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March 3, 2005

Come clean about "Gannongate"

by Alex Mazerov, Page Editor
Over the past several weeks, a comprehensive investigation inside the blogosphere uncovered the truth about "Jeff Gannon" – a "reporter" for the blatantly partisan group GOPUSA and the amateurish Talon News Service who the White House allowed into press briefings for nearly two years. Liberal critics on the Internet discovered that "Jeff Gannon" is actually a pseudonym for the man's real name, James Guckert, and that he has an X-rated past and no journalistic background. The Bush administration needs to come clean about how Guckert, a fake reporter using a fake name working for a fake news outlet, managed to bypass all procedures for credentialing journalists and repeatedly gain access to the White House briefing room and, on several occasions, the president.

The controversy, dubbed "Gannongate" by bloggers, was sparked by a loaded question that Guckert asked
"Jeff Gannon" asks a question at a White House press briefing.
"Jeff Gannon" asks a question at a White House press briefing.
at President Bush's post-inaugural press conference on Jan. 26. Guckert asked Bush, "[Senate minority leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse…How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" Aside from being overly partisan, the question was also inaccurate; Reid never said anything about soup lines. That same afternoon, conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh boasted that Guckert's query was "a repeat, a rehash of a precise point I made on this program yesterday." Limbaugh conceded, however, that Reid had "never actually said 'soup lines.'" The "soup line" phrase was simply Limbaugh's grossly exaggerated characterization of the senator's economic concerns. Guckert then inserted this phrase into his softball question, ultimately triggering his downfall.

Media Matters for America, a liberal advocacy group, soon revealed that Guckert's employer, a web site called Talon News, is owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican convention. Talon has close ties to another of Eberle's partisan enterprises, a web site called, which peddles itself as "bringing the conservative message to America." Media Matters performed an in-depth analysis of Talon's content. It found that Talon's "news" and Guckert's articles usually consisted of recycled Republican National Committee memos and White House press releases copied verbatim. Aside from being a phony, Guckert is also a hypocrite; he once ridiculed real journalists for continuing "to work off of the talking points provided them from the opposition [the Democrats]."

Exactly how Guckert managed to gain access to briefings normally reserved for accredited reporters remains to be seen, but it is clear that strings were pulled in the White House press office. Either Guckert was purposely planted in the press room by the White House or, though far less likely, the security measures taken to protect the president are so lax that anyone can get in. According to Salon, Guckert enjoyed unfettered access to the press room not by going through the customary lengthy background check that most journalists face when acquiring a "hard," or permanent, pass, but by obtaining a day pass, which requires only a brief background check. Guckert was forced to get a day pass -- which are intended for reporters visiting D.C. from other cities who need to cover the White House for just a few days -- because his request for a hard pass was denied.

Besides having to work for a legitimate news organization (a requirement that Guckert obviously failed to meet), a reporter who wants a hard pass must have been accredited to cover Capitol Hill. Guckert 's application for Capitol Hill press credentials, which he submitted on Dec. 12, 2003, was rejected. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, a group of Capitol Hill reporters that oversees the distribution of press passes, rejected Guckert 's request because it could not conclude that Talon News was a legitimate, independent news organization, according to Salon. So Guckert, sans a hard pass, somehow managed to circumvent established protocols and use his daily pass to get into press briefings for almost two years.

The recent revelations forced "Gannon" to resign and caused Talon News to remove all content from its web site (The home page now euphemistically reads, "We feel compelled to reevaluate operations in order to provide the highest quality, most professional product possible.") But thus far, the White House has been completely unresponsive to members of the media and Democrats in Congress who have been searching for answers. It's time for some.

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  • Ha! on March 3, 2005 at 2:24 PM
    I'm waiting for Armin on this one... sorry bud, but this one you CAN'T defend. (Sidenote: This happens to liberals too (Dan Rather and CBS Evening News, Jayson Blair...)

    I heard this on XM Radio's Air America (the obviously biased left wing radio program) in the Al Franken Show (I know its biased, but its funny!).
  • georgia on March 3, 2005 at 4:44 PM
    links to you on the gannon blog :)
  • Robert P. Forbes (View Email) on March 3, 2005 at 7:06 PM
    Superb article, and remarkably professional site. The Blairs (old newspapermen!) would be proud.

    Rob Forbes
    Yale University
  • Shannon Jacobs (View Email) on March 3, 2005 at 8:05 PM
    The hypocritical aspect is not significant, though you can easily imagine the Bushevik/Rushevik uproar if a gay prostitute had been discovered in Clinton's White House. The critical issue is the propagandistic slant, how a friendly pseudo-journalist will get all the help BushCo can provide, while any *REAL* journalist who is not friendly enough will receive all the interference and disruption possible.

    However, the funniest part is how Dubya called on Guckert/Gannon so quickly after saying he wanted a "nice independent relationship" with the press. Such a nasty question, so he immediately went to Guckert for a friendly softball up the middle.
  • Armin Rosen on March 3, 2005 at 8:07 PM
    Well, here you go, Ha!:

    As Alex explained, Gannon was only able to obtain a "day pass," and not the more inclusive "hard pass" granted to established journalists. On that front, he was denied by the same Bush administration that, according to left-wing conspiracy theorists, planted him in the White House press room in the first place.

    Now I'm no expert in political deceit, but it makes no sense whatsoever to deny full access to a supposed plant. So unless you're of the belief that the Bush administration granted him the day pass as opposed to a hard pass in an attempt to cover their tracks, the chain of the events here is obvious: Gannon, an ambitious journalist, requested a day pass and, inexplicably receiving one, struck gold. Anything beyond that (for instance, the notion that he was planted in order to leak the identity of Valerie Plame) is unsubstantiated paranoia.

    Should Gannon have been in the White House press room? Absolutely not. Is Talon News a legitimate news outlet? This is a matter of subjective opinion. But let's not blow this out of proportion. The White House gave a couple of bad press passes. Things like this happen. Move on.

    Seriously SCO, there's a revolution brewing in Lebanon. People are taking to the streets. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are demanding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Faced with democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories (although Hamas sweeping the provincial elections is certainly troubling) the armor of Middle Eastern autocracy is, slowly but surely, beginning to crack.

    And you're writing about THIS?!?!??!
  • Armin Rosen on March 3, 2005 at 8:18 PM
    "Exactly how Guckert managed to gain access to briefings normally reserved for accredited reporters remains to be seen, but it is clear that strings were pulled in the White House press office. Either Guckert was purposely planted in the press room by the White House or, though far less likely, the security measures taken to protect the president are so lax that anyone can get in. According to Salon, Guckert enjoyed unfettered access to the press room not by going through the customary lengthy background check that most journalists face when acquiring a "hard," or permanent, pass, but by a obtaining day pass..."

    "Apparent that strings were pulled in the White House press office?" Says who? Uberliberal Salon magazine? Air America?

    And what makes Gannon legitimately gaining entry to the press room a "far less likely" scenario than administrative treachery? Other than circumstantial evidence and spin from liberal websites like Salon and Media Matters, there seems to be little solid proof of Bush conspiring to plant Jeff Gannon in his press conferences.

    Don't get me wrong; nobody should be disallowed from theorizing...
  • Skirt the Issue! on March 3, 2005 at 8:59 PM
    Forget about the war in Iraq, forget about the multi-billion dollar deficit, forget about the millions of people who are dying from Aids each year: gay people are getting MARRIED!! Come on, now, lets focus on the "important" issues and completely ignore the ones that even pose a slight criticism to our great president.

    Dave Chapelle is my hero.
  • anonymous on March 3, 2005 at 10:40 PM
    you tell 'em alex!
  • Armin Rosen on March 3, 2005 at 11:18 PM
    That was no knock on SCO, by the way. My point is that there are things going on right now that are far more important than Gannongate.

    Granted, there are things going on right now that are far more important than gay marriage, although I do believe that the matter of whether gay marriage falls within the jurisdiction of the courts, the states, or the federal government is a significant issue.
  • oh no!! on March 4, 2005 at 3:19 AM
    oh my god gay people are getting married??
  • Anonymous on March 4, 2005 at 9:50 AM
    now why in the world would the white house explain how they let in gannon? so other con-artists and fraud can do the exact same thing?

    armin pretty much said whatever there is to say.

    this article is hardly top story material - honestly, sco. it's nothing short of inane.
  • Anonymously Liberal (View Email) on March 4, 2005 at 11:16 AM
    Skirt the Issue, are you being serious? I hope not, because that's the most blatantly sexist thing I've heard in a long time, and I certainly don't want to find it here.

    I'm going to lay out my arguments for gay marriage:
    1. As long as there are priests, rabbis, et cetera, willing to marry gays, then religious morals cannot come into it. If gays can find a religion--or invent one, for that matter--willing to accept them, then values of other religions have no bearing. We have separation of church and state so that more powerful religions like Christianity cannot force their beliefs on members of other faiths through the government. The government cannot--CANNOT--take religious values into account when deciding whether something is legal or not. Spit on gay couples all you want, but you're not allowed to go through the government to stop them. You may not like it, but it's part of our society. Like a lot of things.
    2. Gay married couples should have the same legal and tax benefits. Certainly, they do everything a heterosexual couple would do--shop, live together. They have the same reasons to get a tax benefit. Married couples get a tax benefit for many reasons. Being heterosexual is not among them.
    3. Gay people have the right to adopt. The only argument against adoption--that is, that children will be brought up believing homosexuality is okay--doesn't apply. Because homosexuality is okay. As long as kids realize that homosexuality is just as much a part of humanity as heterosexuality is, and that they don't have to be one way or another, then homosexual parents are okay. Certainly, forcing children to commit acts of homosexuality is unacceptable, but that's already covered under sex abuse laws. Homosexual people also have the right to spread their beliefs, as do we all. First Amendment, yo. Gays have the right to tell people that being gay is okay. Gays have rights. Just because we think what they do is wrong doesn't mean we can attack them through the legal system. We certainly can't attack an entire group like that. Of course, the logical argument against that is, "Why did we outlaw prostitution, then?" Of course, prostitutes have a wide variety of career options beside that particular one. Gays, on the other hand, whether by nature or nurture, are permanently gay to the best of my knowledge. A people that cannot change its nature cannot be discriminated against. Period. End of sentence.

    Religion and personal morals cannot be used as a legal reason to discriminate against gays and gay couples, and without religion and personal morals, there is no argument against gay marriage as far as the law is concerned. Just because everyone hates gays doesn't mean--can't mean--that the land of the free will turn its back to them.

    Note: I would love--seriously love--to debate a conservative on this particular issue. E-mail me, or something like that. Please. I want to actually argue over this, I can only bounce so many ideas off myself.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on March 4, 2005 at 10:32 PM
    "The White House gave a couple of bad press passes. Things like this happen. Move on. "

    No, Armin. Things like this never should happen. THe fact that a guy could use a fake name and phony job to get within 10 feet of the President is frightening. Don't move on; this is more serious than just a mistake.

    Either he's a plant or someone didnt do their job and should be on their way out the door.
  • Dumb Democrat= (View Email) on March 5, 2005 at 2:11 PM
    Gay marriage is not okay. The word marriage does not mean anything. The bond means nothing either. Only two people promise to be with each other for the rest of their lives. However, marriage is a religious symbol. People are getting married because God allowed them to do so. I am sure that God would be especially angry if he realizes that men are marrying men and women are marrying women. Without marriage, a couple can still live together forever. So, let the gays do that if they want to but don't let them destroy the sacred meaning of marriage by marrying. Marriage means nothing to the atheist but it means everything to the Christian. A gay cannot be a full Christian because he/she opposes many of the rules God set down. Let them stay with each other but don't let them marry. It hurts all the Christians.

    I agree with Anonymously Liberal on the account that the government should not attack gays by giving them extra taxes to pay. Instead, they should be treated as two good friends living together.
  • Skirt the Issue: Part Two on March 5, 2005 at 2:45 PM
    It was a joke. Clearly, sarcasm is beyond you. I personally am in full support of gay marriage, the point is that the administration shouldnt take advantage of larger political problems by commiting unethical and unorthodox practices underneath them. The unobjectivity borders on illegal, in my mind. This is as bad as Hitler using the media as a tool of propaganda to raise his stature.
  • conservative on March 6, 2005 at 12:05 AM
    "This is as bad as Hitler using the media as a tool of propaganda to raise his stature."

    I hope I didn't just read that. You people really are delusional.
  • Armin Rosen on March 6, 2005 at 12:23 AM
    I just don't think it's that important, Mike.

    Look, clearly somebody didn't do his or her job and should be fired accordingly. But the failure of a couple of press-office incompetents doesn't equate to partisan conspiracy or intrinsic significance.

    Let me reiterate: To call a tempest-in-a-teapot blogososphere witch-hunt that happened a month ago middling when comparing it to revolution in Lebanon or elections in Iraq or the Israeli pullout from Gaza is understatement. These, and not gay prostitute pseudo-journalists will matter months and years from now. Saying this is as “bad as Hitler” only goes to show how grossly misplaced the views and priorities are of the people who want to turn “Gannongate” into something of even passing importance.
  • J G on March 6, 2005 at 12:23 PM
    Judging by what "Skirt the Issue" just wrote I'm right about one thing: these people have divorced themselves from reality.
  • Dali Lama on March 7, 2005 at 10:27 AM
    First off, I'm with conservative. I really hope that bit about Hitler was sarcasm.

    Second, someone at SCO should write an 'opinions' bit about gay marriage. It'd help keep things organized, at least.

    Third, I think most of the people here are overreacting in one way or another. Armin seems to think absolutley nothing is wrong, while Michael thinks this is some deep government conspiricy(sp?). The point is, this probably isn't either extreme.
  • Bob on March 7, 2005 at 8:13 PM
    To Armin:

    There are some places where failure is unacceptable. If we allow someone without screening that close to the president, that's a security threat. If we ignore it we could allow someone that does have bad intentions in.

    I also don't see how Dan Rathers was such a big deal but this shouldn't even be considered "of passing importance".
  • reality check on March 7, 2005 at 9:34 PM
    The president is surrounded by secret service during press conferences, and most people who enter a public building in Washington go through a security check.

    To do any harm, the guy would have to have gotten past multiple security checks and the secret service.
  • Bush on March 7, 2005 at 9:54 PM
    So the big hubbub over Gannon is really that you folks are worried about me?

    Aw, shucks guys! I'm touched!
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on March 8, 2005 at 4:43 PM
    re: reality check

    in getting a pass to the white house press room, he got past everything. the ss clears all media members who want access to the white house media room. when bush stands up there alone, hes unguarded.

    you made the argument for me.
  • reality check on March 8, 2005 at 7:01 PM
    What's your point? I'm talking about physical security checks to make sure you're carrying a weapon or something.

    Also, there are definitly secret service protecting the president as all times, especailly at a press conference where he would be particularly vulnerable.

    Point being, the chances of a journalist harming the president are very slim.
  • reality check on March 9, 2005 at 11:09 AM
    Err not carrying a weapon.
  • Bob on March 10, 2005 at 2:40 PM
    I repeat:

    Why was Dan Rathers such a big deal and this shouldn't be?
  • Communist Imagery on March 17, 2005 at 6:50 PM
    RE: BOB

    Because I'm SURE you tuned in EVERYDAY to see what BIG NAME NEWS GUY Jeff Gannon had to say about critical domestic issues!

    It says RIGHT HERE in the article that group Gannon "reported" for was "blatantly partisan" and "amateurish". And all in all? Not that important. In fact, I'd be willing to put down five bucks that you never heard of the news organization OR Gannon before this became an issue.

    Rather was an issue because he was the head man for CBS News a source that was just a TAD more important than Talon New Service. It's the reason YOU are going to get a schoolmarm slap on the wrist for plagiarism and Jayson Blair is going to have his career wrecked.

    I suggest you learn the meaning of "difference in magnitude" before you spout idiocy.
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