Upside of the Downside
Does the name James Guckert ring a bell? No? Then, how about the name Jeff Gannon? Still drawing a blank? You're not alone. Let's do some catching up.
Up until a month ago or so, an unidentified reporter associated with an obscure Web news/commentary outlet known as Talon News had been present at a series of White House press briefings, dating back to 2003. The "reporter’s” stock-in-trade was to lob an easy softball question at President Bush or at his spokesman, Scott McClellan, whenever someone else in the room deigned to ask a challenging question. He served as a "lifeline," not unlike on the old Regis Philbin game show, and the "questions" were thinly disguised pro-Republican editorials designed to make the President look "strong."
After about a year of this, a few enterprising Web bloggers, notably John Aravosis of AmericaBlog, took it upon themselves to try to find out exactly who this guy was, and why such an obviously partisan shill from a media backwater enjoyed such regular, direct access to the President, when other reporters from more established and reputable news sources had to scratch and claw for their press passes.
The investigation revealed that Talon News was indeed a makeshift, pro-Bush outlet that had been set up and funded by a Bush supporter in Texas. Their "reporter" was a plant named "Jeff Gannon," who got day passes to the press conferences. He wrote regular reports for Talon News, heaping regular praise upon President Bush and scorn upon Democrats.
It was an obvious attempt by the White House to manipulate and control news coverage, much like the Republicans' payola to columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, or their fake White House "news" reports endorsing the President's Medicare bill.
That's dishonest enough. If "Jeff Gannon" is worthy of a White House press pass, then so are all of us Tentacle writers. But there was more – it turned out that "Jeff Gannon's” real name was actually "James Guckert," and that he had, shall we say, a shady and colorful past, fraught with the kinds of behaviors and practices that the Republicans make a career of decrying.
To cite the most graphic example, he offered his services as a male escort on the Internet. A nobody, with a checkered background who wrote for a minor and heavily partisan Web publication, enjoyed the same regular access to the White House's inner sanctum as a Washington Post or Fox News reporter.
Given the fact that the Bushies regularly screen all attendees whenever they hold their political rallies – to the point of forcing people to sign loyalty oaths – one wonders how this Guckert/Gannon guy slipped by the Bushies.
Was it an egregious security breach? Or is there more going on here than meets the eye? Does Mr.Guckert have embarrassing links to certain White House insiders, ties that might rip the "family-values" masks off prominent Republicans, as happened with Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, and Henry Hyde?
In sum, this is a story with everything – sex, lies, and videotape. It involves media manipulation; it involves security breaches; and it involves that good old media box-office attraction, sexual intrigue and possibly scandal.
There have also been whispers that Mr. Guckert, or his organization, might have been involved in process that funneled the fake Bush-National Guard documents to CBS last fall. (We never did hear where those documents came from, did we?)
So, certainly, our so-called liberal media has descended upon this juicy story like locusts, haven't they? Just like they did with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, right?
Ummm...no. Other than a few token Gannon/Guckert interviews with a couple of cable news outlets (in which he keeps contradicting himself), our media has been mostly silent on this issue.
Some media figures, notably The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, have gone out of their way to scold the bloggers who have pursued the Guckert story – while at the same time many of these self-styled media critics have been praising a different set of bloggers for their roles in pressuring on CNN's Eason Jordan to resign over an indiscreet remark.
This is odd, to say the least, and certainly flies in the face of those who like to claim that our media is "liberal" and "anti-Bush." Here's a potential scorcher of a story, crammed with sexual innuendo – the stuff that sells papers – that they can use to damage the administration they're supposedly so dead-set against. But no, they're not interested.
Funny, they didn't have that attitude when it was Linda Tripp spilling the beans about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.
The Democrats in Congress have requested that a formal investigation be launched into the possible security breaches involved, and on the larger issue of White House propaganda and news manipulation. Our media has barely mentioned this.
No! Instead our media is talking about Michael Jackson. Or about those silly, conveniently-released "Bush tapes" of questionable authenticity.
Apparently picking up the phone and asking James Dobson, or some other religious-reich radical cleric, what he thinks of a professional male escort with questionable journalism credentials obtaining access to the White House press room wouldn't be proper. Guess Spongebob was a bigger fish to fry.
The Guckert story might eventually see more than the token coverage in the media it's currently receiving. It might not. Like Enron, it might eventually get too big to just blow off. But, if there's anything this episode has proven, it's that the whole idea of a "liberal" media – always a shaky characterization at best – can now be formally buried.
If we had a Democratic administration in power, this story would be all over the front pages, with hourly “Presidency Under Siege updates" on Fox News and teasing crawlers beaming out little headlines like SHOCKING NEW REVELATIONS IN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER HOOKER SCANDAL.
Heck, last summer's phony Sandy Berger "socks" episode, timed for the Democratic convention, took up more bandwidth than this. But Viacom and AOL/Time Warner, angling for further media deregulation from this administration, aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them.
The good news is that the blogosphere has rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the increasing irrelevancy of the mainstream media. More and more Americans are increasingly turning to political blogs for the investigative work our media used to be proud of performing, as they did in Watergate. The corporate media is certainly aware of this, and tut-tut liberal blogs for being "irresponsible" (while extolling the wonders of Matt Drudge), but it's ultimately going to be a losing battle for them. You can't shut down liberal blogs without also shutting down conservative ones.
I'm quite confident that if it comes down to a battle of ideas between the left and right blogosphere, devoid of media filters, it can only be good for the nation. The best ideas from both sides can gain currency and legitimacy without Tim Russert having to put his stamp of approval on what's important.
So if the non-coverage of this Guckert scandal further discredits our media, it will have been worth it.
(Editor’ Note: The Talon News website mentioned in this article has been temporarily shutdown by its producers and is unavailable.)