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February 13, 2005 - The Limits of Allowable Manipulation

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Have we all been following the Jeff Gannon story?  Most curious. 


See this from Louise Slaughter.  The congresswoman from upstate New York (NY-28, Erie and Monroe counties, and thus Rochester), ranking member of the House Committee on Rules, is still trying to figure out how discredited "reporter" Jeff Gannon was credentialed as a member of the legitimate media by the White House.  Jeff is the guy that gets called on most often at press briefings and lobs softball questions, but represents no real newspaper, magazine or media outlet.  She released her letter to Bush late last week.


Dear Mr. President:


In light of the mounting evidence that your Administration has, on several occasions, paid members of the media to advocate in favor of Administration policies, I feel compelled to ask you to address a matter brought to my attention by the Niagara Falls Reporter (article attached), a local newspaper in my district, regarding James "JD" Guckert (AKA Jeff Gannon) of Talon News.


According to several credible reports, "Mr. Gannon" has been repeatedly credentialed as a member of the White House press corps by your office and has been regularly called upon in White House press briefings by your Press Secretary Scott McClellan, despite the fact evidence shows that "Mr. Gannon" is a Republican political operative, uses a false name, has phony or questionable journalistic credentials, is known for plagiarizing much of the "news" he reports, and according to several web reports, may have ties to the promotion of the prostitution of military personnel [...]


And just this morning we have learned that "Mr. Gannon" has resigned his post at the, so called, Talon News amid growing concerns over his controversial background and falsified qualifications. In fact, it appears that "Mr. Gannon's" presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your Administration. …


She wants an investigation. 


Louise Slaughter has a daughter, Robyn, who was one of my English students back in the seventies at the Harley School in Rochester.  Good kid.  I have a hazy memory of having the usual parent-teacher conferences with Louise Slaughter – but that was a long time ago, not that it matters.


Note this background


Talon News appears to be a "news agency" in name only, consisting of Editor-in-Chief Bobby Eberle, Gannon and "volunteer reporters," all based on a web site with no true physical news room or work site. Much of its "news" is distributed through an organization called GOPUSA, of which Eberle is CEO and president. His wife, Kathleen, is treasurer. Both Eberles live in Texas and have been deeply involved in Texas politics - and now national politics - for years.


GOPUSA, while spouting the usual GOP talking points, has on occasion taken it a bit too far. In November of 2003 it posted an anti-semetic piece entitled "Satan Lives in George Soros" by a pseudonymous author known as "Sartre." Yes, folks, these are the kind of "agencies" that are getting White House reporter credentials these days.


In May of 2004, Bruce Eberle, Bobby's brother, folded his MillionsofAmericans.com conservative web site into GOPUSA. Bruce is CEO of Virginia-based Eberle Communications, a vast fundraising/direct mail/PR powerhouse that boasts such clients as Ronald Reagan (well, when he was alive, I assume ... although his death was actually great PR too), Operation Rescue, Ollie North and Paula Jones, and which illegally sold fund-raising lists to Ashcroft during his Missouri Senate run.


Despite Bobby Eberle's denials to Media Matters, Talon News and GOPUSA are clearly one practical entity; his GOPUSA email address is listed as the administrative contact for Talon, and the two groups share a server and listserve. So here we have a conjunction of fundraising, direct mail, a public relations firm, and an official news agency with a reporter in the White House …


Here’s the NPR report (audio) -


NPR’s points –


1.  James Guckert is the name Gannon used to apply for press credentials on Capitol Hill, and was turned down.

2. Today he acknowledged that Jeff Gannon is not his real name, but wouldn't confirm it was Guckert.

3. NPR mentioned the "homoerotic tone" Web sites, and specifically mentioned HotMilitaryStud.com. NPR said: "These sites are registered to an address in Delaware that's the same as one held by a James Guckert. And that's the name that Gannon used to apply for press credentials on Capitol Hill. He was turned down."

More from NPR: "As for those Web sites, Gannon said he created them for clients of a software company he used to work for. And Gannon says his Christian faith has enabled him to receive forgiveness for the sins of his past."


Aaron Brown Friday on CNN on the Jeff Gannon story - basically on how folks get press credentials.  (Video Clip).  


Regarding CNN on other commentary, Digby here –  


I'm busy today, but I did happen to just catch Howie Kurtz as he told Wolf Blitzer that the real Talon news story is that "liberal bloggers" went after "Jeff Gannon's" personal life. (Jeff told Howie that he was being threatened and stalked.) Howie didn't mention that it was the fact that "Jeff" wrote under an alias that led these bloggers to find his beefcake pics online and that he'd been registering domain names for gay escort services. Apparently, it's impolite to reveal such things even when the person in question makes a living as a homophobic wingnut.

He and Wolf both agreed that the White House press corps is just full of fiery partisans and there is nothing wrong with them being allowed to ask the president questions. Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with someone who writes for a front group's web site being allowed into the White House on a "day pass." Howie said that in this day and age of blogging you don't have to write for a newspaper or magazine to be a member of the white house press corps.

Ok. Any of you liberal bloggers in DC who would like to get into the White House and ask Scotty and Dubya some questions, feel free to just show up. According to Howie and Wolf there's no general rule against it.


The Washington Post gets cited here -


White House-credentialed fake news reporter "Jeff Gannon" from fake news agency "Talon News" was cited by the Washington Post as having the only access to an internal CIA memo that named Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA agent. Gannon, in a question posed to Wilson in an October 2003 interview, referred to the memo (to which no other news outlet had access, according to the Post). Gannon subsequently has been subpoenaed by the federal grand jury looking into the Plame outing. 


I'm sorry, but a potential male prostitute was given access to internal CIA documents? Hello?


Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post last Sunday -


It was hard not to notice the question at last month's presidential news conference.


Invoking Hillary Rodham Clinton and Harry Reid, reporter Jeff Gannon said: "Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy….  How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"


Gannon writes for Talon News, a Web site whose reports also appear on another site, GOPUSA, whose self-declared mission is "Bringing the Conservative Message to America".


But White House spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush didn't know who Gannon was and that it's "nonsense" to suggest the president was trying to get a sympathetic question. Gannon got a day pass to the White House, available to any journalist, commentator or blogger who writes for an audience. "I don't think it's the role of the press secretary to get into the business of being a media critic or picking and choosing who gets credentials," McClellan says.


Gannon, who uses a pseudonym - he declines to reveal his real name - sees a "double standard" in criticism from such liberal groups as Media Matters. "I am admittedly a conservative journalist, and that point of view is not represented in the briefing room at all," says Gannon, who also hosts an online radio show for the Rightalk network. Other White House reporters "come from a decidedly liberal perspective, certainly left of center. … Call me partisan, fine, but don't let my colleagues off the hook. They're partisan too, but they don't admit it."


There was a whopping inaccuracy in Gannon's question when he told Bush that "Harry Reid was talking about soup lines." Jim Manley, a spokesman for the Senate minority leader, calls that "outrageous" and a "lie." Gannon concedes he picked up the characterization of Reid's views from a Rush Limbaugh monologue and that Reid never referred to soup lines, but he is unapologetic about using the phrase.


Talon and GOPUSA are headed by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican activist, who says: "We make no bones about it: It's a partisan site." Eberle says he hired Gannon two years ago, when he was a "writer of conservative commentary," as his only Washington reporter, and that Talon deals in "facts," not editorializing.


Gannon, who was turned down for a congressional press pass, says he's been stalked and threatened by some "nuts" on the left. "I'm a pioneer," he says. "Guys on the front lines, they get shot at, and hey, I'm willing to take it."


See this - as Jeff resigned from Talon News late in the week.


What to make of all this?


Here’s a late week round up -


Scandal in the Press Corps

Dan Froomkin - Special to washingtonpost.com - Thursday, February 10, 2005; 12:44 PM


After his summary, he references Slaughter and provides more –


The News Coverage


Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post:


  "Gannon's resignation highlights the no-holds-barred atmosphere of the Web, which both enabled him to function as a reporter -- his stories appeared on a site founded by Texas Republican activist Bobby Eberle -- and produced a swarm of critics determined to expose him. . . .


"Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who writes on InstaPundit.com, said the tactics used against Gannon "seem to me to be despicable.' "


Alan Wirzbicki and Charlie Savage write in the Boston Globe: "Gannon came under scrutiny after Bush called on him during a rare and nationally televised news conference two weeks ago. Gannon's question attacked Democrats as having 'divorced themselves from reality' and repeated an allegation against Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, that turned out to be a joke by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.


"The unusual question prompted a wave of attention initially led by David Brock, the former right-wing investigative journalist who now operates a left-wing media watchdog group, Media Matters for America."


And Froomkin also covers the blogs -


"How the hell could this Gannon/Guckert scandal happen right in front of the White House Press Corps?" asks Americablog, which went all-Gannon all-the-time yesterday.


Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, whose readers fueled the story with their research, writes: "Why should we care about Jeff Gannon?


He "gets White House credentials using a fake name, provides McClellan a welcome ideological lifeline during press conferences, and somehow gets access to classified CIA documents that outs an undercover CIA operative."


Many of the Daily Kos postings are now focused on how Gannon apparently got hold of a secret internal CIA memo that he mentioned in an interview he had with Valerie Plame's husband, former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson.


About a year ago, the federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative subpoenaed White House records on contacts with 25 journalists. Gannon was one of them -- apparently on account of that memo. …


Tim Graham, who served as White House correspondent for a national weekly Christian news magazine, had this to say on National Review's The Corner blog: "[A]s a one-time White House correspondent that asked clearly conservative (but tough) questions in the briefing room, I can only say I'm glad I got out before the left-wing bloggers exposed my unnatural attraction to sugared kiddie cereals. Can we start at square one and agree that these very personal attacks on Jeff Gannon are creepy coming from the libertine left?"


He added: "The White House press corps is not supposed to be a gang beating. It's supposed to present White House comment on the news of the day. Are the people really served by seventeen phrasings of the same attack question? Are they harmed by one question on a topic conservatives are interested in?"


And he mentions some ethics folks -


Kelly McBride, an ethicist at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school, sees problems everywhere.


Shepard quotes him as saying that "the White House shouldn't be putting in 'ringers' to prevent the White House press corps from performing its watchdog duties."


Wirzbicki and Savage quote him saying that the investigation of Gannon's personal life crossed traditional boundaries and was characterized by "mean-spiritedness and snarkiness. … Those are not tactics you would see practiced in most traditional newsrooms."


And he quotes the Post’s own Dana Milbank -


"[I]t is clear that Scott McClellan knew it wasn't his real name. He had to provide his real name to get into the White House. So here you have the press secretary of the United States playing along, addressing this guy by his pseudonym. So there was some degree of complicity, even if he wasn't granted, against White House rules, an actual hard pass….


"The fact is he was representing a phony media company…. There are many people, Fox News, Washington Times -- they're conservative, but they're legitimate media organizations.


"This guy is not a real journalist and he was hanging out there just wasting everyone's time in the press room. …


"It follows a pattern in this administration that we've seen, not only the Armstrong Williams case, but cases in which people, there have actually been actors used, posing as journalists in advertisements. This seems an awful lot like that."


And there is the practical -


Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor at Towson State University, has made a study of the White House press corps -- literally. She watches almost every briefing with an eagle eye. I spoke with her yesterday.


"I thought Jeff was an embarrassment. He clearly did not ask questions that were designed to elicit information," she said.


Should reporters have taken some action before the bloggers did?


"People have talked to him about his questions, and let him know -- at least I know a couple who have -- that his questions are not objective questions that are characteristic of the kind of questions that you find in the briefing room."


But, Kumar said, "Reporters are kind of a live and let live group. They're interested in their own reporting, and they're not interested in ferreting out if someone's a charlatan."


But Jeff is gone.


In the companion piece to this - Press Scandal Left – we see the right wing bloggers are crowing over forcing Eason Jordan to quit as head of the news division at CNN for questioning the narrative about the motives and action of our leaders, or at least of some of their subordinates.  Jordan was not sticking to the accepted narrative.  He strayed a bit.  And he paid the price for mentioning what actually may have happened.  Can’t have that.


Here we have the left wing bloggers crowing over forcing the resignation of this plant – this ringer – a guy who was trying to keep that narrative on track.  What narrative?  That the current administration, all of them, are the good guys, and the opposition is divorced from reality.  Well, actually they’re crowing over exposing the administration being caught stacking the deck with this fake news guy of questionable news skills and even more questionable morals, or maybe just taste and intelligence.


So if you’re going to stick to the narrative?  No cheating. 


And guys on the Bush side, don’t try to pass off the guy who runs the site hotmilitarystud.com as respected reporter.  It just looks bad, if nothing else.


There are limits. 


What were they thinking?


Don’t answer that.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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