February 15, 2005
POLITICS: Jordan and Guckert
I haven't blogged on either story thus far - I suppose I should have blogged about Eason Jordan when I first read the story in Opinion Journal's Political Diary - but Jonah Goldberg nails the difference between the two: Jordan, much like Howell Raines and Dan Rather before him, was a senior executive with a news network with hugely influential global reach, while Jeff Gannon, a/k/a James Guckert, was an obscure member of the vast White House press corps working for a tiny, openly right-wing news service almost nobody seemed to pay any attention to (Captain Ed makes the same point here). In this sense, of course, the two were typical of the positions held in the media by liberals and conservatives; outside of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, it would be inconceivable for a guy with Guckert's politics to rise to a position like Jordan's. And yet, to the Left, the real scandal is not the pervasive reach of guys like Jordan but the tiny toehold of guys like Guckert.
(For the uninitiated, here's the official Daily Kos press release summarizing the Guckert story, as well as Tom Maguire's take on one aspect of the story that's been greatly exaggerated).
Of course, some are now bemoaning the fact that Jordan lost his job. Yes, that seems extreme, and it's odd that he didn't first try to get the tape of his actual remarks out there and see if things died down. But let's recall what the Jordan story is about: the problem with Jordan's treatment of Saddam's regime (i.e., his admission in 2003 that CNN pulled punches on stories of atrocities while reporting from Saddam's Iraq so as to retain access) and with his comments at Davos (where he reportedly received effusive praise after the panel from Arab attendees after claiming without evidence that the American military was deliberately murdering journalists in Iraq) was two instances of the same thing: a CNN exec telling anti-American audiences what they want to hear (or not saying what they didn't want to hear) as a way of buying access at the expense of the truth. (Powerline also noted that the Davos comments were not an isolated incident with Jordan). You couldn't find a more perfect example of the polar opposite of 'speaking truth to power,' which supposedly is the mantra of journalists. Why this type of behavior should be defended by anyone in journalism is beyond me.
On the other hand, Guckert's main offense is a little hard to pin down. Yes, he asked some oddball questions, a few of which served up softballs for the White House, but anybody who's seen a Democrat on the Today show, for example, knows that softball questions aren't exactly a rarity in this business. Yes, he used a pseudonym, but so did George Orwell and Mark Twain. Did the White House know his real name? This part I missed, since obviously concealing his true identity from the Secret Service would be a major grounds for revoking his press pass to the White House, and would probably justify a thorough review of screening procedures. The Kos press release makes much of Guckert's paltry credentials, but I don't see why Guckert's credentials are less impressive than those of Kos himself, who has had press passes to a number of big events (maybe it's Kos' Solomonic impartiality). All that's really left is that a hack journalist had a creepy sex life on the Internet. I guess that's disturbing news, but it does seem like the kind of thing that the party of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank shouldn't be getting itself too worked up about.
UPDATE: I shouldn't let this post end with a reference to Frank's role in sex scandals a decade and more ago without noting that I agree with others on the conservative side of the aisle that Frank should be commended for standing up to Jordan at Davos; it was really Frank who made this story. He was served up an opportunity where the petty partisan thing to do would have been to spread Jordan's smear and use it as further ammunition against Bush and the Iraq war, and the patriotic thing to do was to defend the honor of the United States before a foreign audience, and Frank chose the latter. If Democrats made that choice more often when flimsy charges are levelled against America's conduct overseas, perhaps they wouldn't be in the same pickle today.
It seems to me that the real question about Gannon/Guckert - the thing that people were originally suspicious about - is whether he was actually on the White House payroll while asking softball questions to the President. It doesn't seem like that is the case (or at the very least, no one has proven that it is) but once people started digging, they found all this other sordid but not-really-meaningful stuff about him. It does raise a few questions about how the White House issues credentials, but if that is the only issue, it's not a big one. It's not like he was appointed head of Homeland Security or something :)
Even the boneheads at Fox News sunday thought the Jordan thing was way overblown and couldn't believe he lost his job over it. From the way they told it, Jordon made the comments and immediately (before being confronted by Frank?) backtracked/retracted them saying something to the effect that he didn't mean what it sounded like... I'm just kind of surprised that if it's good enough for Brit Hume, this is still a big deal.
You are right that the real Jordan story is the reporting from Iraq issue. Once agin, I'm not up on the subject, but from what I heard on Fox and NPR (hows that for a spectrum?) it was claimed that they were protecting sources and reporters. That may be true. But in my opinion, if you can't give a straight report, you might as well pull your people out. Jordan losing his job over that stuff seems fine by me.
As for Gannon... You are completely downplaying/ignoring the real issue with Gannon. It has nothing to do with the sex angle, and frankly, aside from the WH security issue, little to do with his use of a pseudonym. The real story, which we might never fully understand is that the WH might have planted a friendly reporter/lifeline into the WH pool.
This guy was given repeated access to the press conferences, and used by McClellan repeatedly to extract himself from uncomfortable lines of questioning. And then, actually called on by the President. In an age when the President barely even answers questions before a all-to-compliant press, having an embedded reporter in the pool for McClellan or Bush to tab when they are in trouble or for a "softball" is a problem. This isn't the Today Show or an interview. This is the only moment of accountability when the Administration is supposed to answer for their actions, good and bad to the American people.
As for his "credentials," the Kos post you reference (and I heard this on either NPR or Fox as well) point out htat he had none. A mail-order journalism degree and 96 hours of a website do not a "regularly published columnist" make. Kos, you or I actually have more grounds to request a day pass. Gannon was singled out, repeatedly, for special access, and then singled out again in press conferences to ask friendly questions.
It, unfortunately may have been a necessary aspect for the broader story to gain attention, but I could give a shit about any of the sidebar "sex" issues, and I think it is a mistake for those who are actually upset about the propaganda part of this story to give them any traction Those on the Right downplaying the Administration's actions here will continue to use them to falsely demonstrate a witchhunt, responsible members of the press should let that story die on the vine...
This guy was given repeated access to the press conferences, and used by McClellan repeatedly to extract himself from uncomfortable lines of questioning. . . . In an age when the President barely even answers questions before a all-to-compliant press, having an embedded reporter in the pool for McClellan or Bush to tab when they are in trouble or for a "softball" is a problem.
See, the problem I have with this line of thinking is that it assumes that the press corps is compromised if it consists of anything less than 100% partisan opponents of the president working in coordination to stay on a single message. Guckert didn't need to be a White House plant to be an 'escape hatch' - all they needed was someone they knew would be interested in talking about something else than whatever subject they were being pressed on that day. By similar reasoning, you'd drum out of the press pool someone who consistently asked about a particular topic (trade policy, judges, relations with Saudi Arabia, whatever) if the White House frequently called on them to change the subject.
Yes, we all get frustrated when politicians from the other party duck tough questions (recall how few reporters got to question Kerry during the campaign - even Bill O'Reilly asked a lot more tough questions to the president than Jon Stewart asked Kerry, and hardly anyone else interviewed him). But if a question's been asked four or five times and not answered, it's not a gigantic scandal if the person not answering changes the subject to something they are willing to talk about.
I disagree. the fact that the circumstances under which Gannon was admitted and the other stories surrounding him (Plame memo) raise concerns that this is more than just a sympathetic member of the press or a reliable go-to for a subject change. The fact that this guy was flatly rejected by the Capital Hill press offices as unqualified, but welcomed by the White House to be immediately called on during moments which were clearly beneficial to the White house raise serious questions.
It's not the same thing as calling on Carl Cameron because you know he's going to go easy on you. Or not calling on Helen Thomas because you know she won't be. They represent legitimate, established news orginizations and have clear identities and reputations.
With this Administrations pattern of orchestrated town meetings, and staged events, placing a (or allowing) a reporter of dubious origin to pose RNC talking point questions (or in the case of the question to the President, lifted directly from Rush Limbaugh) one doesn't really have to be a conspiracy nut to think there's something behind this. In addition, with the message control precision displayed by this White House, it's hard to believe this could be an accident or a coincidence.
The track record of this President as far as press conferences goes is clearly abyssmal compared to anyone else in the era of television. And that he won't even play it straight when he does them doesn't say very much for him.
The fact that you mention Jon Stewart as an example of the gentle treatment of Democrats is ridiculous. Did Leno go too easy on him too? It's Comedy Central! I seem to remember John Kerry showing up on the Sunday morning shows countless times throughout the campaign. And faced a much more stringent line of questions than the President did in his limited (one?) appearances.
Kerry did interviews early in the campaign. I'm talking about after the Swift Boat stuff came out, among other things; for a long stretch of the campaign, Stewart was the only sit-down interview he did.
"The real story, which we might never fully understand is that the WH might have planted a friendly reporter/lifeline into the WH pool. "
Hmm, well that sure is news. Especially since that Presidents such as oh Kennedy have done so for years.
Mr. Furioius, Good on you for fighting the uphill battle in here, mate. However the paying off of the "press" and the planting of the "press", as with many other issues does not register here. Had Clinton done such things (prove it Seb) there would have been independent prosecutors on the job. I do not understand why the Righties on this can't jsut say "Doh! Totally embarrassing, should not have happened, looks bad, is bad, ouch, next subject please." Why defend this? There is nothing to be gained by defending this action. You KNOW why they did it and we KNOW why they did it. In the grand scheme of this administration where anything goes this is totally small potatos (or is it -es?). Y'all (Bushies) should take the flogging you know the admin deserves on this and we should move on to a topic that actually matters to the country as opposed to this tiny (in overall consequence) story.
Just as an aside BC I would not be taking the high road on "scandalous" sex stuff when it comes to either party. Looking at both parties you know there are an equal numbers of bones (oops) in both closets (double oops).
Thanks, Jim. I try my best!
There is a problem that someone with such bare credentials had access to the White House. How do we define "press" or "media" anyway? That is what is going on here. Until about 10 years ago if someone owned a newspaper or had been granted a radio or TV franchise by the FCC they were part of the media and the people they hired and fired were journalists. No one else could make that claim. Entry was not easy unless one could afford to buy a newspaper or get approval from the government to operate a radio or TV station. A lot of large cities have only one newspaper. People outside New York rarely saw the NYT, and the WSJ was almost all business news. When USA Today came on the scene, the MSM disparaged it as "McPaper". It was CNN, capitalizing on the rise of cable TV that broke the monopoly of ABC, CBS and NBC. For his trouble, CNN's founder was disparaged as the "mouth from the South." Fox challenges CNN and MSNBC's cable duopoly and is criticized. The big deal, though, is the internet. Anyone who owns a PC and a modem can be part of the media. The MSM criticize the blogosphere as containing blogs run by partisan hacks who distribute misinformation and call it news. The MSM are correct; but it was the MSM who brought us Jayson Blair and Jack Kelly and Eason Jordan and Dan Rather. It is great that there are so many out there now debating things and cross checking each other and breaking apart the former media oligopoly. Don't know how they are all going to fit into the WH briefing room. Maybe it is time to move the brieging room onto the net.
The target is not Gannon/Guckert, it's the White House. Apparently having a paid plant in the WH press corps isn't story enough for it to go national... you have to have a sex angle before most of the media wakes up. But 'The Left' woke up a long time before any of the unpleasant details were public.
One pretty good criterion to define 'press' or 'media' is people who declare if they have financial or personal interests in what they report. Mr. Guckert worked closely with the organization GOPUSA and I believe was paid for it. And reproduced RNC publications verbatim without attribution.
This does mean 'financial commentator' Andrea Mitchell should be chucked off the air if there is no disclaimer that she is married to Alan Greenspan.
As for Mr. Jordan, I can't possibly tell without a transcript whether the punishment fit the crime. Something fishy with regard to that?
On the other hand, Guckert's main offense is a little hard to pin down. Yes, he asked some oddball questions, a few of which served up softballs for the White House, but anybody who's seen a Democrat on the Today show, for example, knows that softball questions aren't exactly a rarity in this business.
First, Guckert's tendentious partisanship would have been out of place on the Today show. A question proceeding from the premise that the President's critics are "divorced from reality," such as Guckert once asked, is not the kind of garden-variety "softball question" you'd see on the Today show.
Second, the point isn't whether or not Guckert's shilling would be out of place on the Today show. The point is that they were out of place in the White House press room.
Nice try at "there's nothing to see here," but Guckert's role in the White House press room was very out of the ordinary.