Gannongate Media Coverage Update
Eric Boehlert of Salon wonders aloud why the major TV networks and some of the larger newspapers have not covered the Jeff Gannon/J. D. Guckert story at all:
Ordinarily, revelations that a former male prostitute, using an alias (Jeff Gannon) and working for a phony news organization, was ushered into the White House -- without undergoing a full-blown security background check -- in order to pose softball questions to administration officials would qualify as news by any recent Beltway standard. Yet as of Thursday, ABC News, which produces "Good Morning America," "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings," "Nightline," "This Week," "20/20" and "Primetime Live," has not reported one word about the three-week-running scandal. Neither has CBS News ("The Early Show," "The CBS Evening News," "60 Minutes," "60 Minutes Wednesday" and "Face the Nation"). NBC and its entire family of morning, evening and weekend news programs have addressed the story only three times.
Meanwhile on the newsstands, through Thursday, there had been no meaningful coverage in USA Today or in the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Francisco Chronicle, Indianapolis Star, Denver Post, Oakland Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer, to name a few that have effectively boycotted the White House press office scandal. Leo Wolinsky, deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, says the Times is running its first Guckert story on Friday, focusing on the guidelines for securing White House press passes. "It's a bit late," he concedes. "We may have been a bit slow to recognize it had become a story of public interest."
What's also curious is that last December another media controversy erupted over the role a journalist played in posing a controversial question to top White House officials. It involved a reporter for the Chattanooga Free Times Press, Edward Lee Pitts, who helped a National Guardsman craft a tough question posed to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regarding the lack of body armor for U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq. Rumsfeld's at-times-cavalier response created a small firestorm. ("You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.") The revelation that Pitts was involved in formulating the question, and the debate over whether he overstepped a journalistic boundary, soon became a story onto itself in the mainstream press. Unlike Guckert, who was criticized for bending the rules to toss softball questions to administration officials, Pitts was accused of bending the rules to ask a question that was too hard.
Although the Pitts story lasted for only one 24-hour news cycle, it was covered by virtually every major news outlet, including ABC, CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle -- the very same news organizations that, three weeks into the Guckert saga, have failed to acknowledge the story even exists.
The San Francisco Chronicle did in fact editorialize just yesterday on the subject:
Whether Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert, was a White House "plant'' may never be known because officials in the Bush administration have taken great pains to distance themselves from the controversy. But passive denials only increase the lack of credibility to explanations of how the White House credentialed Guckert, even though he was representing a pseudo-news operation, using an alias and was linked to X-rated Web sites.
Any news reporter who has ever covered the White House, presidential campaign events or Capitol Hill knows the gauntlet of security checks. Even reporters with familiar bylines from prominent news organizations must go through the process.
The idea that the White House might try to infiltrate the press corps with a shill is a chilling thought in this democracy, but this is the administration that has been caught paying "journalists" and generating its own prefabricated "news reports" to distribute to TV stations too naïve to recognize the attempt at propaganda.
It's hard to say which is worse: That the White House had no idea who it was allowing to be within shouting distance of the president -- or that it knew exactly who Jeff Gannon was and why he was there.
Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix runs a good piece today also pointing out that mainstream journalists are hesitant to touch this story yet until more leads and fact are out there. He also points out the basic difference between a GOP sex scandal and a Democratic sex scandal is the GOP media machine.
Of course, the difference is that if, say, a Gore or Kerry administration had brought in a gay hooker to act as a ringer at news conferences, it would have quickly exploded into the biggest story in the country. Fox News would devote hours upon hours to it. So would Rush Limbaugh. So would the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells and the James Dobsons. Needless to say, so would the Republican Party. And here’s where the difference between liberal and conservative sex scandals, and how the mainstream media handle them, becomes clearly visible. When there’s a scandal on the left, there is a built-in machine, already in place, to spew shock and outrage on a 24-hour-a-day basis, and the mainstream media naturally cover that. But when there’s a sex scandal on the right, there’s really no one to speak out. Do liberals really care that men are having sex with each other? Or that Jeff Gannon supposedly has been paid as much as $1200 for one weekend for the pleasure of his companionship? To ask these questions is to answer them: no, and no.
The paradigmatic example is the Monica Lewinsky story. You may recall that the investigation into Bill Clinton’s sex life was driven not by the media, but by a $50 million official government investigation and a congressional witch-hunt led by the Republican majority. If the Bush White House really does become embroiled in a sex scandal — and, at this point, it looks like a genuine possibility — well, who is going to push this into the hyperstory realm? There simply are no liberal equivalents of Sean Hannity and Rush. Al Franken? Please. He’d be laughing too hard to take this seriously. And Howard Dean is not likely to position himself as the Democrats’ sexual inquisitor.
There is a sex angle to the Gannon matter, and it needs to be explored. But it’s not that Gannon is or was a gay hooker — it’s that he somehow got into the White House, and past the Secret Service, despite that. What did the White House know, and when did it know it? And since the connection between sex and politics is ancient and venerable, that angle needs to be explored as well.
Kennedy has these interesting takes on the scandal as well:
Susan Ryan-Vollmar, editor of the Boston gay-and-lesbian newspaper Bay Windows (and a former Phoenix news editor), points to another angle the media ought to explore, and that is hypocrisy: Gannon not only worked for an anti-gay Web site that promotes a president who opposes same-sex marriage and other pro-gay initiatives, but Gannon himself last year wrote that John Kerry "might someday be known as ‘the first gay president’ " because of his support for gay rights. In other words, Gannon was asking for it.
"You don’t want to appear like you’re gay-bashing by going after this guy, but it’s not gay-bashing," says Ryan-Vollmar. Indeed, Media Matters, perhaps the most mainstream Web site to pursue the Gannon story, is run by the well-known conservative-turned-liberal David Brock, who’s gay. Americablog, which has broken some of the seamier aspects of the Gannon matter, is a gay-oriented site. John Byrne, editor and publisher of the Cambridge-based Raw Story, is gay, and is no stranger to outing those he sees as hypocrites.
Still, the essence of the Gannon matter is that he received special treatment from a White House that is always looking for innovative ways to manipulate the media. If Gannon’s sexual proclivities somehow helped him to obtain access, that ought to be investigated. But until there’s proof, the mainstream media are right to tread lightly.
"I think the idea is, does this guy’s sexual preference have anything to do with what’s going on at the White House?" says Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on Politics, Public Policy, and the Press, at Harvard’s Kennedy School. "Because that’s one thing and politics is another. And it certainly looks like it might have something to do with it, and that should be pursued. Especially since the White House seems to use these credentials as a reward-and-punishment system. So what was he being rewarded for? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened. It’s certainly legitimate to look into it."
But remember, we have a liberal media.