been decidedly uninfectious. But this time Wolff’s subjects are not boresville “moguls” with interchangeable faces and net worths but the president of the United States and his psycho crew. And, because the world finds itself at their mercy, we’d do well to hear their fetid locker room talk interpreted by a writer who can stomach it.

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The Trump administration did something stupid this week, and it wasn’t in Michael Wolff’s book. The entire global infrastructure — public, business, everything — is moving steadily away from fossil fuels as an energy source, so the Trump administration … doubled down on oil? Indeed, writes Scott Martelle, the White House decision to open up nearly all of the federal outer continental shelf waters to oil drilling shows just how strong (or not) our billionaire president’s business acumen is. L.A. Times

Thinking of fleeing California? Don’t be a coward. In his first regular Times op-ed column, Gustavo Arellano bristles at the never-dead complaints that California is no longer friendly to the “comfortable-but-not-rich,” since it is the afflicted who have historically pushed the state toward greatness. And if you’re itching to leave California for the suburban plushness to be found in Texas, Arizona or Nevada, Arellano has this to say to you: “Let them leave — just makes more room for those of us who love California, and we’ll keep it as great as it ever was.” L.A. Times

There’s high demand for legal weed, but recent fires have affected the supply. Cannabis growers, who prepared over the last year for the Jan. 1 legalization of marijuana, are concentrated heavily in the two Northern California counties most devastated by massive fall wildfires. A few dozen marijuana farms burned in the fires, and since banks tend to resist dealing with businesses targeted by federal law enforcement, so did their cash. Pacific Standard

So much for closing tax loopholes. The recently enacted Republican tax bill creates one of the largest loopholes in history: a 20% rate on so-called pass-through income. The new rate, sold as a major financial boost to small businesses, actually benefits the owners of pass-through corporations (like President Trump) and may prompt workers to become independent contractors so they can take advantage of the lower rate, undermining the stability of retirement and health insurance plans, Lily Batchelder and David Kamin write in an op-ed. L.A Times

Think everyone was clamoring for the flood-prone L.A. River to be paved in the 1930s? Think again. Yes, as USC historian William Deverell writes, the river in its natural state presented a major hazard to the fledgling metropolis of the early 20th century. Still, as the records of contemporaneous interviews show, Angelenos whose families had lived off the land for generations coexisted decently enough with the untamed river; their lives would go on to be upended by the riverbed’s encasing. L.A. Times

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