June 7th, 2009
04:51 PM ET
6 years ago

Reliable Sources: For journalists, how close is too close?

Journalist Richard Wolffe sat down with CNN's Howard Kurtz on Sunday's Reliable Sources.
Journalist Richard Wolffe sat down with CNN's Howard Kurtz on Sunday's Reliable Sources.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Author and former Newsweek journalist Richard Wolffe is refuting charges that he acted more like Barack Obama's campaign spokesman than as a journalist covering Obama's presidential campaign. It was Obama, himself, who suggested that Wolffe write his book Renegade: The Making of a President. Wolffe, however, denied that writing the book meant trading objectivity for access.

"It certainly meant that I would have an access and a relationship with him and his inner circle that gave me an insight into him and his campaign that was I think better than anybody else," Wolffe told Howard Kurtz Sunday morning on Reliable Sources, adding that the newspapers that reviewed Renegade didn't seem to have problems with his reporting. "We were reviewed in The Washington Post and The New York Times. They're not pushovers, and they found the book to be fair and there were plenty of things they liked about it."

In Renegade, Wolffe chronicles Obama's frustration with Vice President Joe Biden's gaffes, and Obama's feelings toward comments former President Bill Clinton made in the press. The public does not often get to see a frazzled Obama, but Wolffe reported that Obama called some of Bill Clinton's comments "bald-faced lies."

Kurtz asked Wolffe why the normally cool-headed Obama would go on the record with such a potentially heated charge.

"Because that's what he felt. Because he was being honest. He felt in the middle of the primaries, especially going through New Hampshire and South Carolina early on, that Bill Clinton was distorting his position."

Wolffe said he did not seek reaction from Bill Clinton's camp because the book is centered on then-candidate Obama, but he did verify statements made by individuals interviewed in the book with other people who were there.

Kurtz asked about an excerpt from the book detailing Obama's reaction to Biden suggesting that White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett should seek Obama's vacated Senate seat during the height of the scandal surrounding Fmr. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL). It was a part of Renegade that got leaked to Fox News before the book's official release.

Wolffe told Kurtz, "When the Fox News leak came out, it was not a comfortable day for the White House, especially the Vice President's office."

Wolffe left his White House Correspondent job at Newsweek in order to write the book, and said it was an issue of timing, not journalistic issues, that caused his departure from the magazine. "Newsweek would not give me enough time to write the book. I felt it was an important story to tell and I wanted to tell it passionately. We couldn't come to agreement on that and there was a parting of the ways."

When Kurtz asked Wolffe whether the attacks on his journalistic integrity bother him on a personal level, Wolffe hesitated, then said, “It doesn't bother me. I have grown a thicker skin as this week has gone on.”

Kurtz also spoke to Wolffe about the concept of journalism in a time of political blogs and non-stop commentary. Wolffe, who is a political analyst for MSNBC and also works for Public Strategies, a public relations firm in Washington, said, “We're in a situation where prominent bloggers are academics and lawyers. Journalism doesn't just belong to journalists anymore."

With respect to his appearances on MSNBC, Wolffe said he doesn't have any problems staying impartial. "Everyone who has to go on has to decide what they're going to do. You shouldn't get steamrolled into whatever an anchor wants. I used to do plenty of Fox News before I signed up with MSNBC. You have to be true to yourself. I don't find that difficult on 'Countdown.' Keith Olbermann is obviously a strong, original voice with lots of opinions. You don't have to agree with him just because you're on the show."


Filed under: President Obama • State of the Union
soundoff (109 Responses)
  1. NJM

    Folks–Obama is a smart, capable, hard-working man who's handling ten issues at once, and doing his best to hear all sides of an argument before making the hard decisions. He's human–he has, and will continue to make mistakes. But hopefully, his smarts and judgement will mean that he makes less of them than previous presidents. The reason the press are kinder on Obama is because most journalists are intelligent and rational–and respect these qualities when they see them in a new president.

    June 7, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  2. sell out

    they are not push overs? the washington post?

    they are as liberal as they come, you got in bed with the Obama campaign

    all objectivity from you is lost

    I am a liberal and I think what you did stinks and you need to be up front about your dealing with Obama as do all journalists

    there is nothing objective about what you did

    June 7, 2009 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  3. DawnL,CA

    Where have all the real journalists gone? It seems they just want their time on Tv or just enough info to write a book. Most have no staying power. Yes, they gave Pres. Obama a pass during the nomination process.I voted for Pres. Obama because I could'nt stand McCain or Palin. I'm glad I did. Does anyone remember Woodward & Burnstein from the Washington Post? They were journalists.

    June 7, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  4. Tin B

    President Obama is a much better communicator than President Bush, That because Bush never used a telpromter

    June 7, 2009 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  5. Dawn in Pa

    and how many books were written about every President. A movie was made before President Bush was made. All the Presidents men was made around the time the Watergate trials were ending. So why the hub bub about a book that was written about President Obama.

    Remember that Right wing radio whatever you call him talking about how Obama won the election... Give me a freaking break....

    June 7, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  6. Amanda

    I am reading his book and find it excellent. Besides Mr. Wolffe is a first-rate journalist. Those of you who complain should actually READ the book and not be partial because you don't like Obama.

    June 7, 2009 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  7. js -----santee

    to seriously....just keep watching Fox news and you will hear everything that you want to hear including that all media outlets except Fox news pandered to Obama and the dems. Seriously it sounds like you have been kissing hannity/billo/limbaugh parts.

    June 7, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  8. Gerry

    I find Richard Wolffe's reporting to be up front and sincere. He always seems pretty cool and collected when I seen him on the talk/news shows. I think I'll buy that book just to see what he has to say..

    June 7, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  9. js -----santee

    to seriously....bitter much?

    June 7, 2009 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    To Bias who wrote
    "ensuring Obama was elected so their papers or TV channels could proclaim "First Black American President". It was good PR and to show how far "America has come"
    -------------------------------–
    Surely you are not insinuating that the only reason President Obama was elected is because America wanted to show 'progressive they are' or so it would be good PR for the media. That is the most absurb thing I have heard in a long time. Either you are naive or just plain stupid. The gentlemen is qualifed . . . over qualifed if you will.

    He WON because this nation was sinking fast and we needed a life line. He was the person we elected to carry the torch. I must say and the polls agree. "He has carried it well" . . . Well done thy good and faithful servant". A servant for all people.

    June 7, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  11. Miss Dee, TX.

    To Bias who wrote
    "ensuring Obama was elected so their papers or TV channels could proclaim "First Black American President". It was good PR and to show how far "America has come"
    -------------------------------–
    Surely you are not insinuating that the only reason President Obama was elected is because America wanted to show 'progressive they are' or so it would be good PR for the media. That is the most absurb thing I have heard in a long time. Either you are naive or just plain stupid. The gentlemen is qualifed . . . over qualifed if you will.

    He WON because this nation was sinking fast and we needed a life line. He was the person we elected to carry the torch. I must say and the polls agree. "He has carried it well" . . . Well done thy good and faithful servant". A servant for all people.

    June 7, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  12. Dan, TX

    All these journalists are paid by Barack Obama. So what else they can say.. They will talk very highly about the messiah.

    June 7, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  13. Miss Dee, TX.

    Richard Wolffe is a genius. His candor for thought provoking journalism is a testament to his ability to be fair, unbias and straight down the middle.

    Keep up the great work Richard. Your critics will always be around. If you were demonizing the President. The right wingers would say you are the best thing since sliced bread. But we all know the Republicans hate anything and everybody who paints President Obama in a positive light. Never mind the criticism from the Repugs! It's just normal par the couse from the party of "NO"

    June 7, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  14. Illinoistom

    How could this country elect a Chicago Democrat president without the media covering for him? We ought to be able to sue the 4th estate for fraud!

    June 7, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  15. skyhawkdriver

    If every single news hack for the mainstream media had just one wish in life it would be to climb in the sack with obumbler..I don't think there has ever been more acts of rump swabbing and brown nosing in the history of journalism..is it any wonder why newspapers are folding and viewership is down for the networks??.. Because the majority of what is reported is garbage and slanted so far left it makes me laugh..this guys story was reviewed by the new york times and the washington post??..gee..why didn't you throw in the boston globe too??..then the review was sure to be unbiased..

    June 7, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  16. bk

    The media should be ashamed for their biased reporting in favor of Obama. We all know that MSM and NBC are run by Jeffrey Immel. The CEO of General Electric watch and see how many Gov. contracts he gets for his networks biased toward Obama. You think Cheney and Haliburton was bad, you haven't seen anything till you see Obama and General Electric. Immel even had the nerve to tell another network not to say anything negative about Obama. I wonder what the rest of the networks get for their part in getting Obama elected. You can bet its all about money.

    June 7, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  17. jeff

    Any time you get that much access regardless of how professional you are. You will tend to be less critical of the person you are doing the story on.

    June 7, 2009 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  18. Kal

    Richard, you should know that your book is sold out here in Des Moines IA. Looked for it all day saturday and I was told that it was sold out. So yeah, you haters keep hating he is making the money.

    June 7, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  19. Unhappy Dem

    Most of the media was in his back pocket through his whole campaign.I am a democrat(did not vote for him} MSNBC was sickening about it and still is.I do not watch any NBC news anymore because they treat him like he is some kind of larger than life entity,he has no experience managing anything.The media used it's influence to portray him as something he's not. Glimmer man, all smoke,miirors and hype. But a lot of people fell for the snow job.

    June 7, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  20. Emma, San Jose

    Mr. Wolfe, shame on you. You led us non-thinking Americans to vote for Obama for President! We are needing to be brainwashed, right?

    June 7, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  21. Glennis

    There are few in the media today that I'd call journalists. For the most part, they have been campaigners for Obama, and are still salivating over his every move. Pretty tiresome and undeserving of any respect.

    June 7, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  22. Will appease anyone for theatre tickets

    Shevas01, first off Wolffe LIVES on the Keith Olbermann show on MSDNC and the next negative thing I hear him say or write about Obambi will be his first.

    Secondly, . You don't need to go to journalism school anymore you just need to look like a model and read a teleprompter.

    Are you talking about the President here or a reporter?

    Thirdly, fou you sheep that hammer the purveyor ALL of the top 10 cable news programs Fox, I challenge you sheep to dismiss Puffington, Slobberman and the DailyLoss and actually watch their panel shows, ALL of them have ALL viewpoints across the board, NO OTHER network can make that claim and that is why Fox blows ALL of them off the map, differing viewpoints and not just Olbermann and Williams at NBC slobbering over the fraud in chiefs every move.

    Imagine not just a Liberal slant.

    June 7, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  23. Limbaugh is a Liberal

    Thanks to the corporate media and the political meddling by their overlords into the government, journalism and objectivity have become mutually exclusive. Journalists report what their coporate masters tell them to!

    June 7, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  24. Lynn

    Could John King and Dana Bash get any closer to the Republicans?

    Could Lou Dobbs be any more dependent on half truths and phoney labels as "independent?

    Could CNN be any closer to any quote or situation that happens and present it in such a slanted manner to create a fabricated controversy?

    American media except for PBS and C Span are more interested in presenting "news" like a reality show!

    June 7, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  25. Sara

    President Obama is not a bad guy, and because the author had no juicy scandal, to say about Obama, because no savndal had happened, suddenly the author is being attacked for his honest protrayal of Obama. Maybe he should have made something up, put some lies in the book, trashing Obama, I bet the press, including CNN would be very happy about that - CNN is a joke!

    June 7, 2009 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
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