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)