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. Jon

    The entire "mainstream" media gave Obama a free ride during the entire campaign and since he has been in office. Studies by impartial observers have provided clear cut data that Obama has been the recipient of far more positive stories than negative ones. Most recently we have seen Brian Williams of NBC salivating over the chance to follow Obama around for a day and the toughest question he could come up with was "Do you really eat the White House M & M's?" Give me a break.

    June 7, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  2. feckless

    I remember all this hoopla when the late Tony Snow went from being Unofficial propaganda mouthpeice to being White House Spokesman.

    Fox is run by Roger Ailes, former head of the Republican party.

    Fox called a tie a win and destroyed the country by shoe horning W into winning an election he had lost.

    But Wolfe is a threat to our democracy?

    Why doesn't Kurtz have Billy "too good to enlist" Bush from the insider on to tell us about how "liberal" the media is.

    Then Kurtz can tell us that the people who stalked and assassinated Dr. Tiller are equal to their peaceful political opponents.

    June 7, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  3. democrat no mas

    Give me a break. The lack of objectivity in all of the media (including, but not limited to FOX) is part of the reason I'm Independant. I remember when journalism was our safeguard. Now it's simply a distraction from the truth. I'm too old to see how this will be reported in the distant future, after the news (used-to-be) profession corrects itself. Obama got the ultimate free ride.

    June 7, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  4. WDM

    So when will CNN go after any of the Fox reporters who are totally in the tank for the most right wing segment of the republican party?

    June 7, 2009 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  5. Jeremy

    csh- wolfe is no journalist- who died and made u decider on who is what. People need to shut up- you complain abt obama, democrats, republicans- run for office or shut up if you cant make constructive criticism. Most of the people making comments cant even run their own homes, have too much debt and aren't as eductaed as most of those making decisions. If your qulaifications don't match those you criticise ther is a high chance you dont know what you talking about. Stopp fussng about Obama, Bush and the others- they choose to lead – why didnt you? Oh!I sure you dont even have the guts or capability to. Rod Sicilaino, an oxymoron is how little you may know.

    June 7, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  6. Biased

    This writer along with all the other main stream media will proclaim themselves to be totally unbiased, fair and objective. Unfortunately in declaring that, they are showing themselves to be about as fair and unbiased as the love affair they engaged in, in 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" meanwhile they all relished in destroying both Clintons and engaging in sexism while crying false cries of racism. I have never been so disgusted in the coverage of any election as I was with this one.

    June 7, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  7. Alan in Marietta

    Sick tired of the narrative and knee-jerk media reaction to any reporter who actually doesn't attack someone. The media critics seem to judge reporters based on how much they attack a person versus the actual story.

    June 7, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  8. Rick in OP

    Wolfe, as well as the majority of the mainstream media are no more than
    campaign operatives for Obama. Journalism, as a profession, died in the 2008 presidential campaign.
    In the past the public could depend on the media to scrutinize every aspect of a candidates views. This was always part of the vetting process that presidential candidates had to endure as they were being screened for the most difficult job in the world.
    Maybe the term "mainstream media" should be dropped and instead we should call it the "state-controlled media".

    June 7, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  9. sandy

    I have watched Mr. Wolfe's comments on TV many,many times and I have found him to be interesting, fair and balanced.

    June 7, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  10. Mich

    Jermey it is a givin right to all americans to complain about people in puplic office. That's how change comes about in the world. You need to open your eyes ,and quite sleeping thought ever day.

    Because when the goverment fears the people that is freedom.

    So Jermey let you voice be heard. Stopping sitting on the sidelines.

    June 7, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  11. danel

    How do you call Hannity, Michelle Malkin, O'Reilly, etc who were conservative mouthpiece and pro Bush during his term. How come nobody accuse them of bias then? Had they got more balls and question everything they're advocating at that time we were never be in Iraq. What become of Judith Miller?

    June 7, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  12. david

    Journalists move where the trend goes, as does the media. Obama is a character unlike others, thus he has received more attention.

    But, those who claim the media are liberal don't understand the single, most important fact: the vast majority of the media are owned by republicans.

    If and when Obama makes a serious mistake, and the public is aware of it, any journalists seemingly on his side now will turn against him and publish only criticism. Critics don't understand that the media have one thing in mind: remaining relevant.

    June 7, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  13. lucy

    Hasn't anyone considered that maybe there are positive stories about Obama because he is a really good president (so far) and maybe more negative stories about Bush II becuase he wasn't so good? Fair and balanced doesn't mean equal, you know, it only means reporting accurately. So if Cheney and Pelosi get bad press, and Obama and Clinton get good press, mayabe it is becuase they have earned it.

    June 7, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  14. mike

    Favoratism by the media towards Obama? NEVER!!! IMPOSSIBLE!!!

    I won't be able to stop laughing until he leaves office. Press objectivity with Obama died years before he announced he was running.

    June 7, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  15. P. Y.

    Richard Wolfe is great and I believe he tells it the way he sees it. Haven't read his book. Not sure that I will. Not that I don't think it will tell the truth, but because I never buy any of the books written about politics or politicians. As for the journalists slanting everything in favor of Obama. No, I don't think so. I think it just looks that way because finally they had someone they could actually write about who is intelligent and has the best interest of the country in his mind. I would trust what he says any day compared to anybody in the last administration. I do my " homework " before I make any decision and right now, Obama is doing the job he was elected to do. BTW-I am not a " die hard " Democrat. I have voted for many Republicans in my life. At this point tho, I really don't see myself voting for another one for a long, long time.

    June 7, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  16. LW

    It is conclusive, the media is borderline racist. Listening to most of the pundits it seems that if one of their own is supportive of BO, then they are harangued mercilessly. Thank god that most of America is moving past such insidious behaviour. The abolition of slavery wasn't only accomplished by Black people, but by right thinking people of all colours.
    I am confident that all people will see through this feeble attempt to castigate the President. I don't watch most Sunday talk shows anymore. If I don't read idiot posts, why would I spend my Sundays listening to Gingrich, Palin, Shelby, Romney, Linbaugh et al. If we stopped watching these guys they'd have to start presenting balanced information instead of behaving as if we haven't lived through the past eight years.

    June 7, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  17. lucy

    please remove the comment from "seriously" and stop moderating my comments and get this disgusting, inappropriate language off the website.

    June 7, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  18. SamSunny

    It appears to me that CNN has lost it's objectivity. Why question a author's fairness if he writes a decent book about Obama? Must everything be a big "gotcha moment" in cable news. These tactics get so tiresome over the long haul.

    June 7, 2009 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  19. Mich

    Wolffe ,and Oberman, and Mattews all helped Obama get elected now I voted for Obama. Yet these guys were like their cheerleaders. Which I have kind of stopped watching MSNBC.

    So Wolffe come on out of the closet like your friend Oberman ,and Mattews maybe you can feel that warm feeling to be a Obama puppet.

    June 7, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  20. Richard L

    It's amazing that there don't seem to be any Republicans that understand that MAYBE favorable media reports were due to President Obama running a clean campaign unlike McCain/Palin and being more highly educated than either of them.

    June 7, 2009 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  21. will winstead

    really the press eating from Obamas hand and pushing him to the front ......lol its hard for me to tell what is worse bush doctrine cnn,nbc,cbs, foxnews or obama and they all are pretty much as miserable and dishonest as the next......It amazes me that we are such and educated bunch of folks and then to be mislead by them all so frequently....its time to flush the comaode for the stintch is to high heaven with all of um..

    June 7, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  22. joe m

    objectivity usually goes out the window when cash is involved. forget questions of this reporter's, and i use the term loosely, political leanings. the lure of cashing in on the obama bandwagon seriously brings into question his journalistic standards. with everything from beanie babies, t-shirts, and all sorts of other s'tuff' being associated with the current president, this journalist was looking for his piece of the pie.

    i agree with one comment here, journalists were once the objective insturment that the common man could turn to for information. today there are few in the media who do not allow their own personal bias to taint their reporting. and the rest are just interested in sensational stories or those that create conflict.

    June 7, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  23. John

    Get over it Republican loosers, you lost.

    June 7, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  24. Squigman

    As long as the news, and the companies reporting the news are dependent on ratings and revenue generated from advertising, the news will be shewed and biased. I doubt that we've been told the whole story through the news media since Edward R. Murrow, was a nightly, or weekly fixture in the American home.

    June 7, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  25. Brian MacDougall

    Hmm... here come the GOP partisans complaining again about the "favoritism" shown Obama during the election. You must have missed the 24 7 drilling of Rev. Wright and Acorn and Bill Ayers. Over and over and over. It was McCain who got the free ride; little or no mention of Keating among other things. And Palin could have gotten a free ride too, if she'd just kept her mouth shut and not demonstrated what a moron she is.

    As for today's favoritism, what do you call it when a disgraced criminal like Cheney can still get on any news program with a snap of his fingers, bad mouth a sitting President, and no "journalist" will dare ask him about all his extra-judicial maneuverings in the White House? Or the manifold failures to listen to Clarke and Tenet pre-9/11? Or the lying about the chain of command on 9/11 and the shoot-down order? Or how he accrued power over the DOJ? Or how he evaded oversight with his energy panel? Or the intel smoke and mirrors in the run-up to Iraq? So many unanswered questions.

    But, I guess all that's just "fair and balanced" to you guys.

    June 7, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
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