Jeff Gannon back -- at National Press Club?
By Scott Shepard
Cox News Service
Saturday, April 09, 2005
WASHINGTON — Ana Marie Cox (aka The Wonkette), online chronicler of Bush twins sightings and Capitol Hill sex scandals, was lecturing James Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon), the infamous White House correspondent with an alias, on the ethics of journalism Friday.
Or at least actually. At no less a forum than the prestigious National Press Club, where the likes of giants like David Brinkley, Eric Sevareid and Ben Bradlee once held forth on journalism.
In the words of another nationally known media figure, humor columnist Dave Barry, "I'm not making this up."
The irony was evident even before NPC President Rick Dunham convened the panel discussion on "Who Is A Journalist," focusing on the mostly non-credentialed world of bloggers and online journalism. NPC officials demanded to see the press credentials or club membership card of reporters attending the event.
Even more irony: less than an hour later, in the room next door, Bradlee, the still legendary retired editor of The Washington Post, dismissed the question as irrelevant when asked for his own views of who qualifies as a journalist.
"Well, I'm not sure that it's worth all that much effort to find out the answer to that," Bradlee said to the delight of a press club lunch audience. "A journalist is someone who earns a living writing for a journal, whether it's a television journal - but whether these bloggers are journalists or not, I don't think it makes a hell of a lot of difference."
Or does it?
The panel came together because we wanted to discuss some issues that came about from the Gannon case," said Mike Madden, a Gannett News Service reporter and a member of the Club's Professional Affairs Committee.
Since resigning as White House correspondent for Talon News, a now-suspended online news service owned by Texas Republican activist Bobby Eberle, Gannon has largely avoided the media spotlight, despite having a blog of his own.
But he was the main attraction at the NPC event Friday, his Talon News activities at the White House and reports of previous links to the online gay escort business having raised the issue of who is a legitimate journalist and who is entitled to hard-to-get credentials to attend daily White House press briefings.
Gannon renewed his claims that he was a target of liberal bloggers, outraged by the often provocative pro-administration nature of his questions at the White House briefings, arguing that his downfall would have a "chilling" effect on other political conservatives in the media.
"I was about the only news source providing ... information without a filter," he said, defending his practice of including lengthy verbatim portions of White House press releases in his Talon News reports. "There is nothing wrong with reporting what the administration says about a particular issue ... Why does everything have to be looked at through a lens that represents every point of view?"
When Gannon suggested that the Bush administration had to pay conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to get "a fair hearing" on its school reforms because the mainstream media is overwhelming liberal, Cox leaped into action, arguing that the White House was seeking "a favorable hearing, not a fair hearing.
She also grilled Gannon when he initially said he could not remember how long it took him to get the first of the daily White House press passes after his initial request, an important issue because it is often a lengthy process, sometimes lasting months:
"Oh, come on, you must remember. Come on, how long? How long? How long? Days, months weeks?" the Wonkette asked.
"Weeks," Gannon eventually conceded.
Gannon questioned the objectivity of the mainstream media as he defended his own conservative approach to the news and his pro-administration style of questioning at the White House.
Alluding to CBS's use of phony documents to challenge whether President Bush had fulfilled his stateside military service during the Vietnam War, for example, he said, "I'm not the one who was waving documents at the president saying, 'Hey, you were not serving your time in the Texas National Guard'."
To emphasize his point, Gannon waved some papers in his hand. The papers turned out to be an electoral map of the United States in the 2004 presidential election using colors to highlight areas that voted for Bush and Kerry. Only, instead of red for the Republican areas, he used green, explaining that his home computer printer ran out of red ink. He used the map to underscore his contention that the voters in the Republican areas depended on him to ask his kind of questions at the White House.
Gannon met sustained laughter from the audience when, at one point, he asserted, "You can hardly call Fox News conservative."
The panel discussion included Julie Davis of the Baltimore Sun, the chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which oversees congressional press credentials and denied Gannon a pass last year; John Stanton of Congress Daily, who has written extensively about bloggers and online journalism; Garrett Gaff, former Dean for America staffer who recently became the first blogger to be granted a daily White House press pass; and Matthew Yglesias, a writer and blogger for American Prospect magazine.
The 90-minute talk ended with a blogger, Mike Rogers of blogACTIVE.com, screaming questions at Gannon about his sexual activities, questions Gannon ignored as he retreated from the hearing room.
Probably not the kind of National Press Club moment that Sevareid, the famed CBS commentator, had in mind when in a memorable retirement appearance, he said of the club:
"It's the Westminster Hall, it's Delphi, it's Mecca, the wailing wall (for) everybody in this country having anything to do with the news business; the only hallowed place I know of that's absolutely bursting with irreverence."
Scott Shepard's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org