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Politico vs. Richard Wolffe

Ben Smith’s new piece, “A sheep in Wolffe’s clothing?,” should make some waves:

Far from vaulting him to the top ranks of the profession — as happened to White and a parade of other reporters with intimate access to winning presidential candidates —Wolffe’s Obama journey ended with him out of mainstream political reporting, making his living as a public relations operative.

And far from being the toast of Newsweek, which once built its franchise around reporters who were close to the powerful, Wolffe now has a frosty relationship with his former employer.

At a book party at Washington’s Café Atlantico Monday night, there were quail eggs and caviar but no Newsweek editors, who declined to speak on-the-record about Wolffe or his book.

Some of his former colleagues grumble privately that the magazine gained little of news value from Wolffe’s access to Obama and his inner circle, and suggest he lost detachment as he became more enraptured by a politician with whom he shares personal and ideological sympathies.

Some Republicans say the same thing publicly.

Richard Wolffe was doing PR for Barack Obama throughout the campaign,” said Michael Goldfarb, a former aide to John McCain and a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard. “At least now, with the new book and the new job, he’s dropped even the pretense of being a journalist.”

Comments like these suggest Wolffe could become a flashpoint in the larger debate over whether journalists are too enamored with Obama’s biography and personal style, and not being sufficiently skeptical of his grand policy plans.

“Obama has inspired a collective fawning” in the media, columnist Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote. At the recent White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Obama joked, “Most of you covered me; all of you voted for me.”

“Renegade” is billed on its cover as “based on exclusive interviews with Barack Obama.” The footnotes detail 21 such interviews. They were so exclusive, as it happens, that key elements of them apparently did not appear contemporaneously in Newsweek, which was footing the bill as Wolffe flew around the country with Obama for two years. Nor did they appear in the magazine’s own post-election volume. 

And how much access did Wolffe have?  He was on the cake-and-b-ball list:

Among his press plane colleagues, Wolffe’s access to the candidate was no secret. After a campaign event at a restaurant in Reno last August, Wolffe and Obama shared a heaping piece of frosted carrot cake as the Secret Service ushered the rest of the press corps to a waiting bus, according to a pool report. Reporters also knew that Wolffe was regularly playing basketball with the candidate – games that were off limits to everyone else.

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