Tuesday, March 08, 2005


NY Times finally covers White House press pass episode (updated)

Did you think I meant that the NY Times had finally delved into the Guckert/Gannon episode? Well, no. What Katharine Q. Seelye actually covered was the award of a day pass to the White House Press Room to Garrett M. Graff of FishbowlDC. In passing Seelye notes,
Mr. Graff said he was inspired to try to seek access to the White House by the controversy over James D. Guckert, who used the alias Jeff Gannon. Mr. Guckert was granted daily passes to White House briefings while writing for a Web site run by a Republican operative in Texas. The episode raised questions about who was a legitimate journalist and how access to the White House was granted.

Of course, it raised no such questions. It raised the question of what a tart was doing in the White House press room during working hours and at whose behest he was there. The White House has taken the position that when it comes to the press corps, they shouldn't be expected to distinguish one tart from another and that all are welcome.

Mr. Graff did challenge the latter assertion, and White House mendacity was once again exposed. It turns out that to get a press pass it takes "pull" from your fellow tarts—

He made 20 phone calls and got nowhere. Bigger blogs picked up on his saga, and traffic on FishbowlDC increased tenfold, he said. But it was not until the traditional media joined in, Mr. Graff said, that the White House relented.

"USA Today started making calls on Thursday. CNN mentioned it on 'Inside Politics,' and Ron Hutcheson, president of the White House Correspondents Association, raised the issue with the White House Press Office," he said. "I think a combination of all of that made the White House pay attention and decide to let me in."

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said he had met with the White House Correspondents Association and they had decided to let Mr. Graff in. "It is the press corps' briefing room and if there are any new lines to be drawn, it should be done by their association," he said.

This was a fascinating revelation in light of the story "White House Correspondents Want No Role in Credentialing" by Joe Strupp from just a week ago.

The White House Correspondents Association announced Monday [2/28/05] that it would not seek changes to the White House press-credentialing process....

The decision effectively keeps the WHCA out of the credentialing process following talk during the past month that the 300-member group might take more of a role in deciding who gets press credentials. Currently, the Standing Committee of Correspondents on Capitol Hill, a committee of congressional reporters, has sole authority over who gets press passes there. But all White House press passes are distributed by the White House Press Office with no WHCA involvement. [emphasis added]

I've been wanting to apply, but feared that with my spiked hair protruding above my green eye shade, no one would take me seriously as a tart.

In any case Seelye declares that this is a "signal moment for bloggers."

Mr. Graff, 23, may be the first blogger in the short history of the medium to be granted a daily White House pass for the specific purpose of writing a blog, or Web log. A White House spokesman said yesterday that he believed Mr. Graff was the first blogger to be given credentials.

Does this mean I'm a journalist now?

First, let me note that the NY Times placed the article I linked above not in the "National" or "Washington" sections, nor even in the "Business" section. It appeared under "Technology." Go figure. But I have been noticing a tendency at the Times to stick the news that isn't "fit to print" into the Technology section.

Guckert/Gannon welcomes Graff to the bordello

Meanwhile, E&P notes that Guckert/Gannon has reacted to Graff's admission to the White House.

Guckert/Gannon writes—

The New York Times is hailing the first blogger to be issued a "day pass" to a White House press briefing. It goes to great lengths to play up his genealogical background in journalism, but fails to mention that the Vermont native served as deputy national press secretary on Howard Dean's presidential campaign last year. Hmmm...no political ties there!

According to the "Gannon Standard", I am expecting to see other bloggers' reports on his sexual and financial history as well as some conspiracy theories about who this guy is.

Actually, I like the guy, we've talked on the phone several times. I wish him luck and am pleased that others will gain from what I pioneered. Now I'm looking for a conservative blogger to step up and get in there!

E&P scolds that

Gannon fails to mention that, whatever his political background, Graff is not currently employed by a partisan political organization (as Gannon was during his two-year stint at the White House), nor does Gannon differentiate "sexual history" from "selling sex."

That's because selling sex falls under "Commerce" rather than "Personal history," though "Technology" might be appropriate if toys were used.

Newspaper strikes back

Now Randall Beck, Executive Editor of the South Dakota Argus Leader that was scurrilously attacked by Guckert/Gannon and other right-wing bloggers in the lead up to John Thune's defeat of Daschle, has gotten all huffy about bloggers—

... blogs are locations in cyberspace where an individual can post his or her thoughts and provide links to other sites. There are blogs dedicated to almost everything, but for the most part political blogs are created by and for true believers on the extreme fringes - left and right.

Until today I had thought that the only thing extreme about my blog was an insistence that journalists report on what the government and its covert propagandists are really up to. During the election campaign Beck explains why he did not share my view—

As the Internet attacks on Kranz and the newspaper intensified throughout 2003 and into 2004, I decided not to share with you what was happening behind the scenes.

My reasoning was pretty simple.

First, attacking the messenger - and especially an influential newspaper - has been a strategy employed by politicians since the beginning of time. (Remember Bill Janklow?) Responding publicly to such efforts tends to jeopardize the newspaper's role as an independent news medium. [emphasis added]


Second, it is my experience that most readers don't care - and probably shouldn't - about what journalists occasionally have to put up with to report the news accurately and fairly. Our primary duty during the campaign was to tell you where political candidates stood on the issues and offer insight into what made them tick, while maintaining our high ethical standards.

It isn't your "high ethical standards" that matter to your readers, but the lack of them on the part of John Thune in using a prostitute to subvert Daschle's campaign. Would it have made a difference in the outcome of the election if the Argus Leader had investigated and reported what was going on behind the scenes? Quite possibly.

But character issues during the election weren't enough to make Beck speak out against Guckert/Gannon and the other bloggers. No, quite astonishingly, it is the Left that has forced him to do it—

Only in the past month has it become clear that I needed to explain the ugly backdrop to the 2004 Senate campaign - and then, not for reasons you might think. For most of us occupied with our daily lives, the news during the past couple months has been dominated by President Bush's plan to reform Social Security, our military's efforts to develop a post-election strategy in Iraq and the failing health of Pope John Paul II.

For most of us occupied with our daily lives, that's what the media tell us that we should be thinking about.

But those embedded in the Washington, D.C., Beltway - that curious netherworld of politicians and the journalists who cover them - have been preoccupied with news of a different stripe. From the Washington Post to Salon.com to a host of Internet bloggers, the sometimes salacious coverage of the rise and fall of that zealot I mentioned earlier - Jeff Gannon - has titillated Washington insiders. It also has energized many liberals who are convinced that Daschle was the victim of a right-wing conspiracy that - yes, you guessed it - successfully manipulated the Argus Leader into becoming a lap dog for Thune during the campaign.

That notion, I can assure you, is as ludicrous as conservatives' claims that we tried to make Daschle look good.

There is no question that there was a right-wing effort to manipulate the Argus Leader. The only question is whether the Argus Leader caved in and helped—either by omission or commission. (On that matter, read what Beck says below about the Thune campaign.)

Beck then launches into a diatribe on Guckert/Gannon of which the most tantalizing tidbit is this—

At one point, Gannon portrayed himself on his own Web site as a "two-holiday Christian" devoted to advocating conservative causes and exposing the "liberal lies perpetuated by the media, Hollywood, the teachers' unions and the Democratic Party." And, just to make sure you knew he was serious, he boasted that his weapon of choice is a Beretta 9mm pistol.

But Beck reins himself in—

The frenzy to discredit Gannon - like the frenzy to discredit Daschle - became nasty and personal as bloggers (and some mainstream journalists) dug into his past. I won't repeat most of what they found; that's stooping to the level of bloggers, and it serves no good purpose here.

Beck just reeks of integrity, doesn't he? But even he is forced to admit that

... legitimate questions did arise, including the fact that "Jeff Gannon" wasn't Jeff Gannon at all, but a pseudonym for somebody named James Dale Guckert. That, in turn, prompted journalists and Senate Democrats to ask the White House to explain how someone using a phony name and representing a politically partisan group was able to get clearance to cover the White House. [emphasis added]

The legitimate questions that "arose"—somewhat mysteriously in Beck's account—were in fact proposed by bloggers. This inconvenient fact puts Beck's arguments about bloggers in a different light. And his wording here certainly calls into question his willingness to be forthright with the reader.

Was the right-wing blogger campaign effective?

It's not really worth chronicling the rest of the campaign against Kranz and the newspaper, except to note that Thune's campaign recognized its obvious value.

Thune's campaign paid $27,000 to Lauck and about $8,000 to Van Beek, who landed a job working for Thune after the election. In an interview with Gannett News Service last week, Thune said the two bloggers were paid "because their research was so good. They were getting information that wasn't coming out anywhere else."

Thune also said Lauck and Van Beek helped him prepare for debates.

And was Thune similarly rewarded for employing Van Beek and Lauck? Did he benefit, as the left wing now maintains, from bloggers' efforts to manipulate public opinion? "You can't believe how many fathers there are of this victory," Thune said half-jokingly last week. "My media guy said it was television. My campaign thinks it was our organization. ... What decided the race was issue differences as much as anything else." [emphasis added]

May I observe here that the payments represented Thune's estimate of the bloggers' value to the campaign.
And what about Gannon, who now seems to be claiming some credit for swaying voters in last November's election? It seems unlikely.

Thune said his campaign never paid Gannon and that blogs, whether conservative or liberal, mostly preach to the choir. "I'm not sure that blogs swing a lot of undecided voters," he said.

No, but they can certainly sway some undecided newspapers.

Nevertheless, it's clear Thune views blogs as a valuable political tool.

As The New York Times reported recently, Thune has introduced other senators to the concept of blogs and how self-published online political commentary can sway public opinion.

"I think there's value there, and I've conveyed this to our leadership," Thune said.

So Beck doesn't know what all the Left-wing fuss is about.

"The triumph of the bloggers illustrates the revolutionary rise of the Internet, which is undermining the traditional media in many ways," Howard R. Gold, editor of Barron's Online wrote last month. Professional journalists, he said, "still do a better job than anyone else of informing the public about the most important events of our day."

Gold warned that relentless pressure from society's political fringes already is pushing some media into "timidity and self-censorship."

That hasn't happened at this newspaper, I am happy to say.

Clearly not. The Argus Leader vociferously attacks the Left after the elections are but a fading memory, but when it mattered they uttered not a word about the right-wing bloggers' efforts to affect their coverage. That should keep them firmly ensconced among the mainstream media.

Related post
Getting a daily press pass from the White House—or not (3/3/05)
Fishbowl DC gets press pass (3/4/05)

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