February 11, 2005

Kos's Cause

by PG

Latest Bush administration media scandal: A person writing under a pseudonym for Republican news sites Talon and GOPUSA was given the equivalent of a permanent White House press pass without having to meet the standards usually required. Apparently not content with paying conservative editorialists to focus on particular issues, the Bush Administration now is padding the press room with rightwing reporters for news organizations of dubious legitimacy. (Though I do hope that the Daily Show finally gets the credentials it deserves.)

The part that everyone else finds more interesting, however, is that the reporter in question "has been linked to online domain addresses with sexually provocative names."

Markos Moulitsas, a San Francisco liberal who writes the popular Kos site, said of Gannon: "He has been extremely anti-gay in his writings. He's been a shill for the Christian right. So there's a certain level of hypocrisy there that I thought was fair game and needed to be called out." Asked if digging into someone's personal and business activities was proper retaliation, Moulitsas said: "If that's what it took to really bring attention to him, it's one of those unfortunate facts of reality in the way we operate today. It's sex that really draws attention to these things."
Perhaps predictably, Kos's blog opposite -- the bizarro Kos, if you will -- found this "calling out" to be inappropriate.

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who writes on InstaPundit.com, said the tactics used against Gannon "seem to me to be despicable. If I were a member of the White House press corps, I'd be really worried," Reynolds said. "If working for a biased news organization disqualifies you, a lot of people have a lot to be worried about. If being involved in a dubious business venture is disqualifying, I suspect a lot of people have a lot to be worried about. I guess I don't see what all this has to do with his job."
Chris finds the suggestion by one blogger that Gannon "may have dabbled in male prostitution rings [and brought] male prostitutes into the White House" to be a disheartening instance of Democratic gay-baiting. Personally I incline to the theory that Ganno bought the websites with the intent of luring members of the military into violating Don't Ask, Don't Tell, rather than to use them for actual military escorts; with Dark Lord Rove running the show, I no longer apply Occam's Razor but prefer the most wicked conspiracies possible.

Kos, on the other hand, seems to believe that Gannon was dabbling in homosexual activities on a business and/or personal level, and that this made his working for an anti-gay organization hypocritical. This debate's made the rounds before, when Ed Schrock withdrew from his Congressional race and gay-rights advocates went on outing missions against politicians who support the Federal Marriage Amendment and their staffers. The argument appears to be that if someone provides anything like aid and comfort to the wrong side of this civil rights debate, that person is fair game. Something like, Because with the issue of gay rights, the personal is political, that means there is no longer anything personal that cannot be made political.

There's a powerful odor of ... not mendacity ... but self-righteousness in using aspects of people's lives that do not deserve public condemnation to serve one's cause. I'm all in favor of calling out the journalist whose opinions can be bought, or the politician whose vote can be. These are betrayals of one's role-specific duties.

But why does it matter if a rightwing reporter has registered sketchy-sounding domain names? Republicans are perverts; the repression would do anyone in. Treating something so obvious as the Big Story allows the much more significant aspect of the episode -- the Executive's manipulation of the Fourth Estate -- to sink quietly out of view.

Incidentally, I think Howard Kurtz needs to broaden his conservative reading. Of the many, many Bush-supporting bloggers out there, he managed to get a quote from one whose only post on the matter says, "I HAVEN'T PAID MUCH ATTENTION to the Jeff Gannon / Talon News story, but Rip-n-Read podcast has a roundup, available in audio or text. There seems to be some rather unsavory behavior going on here. More on the subject here." Come on, Howard! Follow the links! Otherwise you risk putting a law professor in the uncomfortable and heretofore unknown position of pontificating on a matter with which he is not familiar.

February 11, 2005 03:17 PM | TrackBack

Is Gannon the real victim here? Or is it the public that relies upon journalism to perform its traditional role? Defend Gannon, if you wish. But do not cover up the real story: What was the arrangement between the White House and Gannon? Impersonating a journalist may not be a crime. If it were, wouldn't many members of the Washington Press Corps be behind bars for their accommodation of the Bush Jr. Administration?

By the way, as a general rule, more law school professors should be put "in the uncomfortable and heretofore unknown position of pontificating on a matter with which [they are] not familiar". But of course law students over the ages have known about such pontificating.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at February 12, 2005 07:37 AM

I believe the story may be bigger than originally realized, not so much for Gannon/Guckert who the hell is this guy, but rather that he may in fact have been a plant for the Bush Administration. Seemingly a correspondent that did little more than to give Scott McClellan a go-to guy for a softball question, did he have any business being there at all?

Posted by: Beanie at February 13, 2005 04:17 PM

I'm not sure what "the equivalent of a permanent White House press pass" means, except "something other than a permanent White House press pass." This is consistent with the White House's account, insofar as they deny having issued him a permanent pass. They say instead that he was issued successive day passes, like many reporters, and those apparently do not require an extensive background check. Also, in the interest of accuracy, it should be pointed out that there is currently no evidence to support the suggestion that the Bush administration planted this person.

Posted by: Tom T. at February 14, 2005 12:36 AM

Tom T.,

So who are the other reporters without permanent press passes who are given day passes every day? I don't know how familiar you are with the media, but being able to ask the president a question at a news conference is considered a major boon. I've only worked at the college journalism level, and even my publication had more credibility as independent media -- it receives no university funding -- than Gannon's, yet I doubt that a reporter from it would be able to get into a presidential press conference. Certainly if someone did, she'd have too much pride in her work to ask a question with information sourced solely to Rush Limbaugh.

Frankly, I find it rather implausible that the White House would issue daily press passes every day to Atrios or another slanted website that attacked the Bush Administration rather than supporting it. Unlike the payola scandal, where the Administration appears to have sought out journalists to pay in return for their writing pro-Bush policy columns, Gannon doesn't appear to have been handpicked to push the Administration view. Instead, I think the White House likely thought, "Hey, here's a journalist who likes us. Let's keep him in the room." If that makes him a "plant," then he probably was a plant. I'd just call him a tool.

Posted by: PG at February 14, 2005 11:04 AM

All I meant was that, according to the White House, Gannon/Guckert didn't get any special treatment in getting his pass. My "plant" comment was in response to Beanie, whom I took to be suggesting that the WH had put Gannon there deliberately. I agree with you that Gannon seems like a loser as a journalist.

The Washington Post has a lot of interesting stuff on this incident. This article mentions that Gannon was denied a Congressional press pass.

Howard Kurtz points out here that one reporter regularly present is Russell Mokhiber, a Nader supporter who writes for a newsletter called The Corporate Crime Reporter. To be sure, that's only one counter-example of a left-leaning journalist from a "nontraditional" medium, but there was only one Gannon, too. Kurtz is of the opinion that Kos would be admitted, because of the popularity of his site. I tend to think that you're more likely correct, at least as to the rowdier lefty bloggers like Kos or Atrios, although it wouldn't surprise me if Kevin Drum were admitted.

WaPo reporter Dan Froomkin has a very entertaining rundown of the White House press corps. Setting aside left-right distinctions, there's apparently quite a few eccentrics.

Posted by: Tom T. at February 15, 2005 07:23 PM

I would question the comparison of Gannon to Russell Mokhiber, considering that Gannon was refused a Congressional pass because his news organization failed to meet the standards required. Are you saying that the Corporate Crime Reporter also would fail to meet those standards? It is DC-based and runs on subscriptions, not on funding from left or right wing millionaires, and thus the editorial independence from the moneymen seems obvious.
Obviously Bush voters ought to be eligible for press passes, as should Democrats, anarchists, white supremacists, etc. One's own politics ought to be no bar, but someone who fails to use the coveted position in the room to seek information aggressively on behalf of the public doesn't have much business in there.

Posted by: PG at February 16, 2005 10:24 AM

i think the reaction of other Whiet House reporters is very telling. They are not alarmed or surprised. Considering they know how the system works. They know that many of them are extremely biased, plants for one org or another. If this was a real story, other White House press people woud be bothered by this. They are not. Just seems to be the dailykos type people who are bothered, and want to drag the persons personal life into it.

Posted by: sean mccray at February 24, 2005 09:00 AM
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