The press takes a pass on 'Jeff Gannon'
By Carol Towarnicky
IF A REPORTER who doubled as a gay hooker had visited the Clinton White House nearly 200 times, think it would have made the news?
If "Jeff Gannon"/James D. Guckert had been unveiled, so to speak, as a liberal imposter who lobbed softball questions at Clinton administration press briefings, he would be as infamous as Michael Schiavo.
And if 39 of those White House visits were mysteriously unrelated to his "reporting" duties, imagine what innuendoes would be issuing forth from Planet Limbaugh. Imagine the organized phone call campaign demanding newspapers and TV stations report the story.
But Gannon/Guckert isn't being unveiled or innuendoed or even blipped on media radar screens, even among liberals.
Last Sunday was the third time in recent weeks that I came across hyper-informed liberals who have not heard the first thing about Guckert, who used the name "Jeff Gannon" to pose as a newsman from a Web site that was in reality a Republican Party front. Gannon advertised his second job as a male escort on Web sites complete with full frontal photos.
For months, Gannon/Guckert asked obviously biased questions at press briefings. He was conveniently ready when Bush spokesman Scott McClellan was being pressed too hard by reporters. Apparently none of those reporters ever thought to check out the obvious ringer in their midst. It was only when Gannon asked one of his trademark questions at a nationally televised presidential press conference in February that some bloggers noticed.
It didn't take much digging for them to uncover Gannon's not-so-secret identity and ask the obvious: Did the Secret Service have this information? Did the White House? But the story went nowhere then and is going nowhere now.
Just last week, a Freedom of Information Act search requested by two members of Congress revealed that Gannon/Guckert visited the White House 196 times - 39 of them days when there were no press briefings. While liberal blogs made much of the news, a Nexis search found that the Associated Press gave it only three paragraphs, which were picked up by only two newspapers nationwide. CNN mentioned the story only to say that the blogs had it. On MSNBC's "Countdown," Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank offered excuses for the 14 times that Gannon/Guckert's entries or exits weren't recorded by White House security and host Keith Olbermann seemed apologetic for bringing it up.
If reporters aren't worried about imposter journalists, at least they should smell a good story in a possible White House security breach.
With an explosion of media, much of it partisan, the role of actual journalism becomes even more critical. Yet the bright line between news and fair comment on one hand versus manipulation and propaganda on the other has all but disappeared.
Of course, Gannon/Guckert was only the most flamboyant of phony journalists to grace our airwaves in recent months: There are the paid hacks who got government money to laud government programs in their columns; there were the government video news releases made to look like actual TV reports - and which were run on many smaller stations.
Journalists get hopping-mad if CIA agents masquerade as reporters in war zones - it puts them at high risk. Yet these same journalists seem almost blasé at the assault on truth zones every day at the White House, on Capitol Hill and on a TV screen near you.
At a time when the radicals of the right, aided by the White House, seek to eviscerate constitutional protections, the news media have found a curious way to protect the First Amendment: Don't worry that Congress will abridge freedom of the press; The press will do the job of abridging itself all on its own. http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/11541660.htm
Carol Towarnicky is the chief editorial writer of the Daily News. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.