The Washington Times - June 9, 2009, 02:14PM

Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff was at the White House recently, ready for a sit-down interview with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

But then the interview was cancelled.


There’s an abrupt cancellation when, after some chitchat with Burton, it becomes clear that my interest is in process rather than, per se, message. And then a kind of sudden vaporization — no Gibbs, according to Marissa Hopkins, his assistant, “for the foreseeable future.”

Wolff, to judge from the tone of his piece, did not take the cancellation sitting down. Here’s how he starts out his piece.

Bill Burton is the baby-faced political op with a little too much junk food under his belt.

And he says that Gibbs’ press briefing demeanor is marked by “cockiness and condescension.”

There are some good insights in the piece. One anecdote about Burton’s remark that Politico’s Whiteboard “won’t write itself” is amusing. But Wolff also makes some statements that reveal ignorance of past reporting.

It would be impossible, at this recessionary moment, for the Fourth Estate to feel anything less than pure dread.

The pressroom is top-heavy with anachronisms. There are the urban dailies, such as the Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, the L.A. Times, each a paper whose closing could be imminent. Then the networks, whose commitment to the evening news is ever less sure. There’s the newspaper division of the Washington Post Co., which lost $53.8 million in the first quarter and which is increasingly overshadowed by Kaplan, the educational-testing company that supplies most of the revenues for its parent company (“If The Washington Post still exists, that would be news to me,” said one new Web entrant in the Washington press corps). And then The New York Times, traditionally the single most important factor in the setting of the political agenda, now in the midst of a business crisis from which few expect it will emerge intact.

The balance of power has surely shifted — although you won’t get anyone in the White House to say that. Except every day you can read it in press secretary Gibbs’s cockiness and condescension.

But back in April, a senior White House official said this very thing for a piece I wrote.

A senior White House official who did not want his name attached to statements about specific media outlets was more blunt about the power equation as viewed by the Obama White House.

“The way it used to be was that any White House or the Senate or the House or anyone like that was held hostage to a very small number of elite media outlets — the New York Times, The Washington Post, the networks,” he said.

“The power dynamic has shifted for three reasons. One, there are more media sources than there ever were before. Two, there’s no money. Newspapers are bleeding money. There are so many channels that the network channels are bleeding viewers. They’re less powerful. They control less than they did before.

“And three, Obama is more popular than all of them combined.”

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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