If Past “Tell-All” White House Novels Are a Guide, Fire and Fury Will Blow Over

You know about Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra, right?

“We were under strict instructions not to disturb,” an unnamed White House staffer said. “No matter what. When the First Lady was with Frank Sinatra, she was not to be disturbed. For anything. And that included a call from the President himself.”

All this comes from Kitty Kelley’s salacious 1991 tell-all “Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography,” which also detailed Ronald Reagan’s marijuana smoking at a dinner party when he was governor of California, as well as his penchant for cracking racist jokes and mocking AIDS victims. As for the Sinatra dirt, Nancy’s”do not disturb” instructions were apparently hard evidence that she and Ol’ Blue Eyes were engaged in a torrid affair that began about the same time that the Gipper was smoking pot in public without anyone noticing.

Needless to say, time has not been kind to Ms. Kelley’s squalid smears. Even contemporary reviewers noted that “she too frequently fails to bring perspective or analysis to the fruits of her reporting and at times lards her work with dollops of questionable inferences and innuendos.” (In other words, Nancy’s “private lunches” with Sinatra were obviously a pretense for sex.) The book has largely been forgotten in the intervening decades, and the Reagan legacy is untainted by Kelley’s obvious journalistic malice.

Fire and Fury could blow over just as Nancy Reagan’s unauthorized biography did

One wonders, then, what the verdict of history will be on “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s journalistic broadside against the Trump administration. It’s chock full of the kind of Kelley-esque innuendo that scandalized the White House nearly thirty years ago, and the author is facing similar challenges to his credibility. The primary difference seems to be in how the subject of the story is responding.

Back in 1991, Nancy Reagan said next to nothing about Kelley’s book beyond a statement that they were “uninterested” in it and wouldn’t be reading it. True, she had no Twitter account, but it seems unlikely that her response would have been any different if social media had existed in her day. Friends were somewhat indignant about Kelley’s work – one told the New York Times that the book was “scummy” – but the official response was largely silence.

Indeed, one of the reasons that Kitty Kelley’s caricature of the Reagans didn’t stick is that the public saw a huge chasm between the First Lady they knew and the silly shrew Kitty Kelley had invented. The dignity of her non-response enhanced her reputation and made it difficult for Kelley’s innuendo to get any traction.

Trump must stop keeping the story alive

Compare that to Trump’s unhinged Twitter rampage about “Fire and Fury,” which has him unloading on “Sloppy Steve” Bannon and insisting he is “like, really smart” and a “very stable genius.” If you’re trying to counter accusations that you’re stupid, childish, petulant, and unstable, it’s probably best to avoid public displays of stupidity, childishness, petulance, and instability.

It’s also important to note that Kitty Kelley had no hard evidence of Nancy Reagan’s infidelity – she left it to the reader to draw the sordid inferences themselves. In contrast, the accusations against Trump in “Fire and Fury” require no imagination – Trump’s tantrums continue to confirm the most damning accusations against him. Whether or not all of Michael Wolff’s book is accurate is almost beside the point. We can see with our own eyes that the basic narrative is true, whether or not Donald Trump ever had lunch with Frank Sinatra.

(Photo of Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona by Gage Skidmore)


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