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.