The emails keep pouring in with this plea: Investigate Gannongate! These messages are obviously part of a campaign among liberal Internet activists who believe the controversy concerning Jeff Gannon (aka James Guckert) has not received sufficient media attention. Gannon/Guckert was a conservative reporter for a marginal news outfit who obtained a daily pass to the White House press office and who also apparently was seeking customers as a gay, military-oriented prostitute. Serious questions do remain as to why and how the Bush White House’s press operation granted access to Gannon/Guckert, a correspondent for the Talon News. Should a fellow with a fake identity–and a questionable background–be allowed into presidential press conferences? Talon News was connected to GOPUSA, an organization run by Texas-based Republican activist Bobby Eberle, and Gannon/Guckert routinely asked softball questions of Bush’s press secretaries during their daily White House briefings. But throughout this scandal, I have wondered if the Gannon affair may be smaller than it seems. I expressed several concerns in an earlier column. Still, in response to the emails, I decided to heed the call and look further. What I found leads me to ask–gasp!–if Gannon/Guckert, on a few but not all fronts, has received a quasi-bum rap.
Let me stipulate that how Gannon/Guckert came to be permitted into the White House press room is a worthy topic of inquiry. But his pursuers ought to be careful on this point. Talon News was a fly-by-night (or phony) news operation with a political agenda. But White House daily briefings should be open to as diverse a group as possible. There is a need for professional accreditation; space is limited. Yet there is nothing inherently wrong with allowing journalists with identifiable biases to pose questions to the White House press secretary and even the president. And if such a reporter asks a dumb question–as did Gannon/Guckert (which triggered this scandal)–the best response is scorn and further debate. Bloggers should think hard when they complain about standards for passes for White House press briefings. Last year, political bloggers–many of whom have their own biases and sometimes function as activists–sought credentials to the Democratic and Republican conventions. That was a good thing. Why shouldn’t Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, John Aravosis, or Markos Moulitsas (DailyKos) be allowed to question Scott McClellan or George W. Bush? Do we want only the MSMers to have this privilege?
If Gannon/Guckert did receive preferential treatment–because of his ideological bent or any other reason–that would be wrong and a matter for the White House to explain. But let’s move on to his personal (or other professional) life. Bloggers have made much of his apparent effort to earn a buck as a prostitute for men. This is not gay-baiting, they say, it’s hypocrisy. The question is, hypocrisy on whose part? On Gannon/Guckert’s? He’s been accused of being a gay-baiter. But how true is that? As part of my investigation, I had my assistant, Alexa Steinberg, search through a collection of Gannon/Guckert’s articles for pieces on gay-related themes. She found eight pieces. Most were straightforward accounts of political tussles over gay marriage. Here’s a representative sample, from a July 7, 2004, article: