Talon News is an on-line news service owned by Bobby Eberle. He said Mr. Eberle told him Talon News is an all-volunteer news service, though since Mr. Guckert’s application was submitted, a stipend was arranged that would provide more than half of Mr. Guckerts [sic] income in an effort to comply with the gallery's requirement that correspondents be paid, full time employees of the organization for which they are applying. Mr. Keenan said Talon News is the primary news supplier for GOPUSA, also owned by Mr. Eberle, and provides its news service at no charge to other organizations.The Standing Committee agreed to write a letter to Mr. Eberle "seeking more information regarding the Talon News' relationship with GOPUSA, its corporate structure, and funding." According to the source, Eberle and Guckert failed to respond to this request and the Committee on April 7, 2004 voted unanimously, 5 to 0, "to deny the application for credentials of James Guckert."
According to a letter the Committee then wrote to Gannon's boss Eberle, the rationale for rejecting Talon News was the lack of clarity on its political affiliation:
The application for accreditation to the press galleries states that “members of the press shall not engage in lobbying or paid advertising, publicity, promotion, work for any individual, political party, corporation, organization, or agency of the Federal Government.” Talon News has not demonstrated to the satisfaction of the committee that there is a separation from GOP-USA/Millions of Americans.com.Without Capitol Hill credentials, Gannon/Guckert had no chance of getting a permanent pass at the White House. According to the source, all applicants for a White House permanent pass are vetted not just by the Congressional Press Gallery, but also by the FBI and Secret Service. Day passes, on the other hand, do not require this degree of scrutiny. Applicant must only submit their full name, Social Security number and birth date.
This may explain why Gannon/Guckert went through the daily accreditation process while reporting from Pennsylvania Avenue. Gannon allegedly was the only reporter to skirt the rules that way, obtaining day passes month after month. Eric Boehlert writes that day passes were intended to provide flexibility for out-of-town journalists who might need to cover the White House for a day or two. For nearly two years Gannon worked this loophole to avoid being excluded.
The Committee documents also make it pretty clear that the White House and the Congressional Press Gallery knew that Gannon was Guckert and didn't seem to care about his use of a pseudonym, something Press Secretary Scott McClellan confirmed during Thursday's White House briefing. McClellan also said:
So where does the Gannon fiasco lead us? There remain legitimate concerns as to whether the administration "crossed the line" to provide favorable treatment to the erstwhile correspondent. Don't take on face value McClellan's statement on Thursday that President Bush innocently "called on people as he came to them" during the January 26 press conference. We know that this White House tightly scripts all of Bush's press events -- including often instructing Bush to call on journalists from a pre-determined list -- and that Gannon's softball question was well timed with the White House's hard charging campaign on Social Security.
I don't think it's the role of the press secretary to get into picking or choosing who gets press credentials. . . I've never inserted myself into the process. He, like anyone else, showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly, and so he was cleared two years ago to receive daily passes, just like many others are. The issue comes up -- it becomes, in this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist. And there -- it gets into the issue of advocacy journalism. Where do you draw the line? There are a number of people who cross that line in the briefing room.
What we don't know is to what extent the White House's intense efforts to choreograph the press, circumvent the "filter" and manipulate the message involved Gannon. He comes across as a dubious, rank amateur and I would be surprised if they thought of him as useful in any way. However, in March 2004, Gannon did claim to have been handed classified documents that named Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. operative -- a leak that is part of an ongoing investigation by independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
Someone within the administration must have thought of Gannon as a useful tool then. This relationship with the man from Talon may very well have continued until the January 26 press conference and beyond.
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Extra: Get a taste of Gannon's brand of journalism.
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1:50pm, Feb 11 Update: Brian Montopoli puts it about right
:". . .this isn't a media bias issue, no matter how hard you spin it. (And there isn't much these days that critics won't try to spin as a media bias issue.) No one, after all, is trying to ban Fox News or Helen Thomas from the briefing room. Gannon asked questions designed not to get information from Bush but to demonstrate his allegiance to him, not to mention his disgust with Democrats and his own ostensible colleagues. Real journalists, the ones who belong in press conferences, know that access to a president is a rare gift, and they know enough not to squander it. Gannon threw away his opportunity in favor of self-aggrandizing partisan spectacle. He put himself and his agenda ahead of the public good, and he did it in a manner so egregious that he left little doubt of his intentions."Amen.
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5:50am, Feb 15 Update: Five members of the White House Correspondents' Association plan to meet with Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan today to discuss tightening the White House press-credentialing process. Writes Joe Strupp of E&P: "The meeting follows the recent uproar over James Guckert, a former White House reporter for the GOP-linked Talon News, who had used the name Jeff Gannon and drawn criticism for asking partisan questions."
Ron Hutcheson, WHCA president and a Knight Ridder reporter said that too much has been made of Gannon/Guckert's link to gay porn and prostitution websites. "You should take out the porn connection. That has nothing to do with anything, Hutcheson said. "Playboy has naked women, but they have done some damn good journalism. It is the journalistic endeavor that should be looked at." Hmmmmm . . . . . .