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Comments: Week of January 22, 2018

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1. New York’s excerpt of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, on the chaotic first days of the Trump administration (“Sick of Winning,” January 8–21), quickly upended Washington — author Jared Yates Sexton called it “as must-read as must-read gets,” and The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote, “Some of what is described here is the moral equivalent of treason.” The revelations also quickly received pushback from the White House: The day it was published, the president released a statement saying, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” and he later tweeted that Wolff is “mentally deranged.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed it as “some trash [peddled by] an author that no one had ever heard of until today.” But the story, and the book, had an immediate impact: Bannon apologized for his incendiary comments and was ousted from his perch at Breitbart, while Axios reported that some White House staffers were “contemplating imminent departures.” Many of those who watch the West Wing closely vouched for Wolff’s work. Axios’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei called the book spot-on in its “portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.” And Maggie Haberman, who covers the administration for the Times, weighed in: “Even if some things are inaccurate/flat-out false, there’s enough notionally accurate that people have difficulty knocking it down.” On the Today show, Wolff defended his work, saying, “My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on Earth at this point.”


2. Reeves Wiedeman reported on the Rockefeller clan’s climate-change campaign against the company their family pioneered (“The Rockefellers vs. the Company That Made Them Rockefellers,” January 8–21). Huffington Post reporter Alexander Kaufman said the story “paints the most nuanced picture I’ve seen of the hyper-privileged, flawed heirs bequeathed the duty of trying to force reform at a company so powerful its last CEO is the secretary of state.” And Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, responded, “The timing of your recent piece on the Rockefellers and Exxon could not have been better. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s brave decision to divest the city’s pension funds from big oil, and to sue the biggest companies, including Exxon, shows how far the movement that the Rockefellers helped spur on has already come.” Deborah Gordon, director of the energy and climate program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, commented, “When the Rockefellers first made climate allegations against Exxon, I was dubious their strategy would be productive. But as the company begins to recognize climate change in its business plans, verifying the greenhouse gases emitted in company operations, supporting a well-designed carbon tax, and disclosing climate-related financial risks, I’m rethinking my skepticism. While ExxonMobil is not the only energy conglomerate that has covered up the facts or downplayed the risks of climate change over the past several decades, it is the world’s largest international oil and gas company. It could be a powerful force for reform.” David Sassoon, publisher of InsideClimate News, wrote to clarify the origin of the publication’s Exxon investigation, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: “I’m afraid readers of your piece will come away with the mistaken impression that our journalism is an extension of the Rockefeller family’s crusade against the oil giant. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund does indeed support our work, but more than 20 other funders support 90 percent of our budget. None have access to our editorial process. We set out to investigate what oil companies knew about climate change and when they knew it thanks to an illuminating conversation with Daniel Ellsberg. It was our reporting, not the Rockefellers, that eventually led us to Exxon.”

3. “A new set of concerns — a self-conscious moral duty in matters of identity, of inclusion and representation — had come to dominate discussions among creators, critics, and consumers alike,” Molly Fischer argued in her essay on pop culture in the age of identity politics (“The Great Awokening,” January 8–21). Helen Lewis at the New Statesman responded, “Too much criticism online feels like measuring artists and their work against a ticklist, before handing out a sticker that says ‘Congratulations on Being Deemed Not Problematic.’ ” The Guardian’s Laura Snapes tweeted, “This piece articulates every one of my anxieties/irritations about the current need for all pop culture to be perfectly woke,” and Laura Bennett of Slate added, “This is so good. It includes: the unforgettable coinage ‘awokening’ and also the smartest Master of None smackdown I’ve read.”


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