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. Charlie in Maine

    The truth has a decidedly liberal bias. If those on the right want their own facts they should tune in to Fox News.

    The facts of the situation we are now in favor Obama.

    June 7, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  2. frank

    Wolffee is shocked that his impartial journalism is at question? Most of the media is in the tank for this administration. Who is watching the hen house here?

    June 7, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  3. nick

    To those of you who are offended by Mr. Wolffe´s writings, you must be to young to remember the book written by Mark Hertsgaard, "On Bended Knee". This book clearly shows how all news agencies created Ronald Reagan, "The Teflon President". The book starts out by saying, " No president has been more admired , with less reason, than Ronald Reagan. The Republican´s now don´t like it that the press now "SEEMS" to favor a Democrat. Get use to it , this will be going on for 7.8 more years, and with "reason"..

    June 7, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  4. No Hillary = No Obama

    CNN has some nerve writing an article like this – when it was CNN as early as last February that start writing pieces to derail Hillary Clinton's primary run, putting talking heads on it's shows finding everything and anything they could to put Hillary Clinton down. The sexism was appalling and no one stopped it. CNN you are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. Obama is where he is today because of news organizations and those in their employ that couldn't stand the thought of a woman running this country – 220 years and the male establishment is still stuck in adolescence. CNN go hang your heads in shame.

    June 7, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  5. Frankie5

    I don't comprehend where all of these professional critics on the blogs were when Bush, Cheney and their cronies were decimating America. An intelligent, charismatic and strong man comes along to make our country somewhat fair for all of us and not just the ignorant rich and all of a sudden they are professional bipartisan critics. were they living under rocks. Oh, that's right , they were in their palacial mansions that they couldn't afford. It's reality check time and they don't like it. Wolfe is just telling it like it is. Get over your hate, life is too short.

    June 7, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  6. steve

    Democrats should forcefully shut down this republican absurd talking point of attacking health care reform as a "form of government control".
    Can somebody ask this Gop congress members about who controlled and afforded their own health care coverage.
    The answer is the same government that is been demonized now.
    GOP are a bunch of selfish ,greedy , and spoiled brats.
    Your way has been tried and it failed us for terrible 8 yrs under Bush.

    June 7, 2009 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  7. Darla (Edmonton, Canada)

    I'd much rather read a book by Richard Wolfe ... than anything written by any of the Fox News idiots ... and I've gotta tell you ... CNN is becoming less and less credible as well.

    June 7, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  8. Eric

    I'd say the Obama "experiment" is DEFINITELY starting to scare people–these people are called Republicans who are starting to understand it's gonna be a long 8 years for them. And would it be called an "experiment" if Clinton or McCain had won? Was Sarah Palin an "experiment?" Please.

    June 7, 2009 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  9. jona

    He is truly a sleazy little dude.. Spends most of his time on TV with Olbermann.. no .. he's not biased .. uh-huh..

    June 7, 2009 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  10. dean miner

    Wasn't there a journalist thrown off the Obama plane near the end of the campaign for writing a negative story about him? If I recall, it was a Washington paper, but I honestly do not remember all of the details. Perhaps one of you can recount the story more accurately.

    June 7, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  11. makesUwonder

    "Obama must have the cleanest colon in all of American given the daily human enemas the liberal media and the other idiots provide him every waking hour".

    June 7, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  12. Had It

    CNN is jealous. And they should be.

    Obama allows a journalist with integrity - NOT the gossip-mongers of CNN, the ones inciting fear and hate on every show.

    June 7, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  13. Skeptical

    I suspect Wolffe is much less objective than he deludes himself into believing based on his own words and actions. Clinton is accused of being a "bald faced" liar but Wolffe doesn't even go to get the other side. For him, it's sufficient that Obama "really felt" that way. But just because Obama sincerely believes something doesn't automatically qualify it as the truth. Secondly, it's interesting that he felt he had to resign from Newsweek because he wanted to "tell it passionately." Our press should be more interested in "objectivity" and "accuracy" than "passion." Telling something with "passion" strongly implies advocacy of a position, and that makes an author less of a journalist and more of a publicist.

    June 7, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  14. Pauline

    I think Richard Wolffe is great...I just hope he continues to be a regular at MSNBC's Countdown. Anyone who takes media reporting as gospel truth is a freak! Read and do your own personal research and engage your brain in thinking. Get opinions from different channels. Interesting that Phoenix86 thinks CNN has lost all credibility yet she actually goes to CNN.com then even finds time to comment.

    June 7, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  15. Wolves 4 Palin Charlotte, NC

    If you write an article or a book and trash the administration, you get to go on all the talk shows. If you applaud the administration, you are in bed with them.

    June 7, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  16. Andy

    Journalism is still a profession, but running a media outlet is a business. Businesses are rarely altruistic. Fox News MAKES MONEY by catering to the wingnuts and the other outlets make money catering to whomever they find most likely to pay the bills. Unfortunately, catering also means assauging, so it's important that even the most biased of all must claim objectivity lest they lose their credibility and their audience.

    If you want the real news, you'll have to read all of it and sort the BS from the rest, yourself.

    Kudos, CNN. I just logged in to CNN.com again, saw all the ads and typed another stupid comment in response to another stupid ticker report that doesn't matter. Way to GO!

    Can I have a job/

    June 7, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    All media (including MSNBC, FOX, CNN, etc.) have forgotten the first tennant of journalism: fair and objective reporting! It's a disgrace and does a disservice to the American public.

    June 7, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  18. jjohnson

    I really do miss the true Journalists!! I have always had great respect for Richard Wolfe..until now! In regards, to President Obama....It would make me sad..if he id talking about his problems with his Veep and others. President Obama has just begun...this is shameful.

    June 7, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  19. Dennis

    Just about all of the mainstream media are lap dogs for Obama. They can talk about how unbaised they are, but I just don't see it.

    June 7, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  20. Jerry in Florida

    This man doesn't know what journalistic integrity is. Neither does he know what impartiality is or means.

    He's just as big a phony and liar as President NObama.

    Stay tuned! More to come...

    June 7, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  21. MatthewDetroit

    All objectivity is lost.
    Watch Chris Matthews on MSNBC. His own statement "My plan is to make the President look as good as I can for the next 8 years",
    Real Objectivity.

    June 7, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  22. Lynn

    Oh boy. All these reporters are simply jealous of Richard Wolfe. They all want to have a ghost writer pen their book so they can feel important an informed.

    Wolfe is a credible former Newsweek reporter. Good for him!

    June 7, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  23. MatthewDetroit

    Still whining about the election lost in 2000?
    Dont worry your Dems have totally figured out how to cheat and win now. Obama just gave ACORN 5 Billion, "for community organizing". You shouldnt have to worry about cheating and stealing elections again. You ALMOST stole 2000. Now you steal them all.
    2000 was only close because you cheated but not well enough.

    June 7, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  24. Steven

    Well as i've always said journalism is Dead in this country and has been for a long time. Maybe we should learn from the german media, not the french and british who feel they can write anything to criticize just like tabloids. Every so called major media outlet in this country is slanted and it will continue as such until the media starts hiring real professionals again. I miss the CNN of Bernard Shaw and Judie Woodruff.
    But again this was meant to happen: at the hunt of news some had to suck up and believe or not sucking up works.
    It is as immoral as prostitution and journalists engaged in it (distorting news) should be either thrown in jail just like rumsfeld and bin laden or be prevented from ever being in front of a camera or microphone.

    June 7, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  25. DaBird

    70% of the press thinks their jobs is reporting opinions, not facts. They use sources to back up their points, but some of these sources are far left wing or right wing websites that have little truth or facts. I have caught my local paper on this many times. I bring it to their attention, but they don't care.

    June 7, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
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