There is something about the fuss over the White House reporter formerly known as Jeff Gannon that makes me uneasy. No, it’s not the sexually explicit photos of him that accompany what appears to be ads in which he offers himself as a gay prostitute for clients seeking a military type. (These photographs were discovered by blogger John Aravosis. Click here–but not if you are faint-hearted.) These photos are an issue because the Bush White House granted Gannon–whose real name seems to be James Guckert–entry to press briefings conducted by press secretary Scott McClellan and press conferences with George W. Bush. Gannon/Guckert, who wrote for the conservative Talon News service (which is run by a Republican activist), was awarded such access even though he did not qualify for a congressional press pass–the standard press pass in Washington. It is legitimate to ask why the White House permitted a fellow with a spotty past and questionable credentials to become part of the press corps. Did he get special treatment because he was a conservative? After all, this whole to-do started when Gannon/Guckert at a January 26 press conference aked Bush a softball question in which he characterized Senate Democratic leaders as “people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality.”
But let me raise a cautionary note or two. The blogosphere in recent months has become the piling-on-osphere. When there is blood in the water–or on the keyboard–bloggers rush in for the kill. (Gannon resigned from Talon News a few days ago.) So far all of the victims have deserved the whacks. Dan Rather was pigheaded and defiant when he should have responded to questions about his 60 Minutes report on Bush’s dodgy military service by saying, “Those are interesting and troubling points, we’ll check them out immediately.” Trent Lott was going to escape his stupid remark hailing Strom Thurmond’s days as a segregationist until bloggers orchestrated a drumbeat. CNN executive Eason Jordan did not immediately clarify, back up or retract comments in which he reportedly claimed that US troops in Iraq had purposefully targeted and killed journalists. Yet the speed and drama of these trials-by-blog may be cause for quasi-concern not unfettered celebration. Am I being a semi-old fuddy-duddy? Could be. When I have a hot story I move as fast as possible to get it out. No one wants to be scooped. And I, too, delight in producing stories that expose hypocrisy and wrongdoing.
But with the Gannon/Guckert case, I wonder if there was a touch of blog-hysteria. (Bloggers, don’t jump on me. I blog too. Click here. I’m only wondering, not accusing.) I am not suggesting, as I noted above, that the who-is-Gannon story was not appropriate grist for the blog-mill. But is it possible that significance of this odd tale was inflated during the red-hot pursuit of this fellow? I’ve met Gannon a few times. For some reason, he was eager to say hello to me when I last visited the White House press room and was handing out invitations to the party for my book, The Lies of George W. Bush. He struck me as mostly innocuous. At the White House daily briefings conducted by McClellan, Gannon/Guckert did ask ideologically loaded questions. But so do other reporters. Until he suffered a heart attack last month, radio commentator Les Kinsolving was known for posing long-winded questions that revealed a sharp rightwing bias. There is nothing wrong with a real journalist hurling at the press secretary–or the president–a pointed question with an ideological foundation. The heroic Helen Thomas does that often. Russell Mokhiber of the Corporate Crime Reporter often challenged Ari Fleischer in this fashion. Arguably, the Q&As at the White House could use more of this sort of questioning. I’d be delighted to see journalists from conservative publications press Bush on the administration’s lowball estimates of Medicare drug benefits. Gannon/Guckert’s pursuers ought to be careful and note that the problem with Gannon/Guckert was not that he was a reporter with an obvious political bent but that he had weak credentials and an iffy background.