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.