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[Washington Babylon]

“Renegade”: From RW to BO, with love

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From Politico:

It was Barack Obama himself who first proposed that Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe make a play to be this generation’s Theodore White—the legendary journalist whose insider account of the 1960 election painted John F. Kennedy in heroic light. In the 2008 version, Obama provided the insider access. And Wolffe lavishly delivered on the heroic-light end of the bargain…

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…

“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.

Unlike White’s classic “Making of the President” series, Wolffe’s book makes no real effort to penetrate the other side of the presidential race. There’s not a single reference to reporting from the McCain campaign in “Renegade”; Steve Schmidt, McCain’s top campaign aide, says that’s because Wolffe didn’t do any. “You’re kidding, right?” Schmidt said when asked if Wolffe had talked with him for the book. “He didn’t talk to McCain folks during the campaign.”

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