Shots Returned! Tony Judt Responds to Media Pundit Michael Wolff’s Fabrication Accusation


Earlier this morning, media pundit Michael Wolff decided to — as he has a reputation for doing — lob a very loaded water-balloon of a blog post against writer, historian, author, and NYU professor Tony Judt, accusing Judt of fabricating an article he wrote with his son for Sunday’s New York Times. Judt has since responded to our post via email.

Tony Judt’s most (controversially) known for — among other things — his political writings, particularly regading Israel.

Recently diagnosed with ALS, Judt’s been writing and speaking about his battle with the disease for the New York Review of Books.

Michael Wolff’s most (controversially) known for — among other things — his writings, particularly regarding media. And earlier today, Wolff decided to fire upon Judt and his teenage son, who together wrote about the BP oil spill for the New York Times yesterday, in what I earlier characterized as typical Wolff fashion. The core of his accusation:

….the only way his 16-year son, who is identified as a student at the Dalton School (where students are known for their ambitions, and, often, political precociousness, but seldom for their advanced writing style), could have written his part would be for this to be an even weirder tale: He’d need to have been cloned. Or to have been systematically robbed of his own identity and will and to have had it replaced by the will and identity and prose style of a 62-year-old left-wing European intellectual.

The logic, if you didn’t follow it, is that Michael Wolff thinks there’s no way anybody who is 16 year-old could write that well, or can agree with their parents that much. Because apples never fall far from trees.

Judt’s first response came via quote Judt gave to NYT gadyfly blog The NYTPicker, which Hamilton Nolan at Gawker noted as the “Proper Response to Michael Wolff Discovered” in his headline linking to it:

Who is this clown Wolff – I’ve never heard of him,” Judt told The NYTPicker via email.

Wolff responded to Judt’s NYTPicker denial with what one could possibly identify as predictably blunt, immovable cynicism! And maybe some insecurity, too!

What else would he say? You expected a confession? I stand by the obvious: No 15–or 16 year old–writes like that. None, Never.

Judt writes to us with the story behind the piece:

Daniel came to me and ask why I had not written about the spill. I asked him why he did not do so, he pointed out that no one would publish him and I suggested we do a joint piece.

It goes without saying that he wrote his own words. Neither I nor the op-ed folks at the Times changed anything. Finally, why would I choose to write a piece by ventriloquy? I have published more op-eds than Mr. Wolff has had hot dinners. And at this stage I don’t need the work!

It goes without saying, but other than his Michael Wolff Advanced Skills of Iron-Clad Irrefutable Logic™, he has no ground to stand on, here. Furthermore, of all the things that were fabricated in Sunday’s newspapers, this? Why this? Because it looks like an easy hit to make? Because it’d get the attention of pissed off people reasonably pissed that Michael Wolff is denying someone talent because he can’t prove someone that young is that talented himself? And if you were so convinced of your own line of reasoning, why didn’t you grill Judt yourself?

Michael Wolff isn’t always wrong. For example, that time he called the New York Times‘ Apple-beholden gadget geek David Pogue a “putz,” or when he professed his love of the Eliot Spitzer story. Two smart pieces of writing!

But Michael Wolff has always relished the spotlight more than most media writers, and this is absolutely no exception. He’s caused controversy, he’s having a blast with it, and he’s promoting the hell out of it, Tweeting about it not once, not twice, but ten times today. Mind you, Judt’s not getting residuals from his column. Wolff’s counting Newser’s pageviews. In the end, it’s just hard not to see this for what it is: Bullshit, Michael Wolff. Cynical, craven bullshit.