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Enraptured Among the Enraptured

Politico‘s Ben Smith has a story on Richard Wolffe, author of Renegade: The Making of a President, and formerly a Newsweek reporter. The story isn’t particularly flattering, and it includes this:

[F]ar 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.

Perhaps the most striking thing to note is Wolffe’s former colleagues at Newsweek coming to the conclusion that Wolffe had become “enraptured” by Obama and lost his detachment — an extraordinarily damning assessment, given that Newsweek is itself utterly enraptured by Obama. It treats him, on a weekly basis, like a political Messiah.

We also learn from Smith’s story that after a campaign event at a restaurant in Reno, 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. How sweet. Wolffe also regularly played basketball with Obama, “games that were off limits to everyone else.” How bonding. And “on the public stage, Wolffe is best known for his appearances on MSNBC. During the campaign, he would often play the chortling Ed McMahon role to Keith Olbermann, as the host lacerated McCain.” How true.

Smith’s description of Wolffe as a chortling Ed McMahon to Keith Olbermann’s (and Barack Obama’s) Johnny Carson is on target. Wolffe stood out, after all, in a sea of sycophantic and star-struck reporters who covered Obama; his comments on Olbermann’s show are so tendentious and predictable that they are beyond parody. Richard Wolffe stopped being a journalist several months ago — but he had stopped being a serious journalist long before that.


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