The Wolffe at the Door

Posted in: Featured | By: | August 03, 2009

When Richard Wolffe went to work for Austin-based Public Strategies, he was merely keeping viable a tradition whereby those of us formerly in journalism make transitions to more lucrative careers.  The former Newsweek correspondent, however, has been caught attempting to change the game.  Both Wolffe and his employer seem to see no contradiction between his allegedly unbiased analysis on MSNBC and his “senior counsel” to corporate interests represented by PSI.  He’s wrong.  They’re wrong.  And MSNBC is wrong if it allows Wolffe to diminish the stature of Keith Olbermann’s program with any further appearances.

Consultant Richard Wolffe

Consultant Richard Wolffe

PSI needs Wolffe.  The consulting company runs various types of campaigns for multi-national corporations.  These are generally communications efforts that affect brand and image.  PSI, during the eight years of the B**h administration, was quite well-positioned to get rich.  The former president’s communications advisor, Mark McKinnon, became a principal in PSI when his video company, Maverick Media, was purchased by PSI.  Through McKinnon, a one-time democrat who jumped the fence to become what he described as a “Bush guy,” PSI had linkage to the B**h White House.  What might be more attractive to a corporation seeking to influence policy and public opinion than hiring a company owned by a guy who works for the president?  Not much.

Politics and economics, however, shifted a bit with the overwhelming election of President Obama.  PSI had already hired Dan Bartlett, another B**h communications counsel from the White House, and he was yet another high-profile Republican executive sitting in a glass-walled office staring out a Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.  (PSI’s most senior executive with a democratic background worked for a short tenure in the Clinton administration.)  In short, PSI needed to send a message to democratically-controlled Washington and potential corporate clients that it was connected to the new bosses on the Potomac.

Unfortunately, there just weren’t that many progressives or journalists looking to hook up with PSI.  McKinnon, who has shown a great facility for transitioning from democrat to republican, undoubtedly looked at Richard Wolffe and saw potential.  Wolffe was on the press plane almost full time during the Obama campaign and has established professional relationships with the president’s staff.  Of course, he has also written a love letter of a book about the new president called Renegade.  Chances are pretty good that Wolffe’s calls are still answered when he dials the White House.  But he is no longer a journalist and neither MSNBC nor Olbermann ought to facilitate his masquerade.  No matter how often Wolffe is labeled as an “analyst,” he is still gathering information and interpreting the material for political effect and if he voices an opinion that runs counter to the interests of PSI’s clients he’s not likely to remain employed.

Think of all the large corporate brands that exist in America and chances are quite good that you have just thought of a company represented by PSI.  When Bridgestone/Firestone got sued for exploding tires, they called PSI for strategic crisis communications counsel and to media train its executives.  Obviously, I believe that every company, just as every person, has a right to tell its side of a story.  However, I do not believe that Richard Wolffe can be considered an analyst by MSNBC when he works for a company offering counsel to corporations that can reasonably be expected to benefit from his perspective stated on network television.  Is it fair, for example, for Wolffe to provide insight on the political fight over health care if PSI is representing big pharma?  MSNBC can disclose the companies that Wolffe is working with for PSI at this precise moment in time but its client list changes and grows regularly.  What Wolffe says during his employ at PSI cannot, under any circumstances, be expected to be unbiased.  Perception is reality in politics.

And the reality is that Richard Wolffe is now being paid to present a specific point of view that serves PSI’s clients.

1 Comment for this entry:

  • Ken Vest

    Unbelieveable. I had taken a break from Washington Yak having overserved myself during the campaign. Saw Wolfe a few times and thought he was still with Newsweek. Did MSNBC at any point make it clear he was no longer with the publication? Most viewers won’t study the on-screen titles-I’m willing to bet no one know he works for PSI, while he provides commentary.

    At a bare minimun they need to disclose that–Howard Kurtz are you watching?

    Excellent piece Jim, what a world what a world.

Leave a Reply