Chicago Tribune | Check your media lap dogs, Mr. President by Clarence Page
If America’s mainstream media really were as liberal as conservatives claim we are, we would be ballyhooing the fiasco of James D. Guckert, a.k.a. Jeff Gannon, with Page 1 banner headlines and hourly bulletins.
Sure, Guckert-gate may seem like a tempest in a teapot, at first. But so did the Whitewater land-development deal. Yet conservative commentators and editorialists, aided by their allies in Congress, rode that Arkansas pony until it ended far afield from a land deal with the impeachment of a president for lying about sex.
Imagine, then, how the conservative choir would sing out at this point if a Democratic White House knocked long-tenured journalists off its press room access lists so that it could give access to a fellow like Guckert, 47, who dependably asks softball questions because he reports for a partisan Web site that supports the Bush administration.
Imagine how they would question the access given by the Secret Service and the White House press office for two years to a guy who used a driver’s license that said James Guckert to get into the White House, then switched to his alter ego of Jeff Gannon. The best explanation for this that Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, could give to Editor & Publisher magazine was, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.”
Guckert wrote under the name Jeff Gannon for Talon News, a conservative online news outlet associated with GOPUSA, a conservative Web site based in Houston and dedicated to “spreading the conservative message throughout America.” …
Of course, every administration tries to manipulate the media. Team Bush has elevated it to a high art. Before Guckert, there was the disclosure that three conservative syndicated columnists had been paid handsomely to promote administration programs–payment they had failed to disclose to their readers.
And remember those pre-packaged, government-sponsored video news releases featuring fake reporters so local news outlets would be tempted to run them as legitimate news stories, as some did?
We have grown accustomed to those pre-screened rent-a-crowd “Ask President Bush” town-hall-style meetings during last year’s campaign and during this year’s effort by Bush to promote his proposed Social Security changes.
But I thought the last straw was the unprecedented herding of reporters covering this year’s inaugural balls into pens from which they could only venture to interview ball guests if they were escorted by “minders” in the fashion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Tell me again: What was that war about? Oh, yeah: freedom and democracy. Great. I’d like to see a little more of that back here at home.
Unfortunately, this administration and its supportive chorus are getting away with less accountability, more secretiveness, partly by demonizing the media. If they succeed in intimidating us from watchdogs into lap dogs, they will have succeeded where previous administrations from both parties failed.
“Gannongate”? A better name for it would be “Nothinggate” – The New Yorker
Nothing is what’s likely to come of the Jeff Gannon/James Guckert flap, says Hendrik Hertzberg. “What all the memorable scandals of the past thirty years — real and fake alike, from Watergate to the Clinton impeachment — have had in common is that the opposition party controlled at least one house of Congress, which gave it the power to hold hearings and issue subpoenas. If Bush ends up having an easier time of it in his second term than any of his two-term predecessors since F.D.R., it won’t be because the scandals aren’t there. It’ll be because the tools to excavate them are under lock and key.”
How is it that an administration that screened thousands of people for attendance at Bush campaign rallies repeatedly let a fake reporter into the sanctorum of the White House pressroom under a false name? Who was running that background check? How could a president who declares that national security is his prime concern be so ill served for nearly two years by his own security detail?
What is the public to make of the fact that legitimate protesters are kept far away from President George W. Bush while an illegitimate “journalist” who’s really working for a Republican propaganda mill is repeatedly allowed into the White House pressroom and regularly called upon by the president and the president’s press secretary to ask questions? …
Is it possible that an administration that is so careful about scripting events and managing information approved of Guckert being planted in the pressroom to ask softball questions and even to keep an eye on the real reporters working there? Isn’t that fair to ask, considering this is the same administration that used its taxpayer-funded, $250-million public relations apparatus to pay columnists to say nice things about its programs?
LOBBING softball questions at White House press conferences is hardly a new phenomenon, but having them thrown by a pseudo-journalist with a sleazy background who mysteriously cleared security checks is. Add in the fact that reporter Jeff Gannon used a false name and his employer was a Web site called Talon News staffed almost exclusively by Republican activists and you have the whiff of a scandal. …
The idea that the White House might try to infiltrate the press corps with a shill is a chilling thought in this democracy, but this is the administration that has been caught paying “journalists” and generating its own prefabricated “news reports” to distribute to TV stations too naïve to recognize the attempt at propaganda. …
It’s hard to say which is worse: That the White House had no idea who it was allowing to be within shouting distance of the president — or that it knew exactly who Jeff Gannon was and why he was there.
[I]f, say, a Gore or Kerry administration had brought in a gay hooker to act as a ringer at news conferences, it would have quickly exploded into the biggest story in the country. Fox News would devote hours upon hours to it. So would Rush Limbaugh. So would the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells and the James Dobsons. Needless to say, so would the Republican Party. And here’s where the difference between liberal and conservative sex scandals, and how the mainstream media handle them, becomes clearly visible. When there’s a scandal on the left, there is a built-in machine, already in place, to spew shock and outrage on a 24-hour-a-day basis, and the mainstream media naturally cover that. But when there’s a sex scandal on the right, there’s really no one to speak out. Do liberals really care that men are having sex with each other? Or that Jeff Gannon supposedly has been paid as much as $1200 for one weekend for the pleasure of his companionship? To ask these questions is to answer them: no, and no. …
But it’s not that Gannon is or was a gay hooker — it’s that he somehow got into the White House, and past the Secret Service, despite that. What did the White House know, and when did it know it?
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