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Gannon Speaks

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The Washington Post and CNN’s media man, Howard Kurtz, spoke with everyone’s favorite pseudonymous conservative gay-escort White House journalist (please see Silas Kain’s story here, and Margaret Romao Toigo’s story here for excellent background on the story):

    “I’ve made mistakes in my past,” he said yesterday. “Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?”

    ….”Why would they be looking into a person’s sexual history? Is that what we’re going to do to reporters now? Is there some kind of litmus test for reporters? Is it right to hold someone’s sexuality against them?”

    As for his critics, Gannon said: “People have said some of my writing expressed a hostile point of view” toward gays. “These people are willing to abandon their principles on the basis of trying to make me out to be a hypocrite. These are the same groups that cherish free speech and privacy.”

    ….Dismissing speculation that he had a permanent White House press pass, which requires a full-blown FBI background check that usually takes months, Gannon said he could not get one because he was required to first get a pass from the Senate press gallery, which did not consider him to be working for a legitimate news organization. Instead, he said he was admitted on a day-to-day basis after supplying his real name, date of birth and Social Security number. He said he did not use a pseudonym to hide his past but because his real last name is hard to spell and pronounce.

    ….Suggestions that White House officials coddled him or gave him special access are “absolutely, completely, totally untrue,” Gannon said, adding that he was often among the last to be called on at press briefings and sometimes could not ask a question at all. “I have no friendships with anyone there. . . . The White House, as far as I know, was never aware of the questions about my past.”

    ….Gannon says he was questioned by the FBI in the Valerie Plame leak investigation after referring to a classified CIA document when he interviewed the outed CIA operative’s husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson.

    But he said yesterday: “I didn’t have the document. I never saw the document. It was written about in the Wall Street Journal a week before. I had no special access to classified information.”

    Aravosis and other critics cite several examples of what they view as Gannon’s anti-gay writing. Gannon wrote last year that John Kerry “might someday be known as ‘the first gay president,’ citing his “100 percent rating from the homosexual advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign” for backing a “pro-gay agenda.” Gannon said he was just reporting the facts and playing off suggestions that Bill Clinton was the first black president.

    ….Despite the battering he has taken, Gannon hasn’t abandoned plans to work in journalism and hopes to generate sympathy by speaking out.

    “People criticize me for being a Christian and having some of these questionable things in my past,” he said. “I believe in a God of forgiveness.”

So, from the credential standpoint, how could this happen? The NY Times looked into it yesterday:

    A former Bush administration official said Thursday that a reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon who presented questionable news credentials from an obscure Internet organization, Gopusa, aroused suspicions at the White House a few years ago.

    The official, Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary, said he briefly stopped calling on the reporter at the daily briefings.

    “I thought, ‘I need to look into this and see if he’s part of the Republican Party,’ ” Mr. Fleischer said in an interview on Thursday.

    Mr. Fleischer said a telephone conversation that he had with the organization’s president and chief executive, Robert R. Eberle, satisfied him that the writer met his one standard for access to the West Wing briefing room, that he was not directly financed by a political party.

    ….The White House press pool tends to attract a wider variety of personalities than those covering other major government agencies because the work is more high profile, with regularly scheduled briefings that are often televised.

    Mr. Guckert’s nom de plume, Jeff Gannon, and the Talon News service he worked for did not set off any alarm bells in a room that also includes a representative from The Corporate Crime Reporter, The India Globe and Les Kinsolving, the host of a provocative radio talk show.

    “This is an irritant that we deal with, people who try to hijack the briefing for ideological reasons,” said Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “A few people are in there just to get across their points of view. But it’s the kind of thing we put up with, because nobody can quite figure out how to deal with it.”

    Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidency scholar at Towson University who has been tracking the relationship between the White House and the press corps since the Ford administration, said: “More people have come out of the woodwork with the televised briefing, because it gives them an opportunity to talk about what they want to talk about. They don’t ask questions. If you listened to Jeff’s questions, they were never questions. They were statements.”

    It was Mr. Guckert’s appearance at a presidential news conference on Jan. 26 that exposed him to a national television audience and placed him in the sights of bloggers on the lookout for suspicious activity in the White House.

    “How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” Mr. Guckert asked Mr. Bush, referring to Democrats on Capitol Hill.

    ….The White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said on Thursday night that Mr. Guckert had used his real name in applying for day passes. He never applied for a permanent pass, known as a “hard pass,” which is granted after a thorough background check by the Secret Service and has much tighter restrictions, Mr. McClellan said.

    Holders of hard passes are required to have permanent addresses in the Washington metropolitan region and hold accreditation from the Senate or House press galleries, among other requirements.

    The standards for a one-day pass are less ironclad. After a visiting reporter has passed an instant background check – primarily using the name, Social Security number and date of birth to check against criminal records – it is up to lower-level White House press aides to decide whether a particular news organization can have access to the briefing room. In Mr. Guckert’s case, after he had established himself as a reporter, he faced no further questions about his credentials when he called seeking access, former and current White House officials said.

So a lightweight Republican shill “reporter” weasels his way into the White House press briefings on a day pass, then stays in the good graces of the administration by asking puff questions that were really pro-administration statements. And THEN it turns out the guy moonlights as a gay escort. Embarrassing? Hell yes. Good detective work by bloggers like John Aravosis at Americablog? Hell yes. More questionable blurring of the line between journalism and advocacy in conjunction with this administration? Hell yes.

It is the latter aspect that I find the most troubling. Frank Rich, while typically swept away by his rabid anti-Bushatry, does make the point in tomorrow’s Times:

    By my count, “Jeff Gannon” is now at least the sixth “journalist” (four of whom have been unmasked so far this year) to have been a propagandist on the payroll of either the Bush administration or a barely arms-length ally like Talon News while simultaneously appearing in print or broadcast forums that purport to be real news. Of these six, two have been syndicated newspaper columnists paid by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the administration’s “marriage” initiatives. The other four have played real newsmen on TV. Before Mr. Guckert and Armstrong Williams, the talking head paid $240,000 by the Department of Education, there were Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia. Let us not forget these pioneers – the Woodward and Bernstein of fake news. They starred in bogus reports (“In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” went the script) pretending to “sort through the details” of the administration’s Medicare prescription-drug plan in 2004. Such “reports,” some of which found their way into news packages distributed to local stations by CNN, appeared in more than 50 news broadcasts around the country and have now been deemed illegal “covert propaganda” by the Government Accountability Office.

    The money that paid for both the Ryan-Garcia news packages and the Armstrong Williams contract was siphoned through the same huge public relations firm, Ketchum Communications, which itself filtered the funds through subcontractors. A new report by Congressional Democrats finds that Ketchum has received $97 million of the administration’s total $250 million P.R. kitty, of which the Williams and Ryan-Garcia scams would account for only a fraction. We have yet to learn precisely where the rest of it ended up.

    ….When the Bush administration isn’t using taxpayers’ money to buy its own fake news, it does everything it can to shut out and pillory real reporters who might tell Americans what is happening in what is, at least in theory, their own government. Paul Farhi of The Washington Post discovered that even at an inaugural ball he was assigned “minders” – attractive women who wouldn’t give him their full names – to let the revelers know that Big Brother was watching should they be tempted to say anything remotely off message.

    The inability of real journalists to penetrate this White House is not all the White House’s fault. The errors of real news organizations have played perfectly into the administration’s insidious efforts to blur the boundaries between the fake and the real and thereby demolish the whole notion that there could possibly be an objective and accurate free press. Conservatives, who supposedly deplore post-modernism, are now welcoming in a brave new world in which it’s a given that there can be no empirical reality in news, only the reality you want to hear (or they want you to hear). The frequent fecklessness of the Beltway gang does little to penetrate this Washington smokescreen.

While over the top and feverish enough that one can almost picture foam forming around Rich’s mouth, there is enough truth here to be truly disconcerting.

On a tangential issue, listen to this perceptive look at the “blog swarm” phenomenon that has not only sunk its teeth into Gannon, but also Dan Rather and Eason Jordan, from NPR’s “On the Media” show.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://kabbalah4women.blogspot.com/ Josia

    Go Eric!

  • JohnPaul

    Thank you Eric for a fair stab at the why we should be worried, not for Gannon, but for our media and our country. I hope someone is listening. I hope that someone includes Michael Moore or anyone else with a hundred million bucks that thinks the government belongs to the people.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Good examination of the situation, Eric. I still think it’s a trivial issue though.

    Dave

  • http://www.friedwire.org Fried Wire

    The end is beginning! Let’s hope… Great coverage.
    friedwire.org

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Pretty liberal excerpts lifted here from the various paid journalists and news outlets there. Really no need to figure out the rest is there?

    Gannon puts another nail in the coffin of those of us who !@#$% do this job for a living. What comes out of the guys mouth should make anyone interested in learning anything, vomit – “I was reporting by taking directly from White House news releases.” (Slight paraphrase)

    That would be the Pr department, third door down.

    Nalle again trivializes anything that damages what his party is tryng to do. This pay for good play is state-sponsored propaganda at its worst. Instead, though, he should say – this is fucked and shouldn’t be allowed. Like finding a good record or TV reviewer – I no longer trust Nalle’s judgment as helpful.

  • http://www.biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Congratulations, Eric, on a great piece. If the mainstream broadcast media is too frightened to take on this debacle, thank God there are folks like you who are here to keep the message alive.

    One reporter: shame on me. Two reporters: just an oversight. Now we are up to SIX “reporters.” Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s time for the “self policing” media to step up to the plate.

    Many people don’t understand why I held President Reagan in such high esteem. At least Reagan had a respect for the office he was elected to. The man had the courage of his convictions and took repsonsibility when he screwed up. The fact that this President Bush invokes the memory of Ronald Reagan infuriates me. The Bush Presidency is more Nixonian in its distrust of the media and the American people. Are we better off than we were four years ago? Absolutely not.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Silas- this President *tries* to evoke the image of Ronald Reagan. Those astute enough, or with memory enough, know the difference.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    The “gay prostitute” angle is trivial — even if its irony is rather delicious — and the security angle is trivial.

    What is most decidedly not trivial is the mounting evidence of possible White House press manipulation. This is the part of the Jeff Gannon story that must be followed to its conclusion, no matter what may be revealed.

    We are talking about the government allegedly using our free press as shills for spreading propaganda. This is a potentially a serious threat to the essential principles that all Americans should hold dear, regardless of partisanship.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Sorry Margaret, White House press manipulation is trivial if all it amounts to is letting a few friendly reporters in with all the rest. If it was intimidating reporters or excluding hostile ones then it would be an issue. If it’s just giving a break to a couple of Republican bloggers, who cares?

    Dave

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    Dave Nalle wrote: “White House press manipulation is trivial if all it amounts to is letting a few friendly reporters in with all the rest.”

    And that may be all there is to it, but we do not know this yet. There is already more to this story than Mr. Gannon’s small part. The revelations that some journalists were paid to write favorable commentary about Bush administration policies makes the investigation into the allegations of press manipulation non-trivial.

    Dave Nalle wrote: “If it was intimidating reporters or excluding hostile ones then it would be an issue.”

    That charge has been floating around for quite some time now, but has yet to stick. The whole story behind alleged White House press manipulation hasn’t finished unfolding, it is far too early to dismiss it as trivial.

    In these days of instant news, it is important for us to realize that some news stories are quite slow. Remember, it took many years for the Watergate story to be completely told and the 4 decades-old story of the JFK assassination still has no real conclusions.

    I understand that loyalty to one’s political party is important, but loyalty to our founding priciples demands that we set aside partisanship and look into these allegations with an open mind to see where — if anywhere at all — they might lead.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Well, you’re welcome to keep hoping, Margaret. But righ tnow the entire ‘scandal’ seems pretty transparent. I just don’t see where it’s going to go, but by all means hold out for the Karl Rove gay sex tapes revelations.

    Dave

  • Eric Olsen

    Blogging 101:

    Thanks for all the kind words, and I am happy to take credit for my interpretation of the situation, which rules, but as Temple mentions, the bulk of this is gathered from other sources.

    On the other other hand, this type of story is one of the perfectly legitimate, and I think helpful, things that blogs do: gather together various sources on the same or related subjects from the media (with full attribution and links, of course), quote key elements from them, even at length, and provide intro, interpretation and evaluation of one’s own.

    It’s called a roundup, and it isn’t nearly as important, praiseworthy or, obviously, original as an essay/report on the subject such as Silas and Margaret’s pieces linked at the top of the page, nor even in the same “realm of being” as the original investigative work of Aravosis, for example, who dug up the dirt on Gannon in the first place, but it is a worthwhile, helpful endeavor for reader and writer alike nonetheless: often as much about the media as it is about the subject being covered, a compendium or digest for the reader, a method of assimilating and coming to terms with a subject for the writer.

    The best blogs, I think, are a blend of wholly original, narrative-type or investigative writing, original essays on matters of interest in the news (such as Margaret and Silas wrote on this subject), original reviews (which we do a lot of here), roundups (such as this), and “directing traffic,” ie, pointing out items of interest elsewhere on the Internet, which we don’t do much of here because everone else and their mother provide this service in the blogosphere and we see ourselves as more of a “destination site” than a recommendation service, but which is also a perfectly legitimate blogging endeavor.

    I hope this was helpful as I get a lot of questions on the appropriateness, legitimacy and relative worth of vrious kinds of blog writing.

    And thanks again for all the input.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    I am not holding out hope for “gay sex tapes,” featuring Mr. Rove or anybody else. This isn’t even about hope (if anything I sincerely hope that these allegations turn out to be untrue but I am not going to try and reach my own conclusions either way at this juncture). The idea of waiting for the story to unfold completely is that it currently has no conclusion, either way.

    I understand how it might be construed in this manner as there are people out there — partisans of another variety — who have already reached a certain conclusion and are looking for the facts to confirm it.

    Conversely, those people who have already dismissed this story as trivial have done exactly the same thing, they have reached a conclusion before all of the facts have been revealed.

    Jounalism is supposed to be about waiting for the facts and events to tell the story to its conclusion, not first reaching the conclusion and then going on a hunt for facts and events that might support it.

    BTW, I am non-partisan and therefore have little patience for partisanship of any variety because of the way that it closes minds and turns debate and discourse into nothing more than a silly game of oneupmanship.

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent points Margaret, and I agree with you

  • Philboid Studge

    Eric, thanks for reminding all the kudos-tossers that what you’ve done here is hardly a “piece,” but a collection of excerpts from other reports with your (dare I say) limited commentary.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    P.S.: Eric does deserve kudos for what he did give us. Commentary is provided (as always) by comments, and for an omnibus piece such as this, it is perfectly appropriate for Eric to place his comments in the stack with ours.

    There is plenty of original writing on this site, and Eric has graciously given us in this post leads to several that relate to this topic.

  • http://xmission.com/~alsharon/ Big Guy

    Homosexual reporter OK. Prostitute ? prostitution is illegal in 49 states.
    Prostitution & blackmail have always
    worked well together.

  • Eric Olsen

    okay, like I said, it’s a roundup, not something more, but neither something less: what a roundup lacks in originality, it, if well done, makes up for as an informational and interpretational service to the reader (and to the writer, but the reader doesn’t necessarily care about that)

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Margaret. I’m non-partisan too, unless I’m a partisan for the truth. But right now there isn’t a scandal that’s more than trivial and until some more evidence comes out that’s really the only way I can look at it.

    Big Guy:Homosexual reporter OK. Prostitute ? prostitution is illegal in 49 states.

    True enough, and that’s an issue Gannon is going to have to deal with along with his tax debts, but nothing which is scandalous about his personal life really comes into play as a national scandal. We already know the guy is a creepy sleazebag – more sleaze on him is just icing on an already well sweetened cake.

    Big Guy: Prostitution & blackmail have always
    worked well together.

    Yes indeedy, but Gannon had nothing worth blackmailing him for, and until we hear that he was having sex with someone in the White House this angle can’t go anywhere.

    Dave

  • http://www.iamcorrect.blogspot.com Lono

    On Gannon: anyone who has been here for a bit probably knows that I regard this administration as the most evil and pernicious in history. So, these little leaks are fun… but every President has scandals like this.

    What I am more interested in hearing about is after he (President Bush) is out of power so people can really come forward. What frustrates me most about the Gannon story is that it hasn’t broken through. I watch CNN incessantly, and have not heard a mention of it.

  • http://vietnamlist.blogspot.com Stephen

    About Gannon being a gay male prostitute, I think this combined with his lack of serious media credentials might cause many people, particularly in the red states, to wonder about the moral values of Republican journalist-activists.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Someone was set up to disseminate propaganda. This is not an isolated incident, which would make it a non-issue most likely, but is a recurring pattern of improper use of the media. I am one who tends to buy into the theory that Bush has a propaganda machine to push unpopular agenda items, and in terms of policy that don’t include basic civil rights, isn’t it supposed to be about popular opinion, majority decision? We are now up to instance number 6 of improper usage of the media? Some people might say that is a non-issue, and to them it might be, but to me it is an issue and it is, I’m sure, to millions of others.

    As a gay man, I can see…and hope that my allies on the Left can see as well….that putting a promiscuous male prostitute in the position was the perfect strategy.

    Q: I have issues about misusing the media.
    A: But his sexuality is his own business.

    Quite a successful deflection from the real issue if you ask me. See what I’m talking about?

    The Left should drop the issue of male prostitution, the Right would love for them to keep harping on about it. It makes it seem like the Left is anti-gay, which will fire up the conservative gay base, it makes it seem like the Left is snooping into private lives, which will fire up the libertarian base, etc.

    By putting a gay promiscuous male in the role, then if he’s discovered, his ‘extra-cirricular’ activities become the topic, deflecting what the real issue is. I hope the Left doesn’t fall for it. My opinion.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Thank you, Steve, for drawing the distinction between the conservative and libertarian camps.

    I think your analysis is right on, if it was as planned as it seems you believe.

    So, here’s a question: Since Bush has been roundly regarded as a dummy by the left, does this ploy make him seem more intelligent… if in fact it is a ploy?

  • Eric Olsen

    I don’t see it as a “ploy,” but it is a symptom

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Mike, my own unprofessional opinion would give the credit to Rove. I do not believe Bush is a dummy, I know others say that, but at the very least it would be a mutual agreement between the two as to a strategy, so both get credit.

    I was reading about those Bush tapes being talked about in the news today. The things he said about getting the Religious Right vote, not wanting to alienate them, but not wanting to ‘kick gays’ and stuff, indicates to me that at times he is pushing unpopular policy on people in order to cater to a ‘special interest’. He is deceiving people though the manipulation of the media into thinking programs are more popular than they are. If you think about the fundamental question of ‘why would someone need to do that in regards to promoting a policy’, it becomes clear there must be some ‘not-so-good’ things about the policy that are being hidden. This should make policies like NCLB, SS privatization, etc. become suspect (even moreso now) to the ideological middle.

    What was watergate? It was lying. What is this? Misleading, misrepresentation, manipulating the media, deception, possibly pushing the ideology of a very small minority on the majority, just a few issues to start with. To me, this could at least be as big as watergate, and certainly is far far more important on the moral/integrity spectrum than an intern giving a blowjob and look at the coverage that got.

    These unpopular policies affect the lives of millions, it affects their education, their retirement, it affects lives.

    Hell yeah, If I were Rove or Bush, I’d be happy everytime someone on the left talked about hot military sex. It means they’re not talking about something else.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    Dave Nalle wrote: “But right now there isn’t a scandal that’s more than trivial and until some more evidence comes out that’s really the only way I can look at it.”

    You’re right, the Jeff Gannon scandal is currently trivial in and of itself, but that does not mean that it should be dismissed as if that is the end of the story when it could only be the beginning.

    I must reiterate that what is not trivial are the allegations of White House press manipulation, for which there is mounting evidence that is not related to Mr. Gannon’s misadventures inside and outside of the White House press room.

    Remember, several journalists have been found out to have been paid for commentaries that praised Bush administration policies. These revelations as well as those about Mr. Gannon could be parts of the same story that has yet to unfold.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Sorry Eric, I didn’t also mention that yes, it was a very useful round-up and, from my point of view, the commentary was correct.

    One wonders what a scandal is to some people these days. There are so many apologists in the world today for criminal behavior or job negligence of duties required to perform.

    Every word out of Guckert’s mouth shows he understands nothing about what he was doing or why anyone is upset. He’s a paid shill. He clings to the idea that he is a journalist.

    Either he understands nothing or he understands much more than we know about him and he’s willing to play dumb bcause he knows there will be no recriminations. Pardon?

    That, of course, is speculation on the highest order. but I’d much rather be speculative and wondering than vacuous and spoon-fed.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Worst-Case Scenario –

    Bush, realizing that 90% of the media is against him (for free!), funnels money through various executive branch departments to conservative opinion-makers.

    The goal is to make news coverage somewhat less-biased against his administration.

    While I would deplore such a tactic, because it spends taxpayer dollars for partisan ends, it would be at least understandable, given the prevalent anti-Bush climate in so much of the MSM.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    The money funneled to various conservative media folks wasn’t even to support or puff up the administration, it was in support of specific legislative initiatives. It was more like spending money on PSAs than bribes to make the administration more popular.

    Dave

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    The money funneled to various conservative media folks wasn’t even to support or puff up the administration, it was in support of specific legislative initiatives.

    I agree. I didn’t say it was to push an unpopular administration but unpopular policies. Apparently the end result of the policies aren’t attractive enough to win support on their own merit, we have to pay people to promote something apparently they wouldn’t have otherwise.

    PSA’s are labeled as a PSA, they are not usually promoted as an independent news report/commentary without acknowledging that there is a payment for a favorable review.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I don’t much like PSAs either, whether labelled or unlabelled. The odd thing is that the programs they spent money to promote aren’t actually unpopular, especially with the audience they were courting. No Child Left Behind had generally good approval ratings as a concept, especially among conservatives.

    Dave

  • Nick Jones

    “Why would they be looking into a person’s sexual history?”

    (Imagine me making that snorting sound that comes from trying to prevent yourself from laughing out loud.)

  • Eric Olsen

    yes, paying for coverage is the essence of the underlying issue, from my point of view. Besides it being a misappropriation of public funds to forward a political agenda, which is dubious usage at best, my greater concern is that the integrity of the press is undermined with “bribes” from the government.

  • http://squaringtheglobe.blogspot.com Harry Forbes

    “Paid shill” seems to me like a highly subjective classification. Was CBS acting as a paid shill in the Rathergate episode? No, just a shill. What about the CNN, WaPo and NYT silence on the Swifites during the campaign last August? Shills? Yes. Paid? No, not in dollars anyway, but likely in political IOUs.

    Shills come in Red and Blue. Gannon had plenty of “highly respected” journalists as company in his role as a shill.

  • Eric Olsen

    but isn’t “paid shill” a different and more culpable status than a “self-appointed shill”?

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