On Thursday morning, the NBC publicity office sent out notice of an "NBC NEWS Exclusive." Michael Wolff, author of the new book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," would make his first promotional TV appearance Friday morning on NBC's "Today." Wolff would make his only Sunday show appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." Then Wolff would make his first cable TV appearance Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." And all that would be followed by Wolff appearances on various other MSNBC programs.
"Fire and Fury," of course, has already attracted a lot of attention for, among other revelations, its report that former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon accused the president's son of committing treason in the Trump-Russia affair. That's pretty big news in and of itself. But it was made exponentially bigger by a sledgehammer response from the president, saying Bannon has "lost his mind."
From there, publicity-wise, it was off to the races with nearly wall-to-wall cable TV talk. But then the president kicked the controversy into hyperdrive when his lawyers sent a letter to Wolff and publisher Henry Holt and Company demanding they "immediately cease and desist" any further dissemination of the book or its contents.
Wolff's book dominated the White House press briefing Thursday afternoon. And even news organizations that might want to devote more attention to policy — for example, with a fight approaching over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Trump met with key Republican senators to discuss immigration — those organizations could not ignore the Wolff book when the president himself was making long, angry statements about it and the president's lawyers were taking the highly unusual step of demanding the publisher not publish it.
"Fire and Fury," now sitting atop the Amazon best-seller chart, has become The Book The White House Doesn't Want You to See. What author or publicist could ask for more?
With its various revelations, the book would certainly make news on its own. But Donald Trump's personal attention has made it infinitely hotter. The president seems to want to make sure Wolff, Henry Holt, his former friends Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, and everyone at his old network NBC have the hottest property around.
"They should have the president on retainer for all the PR he's doing for them," said Ryan Williams, a former Republican spokesman now managing public affairs for the communications firm FP1 Strategies. "It's been a brilliantly laid-out book rollout with a big assist from the president of the United States. His over-the-top reaction will only drive attention that will result in more sales."
"That is why publicists leak the most salacious details of a book they can," said Diana Banister, president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. "The networks clamor for the exclusive — and the 'earned media' value far surpasses any amount a publisher will pay in advertising." (By "earned media," Banister was referring to news coverage of the book that, in essence, gives it free publicity.)
"Publishing house executives are high-fiving all over the office," said a public relations executive who has handled New York Times best-selling books and asked not to be named. "Any book that generates controversy and palace intrigue at the highest levels of government is on its way to the best seller list. It's one thing [for the president] to isolate Bannon and respond to his attacks but quite the other to engage in an all-out campaign against a book, an author and a publisher, which only adds to the 'I have to buy that book,' consumer reaction. This is a marketing team's dream."
"Exclusive, inside stories about this administration are the hottest ticket around," added Alyssa Cordova, director of publicity for Regnery Publishing. "It's like a reality show — people can't get enough!"
Later on Thursday, Trump tried to low-key things a bit when he was asked about Bannon during the immigration meeting. "I don't know, he called me a great man last night," Trump said. "So you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick."
By that time, Trump's public relations work had been done. On Thursday afternoon, the publisher announced the book's release date had been moved up to Friday, to take advantage of the PR tsunami. "Here we go. You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow," Wolff tweeted Thursday. "Thank you, Mr. President."
One might wonder why the president gave such a boost to a book that trashes him and which the White House maintains is filled with falsities — and is publicized on a television network that has covered him in an overwhelmingly negative fashion. Of course, Trump is a veteran of 40 years of New York media and publicity wars. He likes this sort of thing, even if others don't quite get why he does what he does.
"Doesn't it make you wonder who is playing us?" asked one Twitter follower after I noted that Trump was revving up the book promotion machine. "I really have no idea any more what is behind all of this, other than I don't believe the obvious, simple explanations."