Proof that “the liberal media” is but a figment of right-wing mythology has now arrived in the person of one James Guckert, formerly known as Jeff Gannon. Were the American media truly liberal-or merely unafraid to be called liberal-the saga of Mr. Guckert’s short, strange, quasi-journalistic career would be resounding across the airwaves.
The intrinsic media interest of the Guckert/Gannon story should be obvious to anyone who has followed his tale, which touches on hot topics from the homosexual underground and the investigation into the outing of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame to the political power of the Internet. But our supposedly liberal media becomes quite squeamish when reporting anything that might humiliate the Bush White House and the Republican Party.
Until very recently, Mr. Guckert served as the White House correspondent for Talon News, a Web site owned and operated by a group of Texas Republican activists who also run a highly partisan site called GOPUSA.com. Mr. Guckert resigned from his Talon job after liberal bloggers exposed his ties to Web sites promoting homosexual prostitution. On Valentine’s Day, AmericaBlog.org posted new evidence indicating that Mr. Guckert not only constructed those gay-play-for-pay sites, but worked as a male escort himself-and continued to do so until he got his first White House press pass in 2003.
Using his “Jeff Gannon” alias, Mr. Guckert soon became a familiar face in the briefing room, where White House press secretary Scott McClellan would call on him as “Jeff.” No doubt Mr. McClellan welcomed his mushy-soft, Democrat-baiting questions.
George W. Bush called on him during his most recent press conference-a signal honor for a reporter from an obscure Internet publication, and quite a surprise to the dozens of actual reporters bypassed by Mr. Bush on Jan. 26.
Mr. Guckert’s archived writings suddenly disappeared from the Talon News Web site, but several of his greatest works have been preserved by the watchdogs at MediaMatters.org. They show that he had no journalistic purpose, let alone experience. His copy featured long passages lifted directly from White House press releases. Last year, during the Internet frenzy over Senator John Kerry’s “intern girlfriend,” he falsely wrote that the young woman had “taped an interview with one of the major television networks at Christmas substantiating the alleged affair.”
He also made a curious cameo appearance in the Valerie Plame controversy. In late 2003, Mr. Guckert called former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. During that interview, the Talon correspondent mentioned a C.I.A. document that supposedly showed Ms. Plame had dispatched Mr. Wilson, her husband, on a government mission to Niger to investigate rumored Iraqi uranium purchases. That allegation was meant to discredit the former ambassador, who had exposed White House intelligence abuses. Administration leaks to the press about Ms. Plame’s C.I.A. work are currently under investigation by a special prosecutor.
What Mr. Guckert seems to have been is not a journalist but a Republican dirty trickster. He was schooled at the Leadership Institute-an outfit run by veteran right-wing operative and Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell. (It was Mr. Blackwell who distributed those cute “purple heart” Band-aids mocking Mr. Kerry’s war wounds at the Republican convention last summer.) His former employers at Talon News include leading Republican fund-raisers and former officials of the Texas Republican Party who have been active in partisan affairs for the past two decades.
How did this character obtain a coveted place in the White House? What did the White House press staff know about him? How does his story fit within the larger scandal of payola punditry, with federal funds subsidizing Republican propagandists in the press corps? Did someone in the Bush administration give him a classified document?
Such questions are evidently of little concern to our liberal media outlets, whose leading lights prefer to deliver prim lectures about the unwarranted invasion of Mr. Guckert’s private affairs and his victimization for his conservative views. In fact, everything known about him comes from material he posted on public Web sites, but that’s beside the point.
Imagine the media explosion if a male escort had been discovered operating as a correspondent in the Clinton White House. Imagine that he was paid by an outfit owned by Arkansas Democrats and had been trained in journalism by James Carville. Imagine that this gentleman had been cultivated and called upon by Mike McCurry or Joe Lockhart-or by President Clinton himself. Imagine that this “journalist” had smeared a Republican Presidential candidate and had previously claimed access to classified documents in a national-security scandal.
Then imagine the constant screaming on radio, on television, on Capitol Hill, in the Washington press corps-and listen to the placid mumbling of the “liberal” media now.