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

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

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/07/art.rswolffe0607.cnn.jpg caption="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. RealityKing

    Unbiased journalism is dead in America. Replaced mostly by a progressive state run media who clearly put their love for the liberal agenda first. Meanwhile, we the people, are being dragged further and further into the bottomless pit of socialism.

    Got you government job yet?

    June 7, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  2. Tim

    Umm, newflash to Wolffe, saying the NY Times is not a pushover when it comes to thinks critical of Obama is like saying we shouldn't pursue all legal means to get information from terrorists.

    Newflash to Kurtz, it would be an obvious follow up comment for any reporter worth his weight.

    June 7, 2009 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  3. Tim

    Two comments.

    First, comparing Obama's spending to Bush's spending is a laugh. Obama has already outspent Bush's 8 years. Apples and oranges.

    Second, to those who say Fox is biased. Fox has a larger audience than all cable channels combined. So if what you are saying is correct, then the country would be heavily republican, or democrats are uninformed people who don't listen to news. Take your pick.

    June 7, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  4. Mike in Texas

    So Phoenix86......Is FOX News the only credible news source?

    Quit trolling and do something constructive with your time. I can only read these posts at night or on the weekend but it seems like you post 24/7.

    Your posts offer no insight only insults. They are as fresh as stale bread. Move along please. And tell TCM, Mattew in Detroit, and Willy Brown the same.

    Thank you and have a great day.

    June 7, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  5. SMG

    It's a good book, a great read and a wonderful look at all of the parties to the Obama campaign.

    Richard Wolfe has written a book that harks back to the Making of the President series that Theodore White did so well. But, for my money, Wolfe is the more masterful wordsmith.

    June 7, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  6. annie for Palin

    What a joke – this guy is so far up obama's backside that I doubt if he can even take a breath and for those of you who don't think obama is an arrogant, egotistical narrcisist -"It was Obama, himself, who suggested that Wolffe write his book Renegade: The Making of a President. " – that's a direct quote from obama's boy wolfe.

    June 7, 2009 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  7. Lisa

    I adore Richard Wolfe and can't wait to read his book!

    June 7, 2009 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  8. stanjz

    It's all partisan attacks from the corporate media. They rarely denigrate their corporate sponsors, like oil, chemical, drug and insurance companies.

    June 7, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
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