2/15/2005

Jeff Gannon and Manufactured Journalism: The Houston Chronicle Gets It

Editorial in the Houston Chronicle:
The unmasking of an alleged journalist who used a pseudonym to gain access to White House briefings and news conferences raises more questions about the Bush administration's tactics for securing favorable news. James Guckert, who used the Talon News byline "Jeff Gannon," managed to get access to the White House on a daily basis for two years.
Guckert questioned President Bush at a January news conference last month, tossing a softball query that ridiculed Democrats for "being divorced from reality." The organization Guckert worked for turned out to be an arm of a partisan group, GOPUSA, a conservative Web site based in Houston and dedicated to "spreading the conservative message throughout America." It turns out Talon News was created only a few days before Guckert first applied for a White House daily pass.
Guckert was denied similar credentials to cover Capitol Hill because of questions about his legitimacy as a reporter. His identity was exposed by bloggers, and he turned out to be associated with a number of sexually oriented Web sites. Guckert resigned, claiming harassment by liberals.
Guckert's only credential as a journalist appears to be attendance at a two-day seminar by the conservative Leadership Oriented Broadcast Journalism School. He apparently gained access to the White House using little more than a fake name, a Social Security number, and date of birth. In an age of heightened security, it's hard to believe this lapse could occur without someone inside the White House vouching for Guckert. The alternative would be little meaningful security at the executive mansion.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said President Bush did not know who Guckert was. A journalist familiar with the process says it's likely Bush was tipped by his press staff that "the bald guy would lob him an easy one." If so, setting up ringers to toss fawning questions to the president is another indication, if any were needed, that the administration prefers the media to be propagandists rather than independent inquisitors.
At least there's no indication the White House was involved in directly paying Guckert for his services, as the administration did in three other recent incidents. Last month, conservative commentator Armstrong Williams apologized for not disclosing that his company had received $240,000 from a public relations agency hired by the Department of Education to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher also apologized to her readers for not disclosing a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help create materials used to promote Bush's $300 million initiative encouraging marriage to strengthen families. HHS later disclosed that a third conservative columnist, Mike McManus, had received $10,000 to promote Bush's marriage initiative, according to an Associated Press report. His weekly column appears in about 50 newspapers.
The practice of buying ostensibly independent reporters and writers to shill for politicians deceives the public and corrupts the free media. Allowing fake reporters to compete with credentialed journalists for sparse press conference time with the leader of the free world demeans the whole process.

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