February 2005 Archives

There has been no shortage of recent payola/propaganda scandals, but the latest one tops them all: the "Jeff Gannon" of Talon "News" who was a favored "reporter" at the White House. (Following are details to explain the numerous quotations marks in the preceding sentence.)

Media Matters began exposing the story on January 27 with their article "Talon News 'reporter' lifts from GOP documents verbatim for 'news reports'," and continued with "’Go ahead, Jeff’: Talon News ‘reporter’ Jeff Gannon is McClellan’s lifeline during briefings" on February 2. Those tidbits about recycling GOP talking points as “news” and diverting press briefings into the spin zone were only the beginning of the “Jeff Gannon” scandal; this week has seen an avalanche of further revelations.

After the story began to break, Howard Kurtz discussed “Gannon’s” resignation from Talon “News” in the article "Online Reporter Quits After Liberals' Expose," noting that Gannon wanted to “put some separation between Talon News and the White House.” (I suppose that simply removing his lips from Scott McClellan’s posterior wouldn’t have been enough “separation.”)

Eric Boehlert's "Fake News, Fake Reporter" observed that “Talon is connected at the hip to a right-wing activist organization called GOPUSA” and that “its ‘news’ staff consists largely of volunteer Republican activists with no journalism experience,” and then goes on to ask:

“How can a reporter using a fake name and working for a fake news organization get press credentials from the White House, let alone curry enough favor with the notoriously disciplined Bush administration to get picked by the president in order to ask fake questions?”

How, indeed? Somehow, however, this uncredentialed man even wound up with classified documents about former CIA agent Valerie Plame. (See David Corn’s "The Bizarre Gannon Affair" for details.)

CampaignDesk's analysis, "Out Come the Talons" talks about “Gannon” resigning from Talon “News” on Tuesday, and then discussed his whining about being investigated himself: "If this is what happens to me, what reporter is safe?" The answer, simply, is that:

“Real reporters are safe. It's just the ideological warriors masquerading as fair-minded journalists who should be wary. […] Gannon asked questions designed not to get information from Bush but to demonstrate his allegiance to him, not to mention his disgust with Democrats and his own ostensible colleagues. […] Gannon threw away his opportunity in favor of self-aggrandizing partisan spectacle. He put himself and his agenda ahead of the public good, and he did it in a manner so egregious that he left little doubt of his intentions.”

On February 11, Media Matters published information about "Gannon's" training in "journalism:" ("Jeff Gannon's alma mater: The Leadership Institute." His credentials consist solely of a two-day $50 seminar – one grounded not in fact-based reporting, but designed “to increase the number and effectiveness of conservative public policy leaders.”

On Monday, AmericaBlog broke the rest of the story: "Jeff Gannon" was actually a $200/hour x-rated escort! After comparing photographs from his explicit websites to ones from his current profession, the writer asks:

“Why does it matter that Jeff Gannon may have been a gay hooker named James Guckert with a $20,000 defaulted court judgment against him? So he somehow got a job lobbing softball questions to the White House. Big deal. If he was already a prostitute, why not be one in the White House briefing room as well?”

While that nonchalance has a certain appeal, it is worth imagining what a media firestorm this would be if it had happened while Clinton was in office: a pseudo-reporter who recycled party press releases into "news" items, was a preferred "softball question" member of the White House press corps (under a pseudonym, no less), all while covering up his past as a prostitute. A special prosecutor would be appointed to run a years-long multi-million-dollar investigation into who knew what when, 24x7 media stories would decry the White House’s moral laxity, and – years later – we would still be hearing about "Gigolo-Gate."

Since it's happening under Bush II, though, the scandal will probably disappear within a week.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that, like David Brock (who went from “The Real Anita Hill” and “The Seduction of Hillary Rodham” hackwork to serious reportage in “Blinded by the Right” and “The Republican Noise Machine”) before him, James Guckert will begin practicing honesty and integrity in his chosen profession. I hold out no hope for those on the other side of the podium.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"Journalists and presidents, especially Republican presidents, both prefer to portray the media under a mutually self-serving myth as an allegedly cynical, heartless, anti-authoritarian left-wing animal. The president and his people play along because the myth brings them as much sympathy from the largely inattentive public as it does from their fiercely ideological supporters. The idea of an indefatigable press, rumbling for trouble, also connects to the right’s apparently universal wellsprings of self-pity and imagined persecution. The media enjoys the stereotype because it ennobles their self-image and disputes their own fears of being stenographers in the unstoppable spin machine."

Eric Alterman, What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News (p. 192)

I'm not about to predict the imminent demise of either print or broadcast journalism, but bloggers have dramatically expanded their media niche. The Gadflyer has some of the most incisive progressive writing out there, and is most likely the best blog you haven't read (yet). Below are some samples from the past two weeks:


Sarah Posner's "The Marketing Culture" skewered WETA, her local PBS station, for caving in to fear and not airing the "Sugartime" episode of Postcards from Buster. (This episode committed the sin of showing a nonremarkable lesbian couple as background characters. More details are here.) Posner's letter to WETA read, in part:

"People who are afraid of the 'Sugartime' episode are not reasonable. They are trying to hide homosexuality from public view. But the censorship of a television program will not make homosexuality disappear. People who are afraid to let their children see a brief glimpse of a lesbian couple on T.V. delude themselves into thinking their children won't see gay people at school, at the park, at the store, at church, or at a friend's birthday party. […] We're not talking about shielding children from axe murderers or child molesters. We're talking about shielding children from a normal, biological reality that is the life of countless God-fearing, law-abiding, public-serving Americans, including public figures who appear in 'family friendly' media venues, from the Vice-President's own daughter to popular movie stars. Censorship of people will not make them go away. It only demonstrates the smallness of the minds of those doing the censoring."


Paul Waldman wrote in "Out of Touch" about a woman who talked to Bush at a recent press event. When she mentioned having to work three jobs, Bush commented that this was "uniquely American" and "fantastic." Waldman responded this way:

"Here's something somebody should have clued you in on when you were summering in Kennebunkport: when somebody works two or three jobs, it's not because they've got can-do American spirit. It's because their first job doesn't pay enough for them to make ends meet, and they're faced with a choice between running themselves ragged or seeing their kids starve, you goddamn idiot. Working three jobs as a single mother with a mentally challenged kid is not "fantastic," it's a trial worthy of Job. Maybe if you had ever held a real job in your life - or had a moment of worry about paying your bills, or wondered whether you were going to be able to feed your kids this month, or hoped they wouldn't get sick because you had no health insurance, or had a financial problem your daddy's friends didn't bail you out of, you'd understand that."


Waldman also eviscerated Condi Rice in "Madame Secretary, I Believe Your Pants Are On Fire," with the summarization that "maybe people wouldn't impugn your integrity if you weren't so willing to lie."

For details about the al Qaeda plan that was turned over to the Bush administration, despite her protestations to the contrary, read Richard Clarke's memo to Condi Rice and the attachment .

On second thought, maybe Waldman was too harsh. Maybe Condi was right: saying "We urgently need such a Principals level review on the al Qida network" is just too vague. Calling them an "active, organized, major force" that represented a "transnational challenge" shouldn't have set off any alarms. I guess it was better for the Bushies to ignore everything during the eight months before 9/11, including Clarke's direct warning:

"The programs initiated in the last three years lay the basis for achieving the strategic goal of rendering the al Qida network as a non serious threat to the US, but success can only be achieved if the pace and resource levels of the programs continue to grow as planned."


If you enjoy this sort of brutal honesty - as opposed to the predictable spin and unenlightening hot air of the mainstream corporate media - there’s plenty more online. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"This Age of Information has turned out to be an Age of Ignorance, in some ways comparable to the so-called Dark Ages, when the priests alone knew how to read and there was nothing to plug in. We live with an unprecedented wealth of information: countless facts and solid arguments and scrupulous researches, all of it (for many of us) just a click away. And yet it is entirely possible, and dangerously easy, to zoom through life with one’s head tightly stuck inside a sort of iron bubble, wholly portable and yet completely shatterproof, that lets in just one kind of 'information.'"

Mark Crispin Miller (Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order, p. 123)

In the 1950s, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham suggested that Batman and Robin were gay; later there were rumors about Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie. Then televangelist Jerry Falwell claimed that Tinky-Winky was gay. In the latest incident, SpongeBob Squarepants has given the anti-gay reactionaries more free airtime.

Last November, the We Are Family Foundation gathered over 100 children's characters, including SpongeBob, to re-record the 1979 song "We Are Family" as part of a video to:

"promote tolerance and diversity to America's children. The video, which demonstrates to children the importance of togetherness embodied in the word 'family', will be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools in the United States on March 11, 2005, in celebration of the proposed National We Are Family Day."

Concepts like tolerance and diversity don't sit well with the American Family Association. Their latest magazine has a cover story about the We Are Family video. AFA chair Donald Wildmon commented, "Most Christians are now aware of what those code words mean." The numerous right-wing code words ("lifestyle," "behavior," "conduct," “practice,” “protecting” marriage, and the mythical "choice") are the true linguistic sleights-of-hand in this confrontation over cartoon characters; inserting the words "family," "value," or "moral" in the name of every anti-gay group is another of their tactics.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson echoes Wildmon's sentiments, writing that, “while the video is harmless on its own, I believe the agenda behind it is sinister. […] …childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children.” Later, Dobson conjures up “terribly dangerous” “references to adult perverse sexuality” out of nothing more than his fevered imagination.

Keith Olbermann's blog at MSNBC covers the publicity created by the SpongeBob situation, noting that “Dobson, like many other exploiters of Amoral Values, ran immediately to the easiest way out of a stupid fix of his own creation: he blamed the big old ugly media.” (I wonder if he’s referring to the same corporate media that largely refused to air the United Church of Christ’s pro-tolerance TV ad last year.)

Not surprisingly, the UCC joined the fray in "SpongeBob receives 'unequivocal welcome' from United Church of Christ" by J. Bennett Guess, which refutes Dobson’s “laughable accusations.” UCC general manager John Thomas notes, “While Dobson’s silly accusation makes headlines, it's also one more concrete example of how religion is misused over and over to promote intolerance over inclusion." The UCC website also features "SpongeBob goes to church," containing some photographs of the cartoon character associating with UCC members and subversively suggesting that Jesus might have ever railed against sanctimony and hypocrisy.

Speaking of subversive, here's the allegedly dangerous "Tolerance Pledge" – which is not part of the video - courtesy of www.tolerance.org:

"Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."

That's frightening stuff, all right. I certainly wouldn't want schoolchildren to learn respect for people of different backgrounds. This nation would be much better off if we went back to teaching racism, sexism, and homophobia in the public schools under the perverted doctrine of "hate thy neighbor."

Seriously, though: While I mock their paranoia and their persecution complex, the anti-gay crackpots and I do agree on something. Dobson writes, “What is vitally important, however, are the children of this country and the effort being made to manipulate them for political purposes.” Ironically, he is blind to his own attempt at political manipulation: misusing parents’ natural concern for their children by twisting it in service of his fundamentalist agenda. (Maybe he should remove the beam from his eye before sitting down at his writing desk to complain about the mote in someone else's eye.)

As a parent, the thought that the next generation might one day know more than mine doesn't scare me: it gives me hope for the future.

It's called learning.

The leaders of American Family Association and Focus on the Family should try it sometime.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

"First they came for Tinky Winky, and I did not speak up, because I couldn't stand the Teletubbies. Then they came for Spongebob, and I did not speak up, because I thought he was overexposed anyway. Then when Kermit the Frog and Snuffelupagus kidnapped me and I woke up in a leather bar wearing chaps, there was no one left to speak for me...

Paul Waldman, “La Cage Aux Spongebob

A coalition of progressive groups has put together a flyer about Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales (headlined “You may not know Alberto Gonzales. But we’re sure you’ll recognize the results of his work”) featuring the infamous hooded Iraqi prisoner. Human Rights First has a brief video segment about Gonzales, along with short and long versions of their position. HRF summarizes their opposition to Gonzales this way:

“He approved a definition of torture so narrow that much of the barbarism depicted in the photos from Abu Ghraib would have been beyond the law to punish. He has contended that U.S. personnel are exempt from the ban on cruel and degrading practices that has been binding U.S. treaty law for more than a decade. And he has embraced the radical view that the President has the power to ignore laws passed by the nation’s representatives in Congress. Such views are anathema to the rule of law, and contrary to the rights the United States has pledged to protect.”

The Center for American Progress has a selection of resources criticizing Gonzales and his unfitness to be our nation's Attorney General. Jonathan Schell's essay “What Is Wrong with Torture” is succinct in its assessment that:

“It is repugnant to learn that one's country's military forces are engaging in torture. It is worse to learn that the torture is widespread. It is worse still to learn that the torture was rationalized and sanctioned in long memorandums written by people at the highest level of the government. But worst of all would be ratification of this record by a vote to confirm one of its chief authors to the highest legal office in the executive branch of the government.”

Marjorie Cohn's “The Gonzales Indictment” begins with the statement “Alberto Gonzales should not be the Attorney General of the United States. He should be considered a war criminal and indicted by the Attorney General,” and then continues with a suggested two-count indictment under the War Crimes Act (which penalizes violations of the same Geneva Conventions that Gonzales referred to as “obsolete” and “quaint”).

The ACLU has published a lengthy report on Gonzales' civil liberties and civil rights record, detailing his failures on issues from rubber-stamping Texas executions and hiding 68,000 pages of Reagan-era documents to designating detainees as “enemy combatants” and approving torture methods such as “water-boarding.”

I urge everyone to ask their Senators to prevent Alberto Gonzales from doing any more damage to our national ideals and our international reputation; the People for the American Way website features an automated Senatorial petition similar to the one at HRF. If you are uncomfortable with sending political messages through third parties, you can locate and contact your Senators here.

Torture is not wrong merely because it is illegal (malum prohibitum) and prohibited by the Geneva Conventions; it is wrong in and of itself (malum in se). When we ignore that distinction, abuse our power, and forego our principles, we are in great danger of staring into the Nietzschean abyss. (See the "Quote of the Day" below.) We, as a nation, cannot simply pretend to be better than the rest of the world; we must actually live up to a higher standard. Alberto Gonzales' low road is not the path that will lead us there.

Thanks for reading.

Quote of the Day:

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146)

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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