June 7th, 2009
04:51 PM ET
12 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. csh

    Wolffe is no journalist and he is an insult to those who are. He creeps me out!

    June 7, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  2. Rod Siciliano

    Richard Wolfe and Reliable Sources? Now that`s a oxymoron!

    June 7, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  3. Franky

    Personally guys, if you choose to talk to the media, then go ahead, I have no problem but you are fully responsible for what you say or do. Just like I am here, is that simple, I don't hate em, I've never showed them love. And I don't know about you but to me, it don't matter which one is it, left or right, they're both morons! My problem is not who you talk to or not but how you are as a character, other than that, you can get buckwild all you want, it really don't matter.

    After all, for some reason, I feel good...real good! :). Boy, I am good, :), LOL!!

    June 7, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  4. ThinkAboutIt

    Maybe the reason why Obama gets good press from the mainstream media is because *gasp* he really is intelligent, thoughtful, cool-headed adn hard-working.

    Just because the GOP doesn't have any of those in their party right now, doesn't mean people like that don't exist.

    June 7, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. susie

    Obama voted YES for the "Bridge to Nowhere", how come Dems forget that!

    June 7, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  6. Tom

    The Post and the Tiems reviewed the book and found it "fair"? "There were plenty of things they liked about it"? Gee, I know how even-handed and objective they are in their treatment of all things Obama. If the book was remotely critical of Him the Post and Times would pan it. It must be a real rigorous book (wink wink, nudge nudge).

    What a tragic joke.

    June 7, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  7. Tim C

    Where in the hell were these so-called "critics" during the first half of the Bush presidency (and for Fox news, et al, the entirety of his presidency) when it seemed that the entire main stream media was Bush's lapdog, instead of playing the role the media is supposed to play, which is a watchdog for the people, when politicians try to screw the American people over for the enrichment of a few, select multi-billionaires and multi-national conglomerates.

    This is the problem that we encounter when those who control the bulk of the news that the American people hear are beholden to their advertisers (who also happen to be the multi-billionaire, multi-national conglomerates).

    I mean, watch Meet the Press, or any major news show. Who's advertising? Shell, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Exxon, BP.

    June 7, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  8. Alan

    Just write your book and sell it. Don't try to fool that American public that you are objective when it comes to Obama.

    Please, can't anyone just be honest anymore??

    June 7, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  9. Hayden

    Really no one in the media (just look at MSNBC) is objective when it comes to Obama. They were taken in by the "historic" nature of his candidacy and they gave him a free ride. Rather than have people like this Wolff character deny favouritism I would have so much more respect for the media if they just admitted they were in his camp. Just get it out in the open and be honest.

    June 7, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  10. dmjakers

    Well, we all know the Clintons will say and do anything to get what they want. Lying is certainly not beneath them, as we've seen in the past.

    June 7, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  11. shevas01

    I trust Richard Wolfe to give me the story strait than any of the paid media hacks on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC who only parrot mostly republican and democratic talking points. You don't need to go to journalism school anymore you just need to look like a model and read a teleprompter.

    June 7, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  12. phoenix86

    Newsweek is not favorable to Obama, they are absolutely partisan for him. They, and most of the main stream media hae lost all credibility. CNN included.

    June 7, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. palinrox

    let me get this straight... reporters are not influenced by obama... the journalists who idolize this man.... who havent been objectiev with their reporting, line of questioning.. lobbing softball ridiculous inquiries instead of asking what the heck he is doing to our country... i mean writers for david letterman sed they dont make jokes about bo becuase they have never seen so much competence in a president. OMG PLEEZ

    June 7, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  14. WIlly Brown

    I believe that all journalist have been very unbiased when it came to covering Obama. LOL…..

    June 7, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  15. GW_So Cal

    Richard is a man of integrity. A good reporter. Have known him for years. We agree on little but he is still an ethical person

    June 7, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. jj

    Richard Wolfe provides thought provoking and insightful analysis on MSNBC. I believe he is a journalist who looks deeper than the popular soundbites put out by liberals and conservatives. I look forward to reading his new book.

    June 7, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. Stella

    For God's sake! You are asting valuable airtime going after Richard Wolffe when the entire FoxNews network has an intimate relationship with any Republican candidate. Where's the outrage and valuable airtime spent on that?

    June 7, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  18. DEM in HI

    Wolfe crossed the line and he knows it. Obama is all about Teflon. He is the master at flip-flopping. He is so far to the left, he scares me. What happened to fulfilling campaign promises and staying to the center? Instead, all we get is the spend and spend attitude carry over from Bush. Obama sounds more like a Bushie when it comes to handling the greedy Wall St people. Especially, the loophole that was put in while he has been Pres about bonuses. What goes around, will come around.

    June 7, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  19. GOP Disaster

    I like Richard Wolfe I plan to by his book!

    June 7, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  20. The Best Team Makes Fewer Mistakes .... It's That Simple

    Equal scrutiny of Dems & Repubs by the media does not equate to equal criticism. You know, it is possible for one team to be more competent than another. It is logical that the more competent team should recieve LESS bad press than the other.

    President Obama is a much better communicator than President Bush was. It is therefore logical that the press has fewer gaffes to jump on.

    Can any thinking, indepedent voter really dispute the superiority of the Democratic Team. Can we imagine how lacking in competence our administration would be if it had been assembled by Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin?

    June 7, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  21. Mia and Mike

    These Independents believe he (Richard Wolffe) is a man of integrity and is truthful and fair. His dialogue is always very insightful and he's covered the election since the beginning. What's wrong with him writing the book? All the commentators and panelists are political strategists who favor one side or another.

    June 7, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  22. Venu77

    Wolfe looks like he's doing a bad Olbermann impersonation – both in physical apperance and when he denies any bias towards Obama

    June 7, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  23. Seriously...

    Fact is, the mainstream, regular ol' press (which is where most people get their "news" from, be it broadcast or print) pretty much spent 18-24 months with their collective lips wrapped around Obama's schlong.

    Don't tell me the press isn't "partisan".

    In 40 years, I've never seen one man get such hands-off, "he's special and above suspicion and reproach!" treatment as our current president. It was obvious from the get-go that the press – liberals that they are – would be ga-ga over a black Democrat who stood a halfway decent shot at being president. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just missing it, and out to lunch.

    June 7, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  24. greg

    When Obama was asked what he found to be the most enchanting about his first 100 days, I literally had to turn off the TV.

    June 7, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  25. Mich

    Richard wolfe is one of OBAMA"S Puppets. He's no way close to a journalist,and he is out of touch with the middle class.

    June 7, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
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