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White House Press Room: Bastion of the Odd and Partisan

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You think pseudonymous conservative gay pornographer-escort White House correspondent Jeff Gannon stuck out like a sore … wait, check that … was highly UNUSUAL among the White House press corps? Think again:

    Marlin Fitzwater, former press secretary to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said in an interview that he created day passes in response to a federal court decision in the late 1970s requiring the White House to admit all journalists unless the Secret Service deemed them threats to the president or his immediate family.

    The lawsuit involved Robert Sherrill of the Nation, who was denied a press pass on the Secret Service’s recommendation because, it turned out, he had punched out the press secretary to the governor of Florida.

    The White House press corps has since attracted an array of unusual personalities. There was Naomi Nover of the Nover News Service. No one ever saw her work published, but Nover — whose coif of white hair somewhat resembled George Washington’s wig — got past a security cordon during a Reagan trip to China after a reporter showed guards a U.S. dollar bill as evidence of how important she was.

    Lester Kinsolving, conservative radio commentator, wore a clerical collar to White House briefings in the Reagan years. His loud voice and off-beat, argumentative questions often provoked laughter. President Clinton, to lighten up the proceedings, often called on Sarah McLendon, who worked for a string of small newspapers in Texas and called herself a citizen journalist unafraid to blast government bureaucrats.

    “If you look at the question Gannon asked, it obviously reflected his conservative views,” Fitzwater said.

    “But it’s no different from the ones Helen Thomas [formerly of United Press International, now of Hearst] asked of Reagan, or Dan Rather [of CBS] asked in his more famous comments about Richard Nixon.

    “This guy [Gannon] got caught and he’s a little weirder than most — but he’s no weirder than Evelyn Y. Davis,” said Fitzwater, referring to the shareholder advocate who covers the White House for her corporate newsletter, “Highlights and Lowlights.”

    ….the impression lingers for some that the Bush White House — with its reputation for stage-managing the news — orchestrated softball questions. Others say the White House is simply a magnet for those eager to usurp its stage.

    “I look at the Gannon story — I used to refer to him as Jeff GOP — as demonstrating the impact of televising the press briefing,” said Martha Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University.

    “The television lens has brought into the briefing room people who have a political viewpoint and find the briefing a way to express it.” [LA Times]

Maybe that’s why this hasn’t turned into much of a scandal: oddballs come and go all the time on the White Hose briefing room stage. Gannon was just one more.

The Wall Street Journal covers similar ground:

    The question at the regular White House press briefing on Feb. 1 came straight out of left field: “Does the president believe in Commandment No. 6 — ‘Thou shalt not kill’ — as it applies to the U.S. invasion of Iraq?”

    White House spokesman Scott McClellan didn’t miss a beat. “Go ahead, next question,” he said to the roomful of reporters.

    Mr. McClellan’s rebuff notwithstanding, the questioner, former Ralph Nader campaign volunteer Russell Mokhiber, got his first entry of the month for a Web diary he writes called “Scottie & Me (formerly Ari & I).” The diary, made up entirely of exchanges between Mr. Mokhiber and the president’s chief spokesman, is a standing feature for the Common Dreams News Center, an organization of self-described progressives.

    ….Over the years, the White House press corps has included an array of characters — Naomi Nover, for one, who inherited her husband’s press pass after he died.

    Barnet Nover had founded Nover News Service in 1971, after retiring from the Denver Post’s Washington bureau, in an effort to keep his column on foreign policy going. After he died two years later, Ms. Nover attempted to keep the news service alive but did less and less reporting over time. Nonetheless, she went on virtually every overseas White House press trip until her death, in 1995. “Pretend journalist loved D.C.,” said the headline on her obituary in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

    The Clinton White House was kinder, issuing a statement praising Ms. Nover for her “years of dedication to her craft.”

    ….the atmosphere for fringe journalists of all stripes is getting decidedly less friendly, thanks in part to the rise of blogs. Last week, for example, Mr. Mokhiber, the Web diarist, took a shot from Accuracy in Media, a group that frequently attacks what it sees as the liberal bias of the press. AIM compared Mr. Mokhiber to Mr. Gannon.

    “Left-Wing Activist Poses as Reporter at White House Press Briefings,” said the site, which pointed out that Mr. Mokhiber had no journalism training and that he limited his questioning to offbeat subjects such as industrial hemp, the possibility of war-crimes charges against Mr. Bush and Israel’s 1967 attack on the USS Liberty.

    Mr. Mokhiber rejects the comparison with Mr. Gannon. But like him, Mr. Mokhiber doesn’t deny bias, adding that that shouldn’t be a disqualifier. “Who’s to decide if you’re getting a check from General Electric Corp., and working for NBC, that you don’t have a political bias?” Mr. Mokhiber says.

    ….”The fact is that the history and tradition of the White House have been much more open and accepting” of nonmainstream journalists than other Washington institutions, such as the Congress, says Ari Fleischer, Mr. McClellan’s predecessor. “I think it would be a real shame if that tradition ended. It might be good for the press secretary but not for diversity of opinion.”

Easy to say when you’re a FORMER press secretary.

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About Eric Olsen

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

    Wow, Eric. Thank you for this piece. Somehow after reading it I am less incensed about the whole Gannon mess. I wonder if my overall unhappiness with the current Administration was projected on the Gannon affair. Gannon made his choices and in the end got a lot of attention he did not want. I’d love to have an opportunity to sit down and talk to him in a frank manner. Unfortunately I don’t have $200 for the hour.

  • Eric Olsen

    nice one Silas, thanks

  • Eric Olsen

    oh, and I feel better about it after a week to sort itself out also – looks like Dave N was right that it was interesting and salacious but not all that important

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

    This post avoids the rather more important questions of the whole sordid affair.

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

    Much different from your other posts on the subject by the way which did not make light of it.

  • Eric Olsen

    My main concern was never Gannon himself, but the pattern of purposeful press manipulation of this administration, and that is still a real concern.

    But Gannon does not appear to fit that pattern at this point: he wasn’t in cahoots with anyone there, didn’t get any special access as it appears the access policy has been as open as possible, and as these stories say, he wasn’t all that different from a number of other reporters seeking to air their views on the White House stage.

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

    This post avoids the rather more important questions of the whole sordid affair.

    I don’t see what the post avoids at all. Basically after a week, Eric is quite correct. Dave N’s original position is more on track than previously thought. I think in the overall dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration rears its ugly head in many manifestations.

    What happened with Gannon is unfortunate. Should he have been let into the press room? I don’t think so. But that’s not my call. Was he serving for a news organization? Like it or not he was. Regardless of how Talon News was created it did report news. The bias with which it was reported is a right they have under our system.

    Mr. Gannon has become just another scapegoat. That’s something we do quite well in our society. Rather than tackle problems head on and really take a look at ourselves, we select “sinister” individuals and place the blame on them. I’m guilty of it.

    I don’t wish any ill will on Jeff Gannon. I hope that he will be able to come out of this without serious damage. Whatever he did in the privacy of his home or another’s is his business — even if there was a fiduciary realtionship. Just as there have been many victims of the Right on the Left, this is a case where a member of the Right has been victimized by the Left.

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

    There have been calls for an investigation into how Gannon knew some info that he did about the Plame spy outing. Also, Gannon admitted on tv that he basically took White House information/ideology and presented it exactly as is, as news. Helen Thomas never did that.

    If my concern was the moral non-issue of letting a male prostitute into the White House press room, then I’m sure my issues would be laid to rest with this post, unfortunately, there are concerns that still remain for me and for many others I’m sure.

    Also, the revelation that just about any nut case under the sun with little to no qualifications can get in and give ‘reporting’ on what the President says, and knowing the bias/agendas that can come into play, I will no longer give any validity to the information released in White House press releases, by any President of either ideological side. Since nobody cares about the replacing of reporting with the pushing of propaganda as an acceptable alternative, I and I suspect many others will just tune out the propaganda.

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

    I have to say after reading all this that my impression is that those White House press briefings must be damned funny. I’m going to have to start watching them on C-Span. And maybe when I’m in DC this year I’ll pop in to one on a day pass representing Blogcritics!

    Dave

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

    I have to respectfully say (God knows I don’t feel like being repectful but …) that we know nothing more about the situation, or about the Bush administration’s role in any of this – if there was one – than we did on Day 1.

    And I do not see how this post helps explain anythng other than – over 40 years – there have been three or four oddballs.

    Guckert’s claim to still be a journalist is laughable, as I said before, and … to repeat myself .. we know nothing more today than we did when we all first knew the name Gannon.

    And how does a not-important-at-all person with no connections get a copy of the Plame memos. Either that or he lies and continues to lie about everything.

    Say what you want about the oddballs you mention above, none have any such propensity to flat-out lie out of their ass.

    Now if you want to wish it away that’s a different matter, but as has been mentioned elsewhere, Watergate took three years to become a fully fledged, fact-filled important matter of deceit and people wanted that to go away, as well.

    The investigations should continue.

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

    >>And how does a not-important-at-all person with no connections get a copy of the Plame memos. Either that or he lies and continues to lie about everything.< <

    As I understand it, all of the Palme information he had his hands on had already been publicly disclosed for some weeks and was available if you were willing to do the research. I don't believe anyone is even pursuing this as a line of investigation anymore because there's just nothing to it. His Palme revelations on the net were made 4 weeks after the same info had come out on PBS.

    >>And I do not see how this post helps explain anythng other than – over 40 years – there have been three or four oddballs.<<

    Three or four particularly remarkable oddballs and a whole bunch of marginal types who don’t stand out as much. It also tells us that virtually anyone could get into these press conferences, which is genuinely significant.

    Dave

  • http://cranialcavity.net/wordpress/index.php Marc

    Silas “I wonder if my overall unhappiness with the current Administration was projected on the Gannon affair.”

    Gee, ya think? It’s not like you weren’t told the same (by many) over these many days of ranting incoherently.

    Despite many linked sources you continued. Oh well, at least you admit your mistake. As a gentile reminder, Google is your friend, a little research is a good thing.

  • KOB

    More than one worm in the briefing room. Bless them all. Nice post. Added a new perspective to the Gannon tale.

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

    Marc “Despite many linked sources you continued. Oh well, at least you admit your mistake. As a gentile reminder, Google is your friend, a little research is a good thing.”

    Yes, Marc, I admitted that I may have made a mistake. But you had to take it a step further didn’t you? That’s the problem with the polarization in this country. Nobody wants to admit they made a mistake and damn it they will destroy the opposition before doing so. Research, my friend, is something I do constantly. I would urge all Americans to do a little research because knowledge is the most powerful weapon against the political machine that will ultimately cause the demise of America.

  • Eric Olsen

    Temple and Steve, investigations always continue with the dependability of the sunrise. If anything of significance ever comes out, I’ll be happy to acknowledge it and ponder its ramifications.

    As I said, I am still concerned about the propensity o this administration to try to control the media, and I am particularly concerned about paid shills being taken for “real” journalists, but we are all prety well aware of this now and will keep our collective eye on it.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    oddballs come and go all the time on the White Hose briefing room stage

    On and off the podium…

  • David Gotwald

    I just heard that the White House Press Room is closed for renovations for the next nine months. Here is the real story for when it reopens. I am predicting that the remodeled press room will not be able to accommodate as many reporters as the current press room. A physical result from the conscience efforts by this administration to destroy any attempts of real questioning by the American people. They want the American people pacified. Control the major news outlets and corrupt the field of journalism, so that the reporters minds are fat and lazy. News reporters won’t have an investigative bone in their bodies, but they will look great, and will be ready to accept the biggest pile of bullshit you could ever think of from the Public Relations of the holiest king of kings since Jesus Christ. They are in the process of MTVifying the news. Turning it into a ratings bonanza of infotainment full of glitz, glamour, suspense, explosions, and war. But not gory war; make it PG so as to not offend the delicate senses of the blessedly peaceful people whom Bush convinced to vote for him by feeding on their fears about being labeled a gay lover. They fill the news director’s chair with Bush’s own policy makers, and redefine news model from providing the truth on matters that affect the viewers’ lives to the stories Bush wants you to believe is the truth, stories that titillate, and stories that scare you into submission. And boy are they doing it well. Fox News is their illegitimate mouthpiece, and the rest of the networks, except for PBS, have been neutered to look good enough for airing on TRL. The neuter-resistant PBS has to be choked to death because it’s an MTV world, people. No time to really care about anything anymore because there’s so much bullshit to pass off as news now. 24 hours of waiting for the next video of a rocket exploding, or that all-too-important footage of Jacko in his pajamas walking into court. It’s replacing the stories that do affect our lives, which are now considered liberal. Unless you recite the crap Bush’s crew spews word for word from their bullet points, you must be a liberal. We might as well be back in the 1950’s labeling them communists. It keeps the media on the defensive because, gosh, they wouldn’t want to be thought of as opinionated. I guess they don’t want to be thought of as smart enough to come up with any real questions for our government on any real matters or thought of as having the guts to ask the real questions, like “With the way our political system is currently organized, it takes an outrageous amount of money in order for anyone to wage an effective campaign for office. With most of that money coming from big money corporations and special interests, what incentive do you, [insert politician’s name here], have to side with the voters’ wishes over your donor’s interests when your donors’ interests conflict with those of the American people?” That could have been worded better, but you get the point. Our government has taken away the checks and balances in our Constitution, and continues to do so with the news media, one facet of that being my prediction of their press room. Fewer seats will mean fewer chances of real questions from ever-more dumber and spineless reporters. While they’re at it, they might as well go ahead and change the name from Press Room to Please Room. Am I a liberal conspiracy theorist making all this up? I quote our faithful leader speaking to a relic of the olden days of journalism on the last day of the old press room. On 8/2/2006, Bush said, “Is that Sam Donaldson? You’re a has-been! I don’t have to answer to has-beens.” Mr. President, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Carl

    One thing has been missing in the news of the closing of the press room at the White House.

    Where will future meetings be held to allow the administration to be questioned.

    Is this just a way for the Bush Admin to avoid having to answer to the people for the next 9 months?

    I wonder?