A mysterious (hilarious?) bug appeared to temporarily drag down the Amazon customer rating for Bob Woodward’s new book about the Trump administration’s first year in office.
On Wednesday, reviews on Amazon for the just-released Woodward book Fear became intermingled, somehow, with reviews for an L. Ron Hubbard novella by the same name. A significant number of the negative reviews attached to Woodward’s book—orders for which have outpaced Amazon’s supply—referenced the Church of Scientology founder’s psychological thriller, as seen in the screenshot below:
“I found FEAR to be the biggest piece of garbage I have ever read,” wrote one Amazon customer, who, while claiming not to be a Scientologist, swears he’s no “Hubbard-hater” either. The review was one of dozens temporary coupled with Woodward’s book on the website.
Another screenshot below shows reviews for Woodward and Hubbard’s respective works back to back, with one reader commenting that Woodward’s book left her “not disliking Trump as much as [she] did before.” The reviewers offered the same rating, three stars, but for completely opposite reasons.
Fear is the title of Hubbard’s 13th science fiction novel published in 1951, two years before the Church of Scientology was founded. The story centers around a university professor haunted by visions of demons and ghosts, which (spoiler alert) turn out to be the result of a psychotic break. Hubbard authored a total of 29 novels, including the ten-volume Mission Earth series, which was published almost entirely after his death, in addition to dozens of short stories under a variety of pseudonyms.
Amazon took down the reviews for Woodward’s book shortly after Gizmodo reached out for comment. Fear’s rating was restored soon after with all mentions of Hubbard scrubbed, save one:
After the error was corrected, nearly every one-star review for Woodward’s Fear was written by a customer who accidentally ordered the wrong version and had not actually read the book itself, because some people are easily frustrated and apparently have no idea what the review section is actually for.
Amazon did not respond to our requests for comment.
Woodward’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has reportedly ordered a ninth printing of Fear, which reportedly garnered more pre-order sales than any other book in the company’s 94-year history.
Over 1.1 million hardcover copies have been ordered so far, according to the Washington Post, where Woodward and then-colleague Carl Bernstein famously broke the news of the Nixon Watergate scandal in 1972.
Woodward’s book is portrayed by critics as a sobering glimpse into a West Wing submerged in a swamp of self-inflected controversy, where senior aides, when noting sliting each others’ throats, call foul on the decision-making faculties of their boss, the nation’s commander in chief, Donald Trump.
The book already famously depicts Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn and Rob Porter, the president’s former staff secretary, colluding to keep certain documents off the president’s desk, including one which might’ve withdrawn the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Although Fear does relies heavily on unnamed sources (as is typical for Woodward, who argues that “deep background” sourcing is essential to learning the truth), other first-hand accounts of the Trump administration’s inner chaos have mostly come before from far less reputable voices, such as, most recently, former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, considered by many of the president’s top critics to be as equally fickle and self-serving as the president.
Woodward’s credibility as a renowned investigative reporter, however, gives the oft-heard accounts of incompetence and disarray in the White House a veneer of believability that Trump officials are straining to cheapen.
In his review for the New York Times, Dwight Garner remarks that Australian critic Clive James once complained about Woodward checking his facts “until they weep with boredom.” “Well, fact-checking and boredom seem sexy again,” writes Garner. “Even weeping is making a comeback.”