Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Lobbing Softballs and Grenades

An interesting side story in the Washington media is now moving towards center stage. It involves the fight raging this past week between the conservative propagandists at Talon News and the progressive watchdogs at Media Matters for America. The right-wing "Freepers" have added their own fire as well. Now that The Boston Globe is covering the dispute, expect other media to follow.

David Brock of Media Matters lobbed the latest grenade with a January 31 letter to Press Secretary Scott McClellan asking that the White House revoke the press credentials of Talon's Jeff Gannon. "Mr. Gannon and Talon News appear to be political activists rather than actual journalists, and as such should not be presented to the public as an independent news agency," Brock writes.

Gannon: The White House's Other Pet
Brock lists several conflicts of interest to build his case that Gannon is little more than an administration house pet, planted in the White House press gaggle to loft the occasional "softball" to the Secretary and cheerlead for Bush policy. McClellan has found going to Gannon especially useful when other journalists in the pack are being less cooperative.

Called on by President Bush as last week's press conference began to turn sour, Gannon -- who calls himself "a conservative journalist embedded with the liberal Washington press corps" -- attacked Democratic Senate leaders and called them "divorced from reality." Was that a question?

Chief among Gannon's infractions according to Brock is his tendency to lift large portions of RNC and White House press releases verbatim and without attribution for inclusion in several of his Talon "news reports." Brock concludes his letter to McClellan by drawing comparison to other pseudo-journalists with an agenda: "Now more than ever, the public needs to be certain that the White House isn't using fake 'journalists' to manipulate public opinion. Revoking Mr. Gannon's credentials would be a good first step in that direction."

McClellan told The Globe that Gannon has not been issued -- nor requested -- a regular "hard pass" to the White House, and instead has come in for the past two years on daily passes. "Daily passes, he said, may be issued to anyone who writes for an organization that publishes regularly and who is cleared to enter the building."

Contacted by Editor & Publisher, Gannon admitted having a conservative viewpoint, but said most of the White House press corps "have liberal leanings that are reflected in their questions and their news stories. I don't think anyone in that room is free of bias. They all reflect their own personal views or the editorial policy of the organizations they represent. I think I am no more or less partisan than any of my colleagues." This has been Gannon's standard retort -- made repeatedly via his personal website and Talon News. It's the cynical your-bias-justifies-my-bias argument that undermines the Fourth Estate.

"Would [the White House] let Joe Lockhart or someone who works for the DNC come in and do that? I don't think so," Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times, told E&P. "They ought to get legitimate members of the fourth estate, not political hacks on either side."

The frat-house flamers at are mounting a more juvenile defense of Gannon including taunts, sexual jokes about Brock and that favorite saw about the "liberal media," which if repeated often and in shrill tones might begin to sound like the truth . . . or so they believe. Others in the right-wing bell jar are trying to mobilize hundreds of fellow "Freepers" to apply for White House press credentials to stack the journalistic deck for Bush. Again, read the prevailing cynicism about journalists, which has swept up conservatives to such an extent that they choose only to believe news stories that justify their blinkered world view. The rest is just the "liberal media" going at it again.

Daily Kos has asked his blog troops to investigate Gannon and Talon News further by digging up dirt regarding the website's finances. Most of the money comes via Bobby Eberle's GOPUSA, a company with ties to the Texas Republican Party. GOPUSA states as its mission "to spread the conservative message throughout America." Though Eberle has claimed on MSNBC's Scarborough Country that GOPUSA and Talon News are separate companies, they overlap heavily.

After Media Matters showed that employees of Talon and GOPUSA have extensive political backgrounds but no journalism experience of note, Talon News pulled its employees' biographies from its website. This action in tself seems more an admission of Gannon's guilt than any accusation from his foes on the left.


Anonymous said...

and you call your write up as un-biased journalism!!!! How about a factual account without side/snide remarks. Liberals and Conservatives cannot seem to separate truth from fiction, real from implied. Lady Justice should loan them her scales!
marie b

Timothy Karr said...

This is commentary via a blog. I think the poodle shot gives away my point of view on this, and I'm not pretending otherwise. Were I to write this as a news story for a publication such as The Globe, I would take a different tact, actually seeking out interviews with all of the key players and presenting their points of view as honestly and ethically as possible.

This posting is a different beast all together, on a blog for those who take their fried eggs with a healthy dollop of Tabasco Sauce. You may have mistaken this for something else. If you want the straight news on this, I suggest you read The Boston Globe's treatment. It's reported in an even-handed manner by a solid group of journalists.

The problem with Gannon, and others of his ilk who are now coming out of the Washington woodwork, is that while not real journalists, they like to play them on TV. This sort of dishonesty poses a threat to our fourth estate.

While I am writing comment on this I welcome you to investigate the issue further. You can follow the various links that I have embedded within the post, read more on Gannon and Brock and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Not Together said...

Who are you getting upset with, Marie? And why?

Doesn't the fact that the White House has a whole propaganda machine scare you? It does me.

Don't we deserve the truth?

Anonymous said...

To the first anonymous: Lady Justice is under her $8000 burka, so she can't see what's going on ... unless Ashcroft took that $8000 burka with him.

There once was an attorney general
Whose saneness was somewhat ephemeral.
You knew he'd hate bongs,
And ladies in thongs,
But tin boobs were a case that was federal!!

jamie said...

I agree that the move to hold Talon News accountable is an important step toward curtailing the abuse of the free press by the right wing and the White House. The press is designed to be the public watch dog that holds the government accountable. This will never happen as long as the GOP are attempting to control the media.

Thanks to all the hard work by media watch dogs such as Media Matters for America and their supporter's letters of action and monetary support, the GOP media spokesmen (who call themselves journalists) are feeling the pressure. Being one of the supporters, it is very satisfying to see positive results come from many hours spent writing letters in response to the action alerts provided by MMFA. I highly recommend that everyone who cares about fairness in the media, who cares to know the truth and hates being lied to, sign up with MMFA's e-mail action alerts and help in this most vital cause.

I sincerely believe in the power of the people, and with much participation in the media reform movement real change is possible.
This is not the time to be apathetic, ACT NOW.

Anonymous said...

So, if the "bell jar" can disgorge additional right wing "freepers" clamoring for daily passes, why can't left-wingers do the same. One of the arguments that people make as to why the white house press corps seems to lack backbone is the difficulty of standing up at every press conference and asking difficult questions, and then expecting to be called on again. Just ask Helen Thomas. So why not a bunch of progressive bloggers showing up for daily passes, to do drive-by questioning?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how some people don't understand that if there are people out there doing the wrong things, that pointing out the truth isn't making snide comments.

Using "cheerlead" is descriptive term, not a federal indictment. So my advise to the previous update is, "Let Lady Liberty keep her scales and cool your jets."

Anonymous said...

Media should not strive to be unbiased. It's an unatainable goal. Fair and accurate should be enough.

And in the case of reporting on government, the press should have a clear bias against those in power. The vote and the press are our best mechanisms against abuse of power. Fair and accurate should still be the primary qualities of the point-of-view, however, lest the credibility of the press should wain.

It's when members of the press acquiesce to power that we should protest loudest. They are there to keep power in check, not to prop it up.

Anonymous said...

fyi: the saying is 'take a different tack' as in sailing, when you change the direction of the boat to head upwind, as in 'tacking when within 120' of the shore', not 'take a different tact'

Anonymous said...

timothy karr is right. A blog like this is what's called "advocacy journalism," in which the journalist is putting forth a point of view on a topic, like an Op-Ed piece in the newspaper. The difference between advocacy journalism and so-called professional journalism is that in advocacy journalism the bias or partisan viewpoint is readily apparent and it's up to the reader to provide context. In so-called professional journalism however, the bias is hidden and the reader thinks s/he's getting the whole story. This is why organizations like Media Matters, etc. are so important, because they expose the clever con jobs like Talon News that are being perpetrated upon us unsuspecting media consumers. Forewarned is forearmed.

Anonymous said...

What is it with you liberals wanting a fair and honest press? George Bush is the commander in chief, and if you disagree with him you are not only disloyal, you are a traitor. If he tells you something is true, then it must be true. Or, if it isn't true, he must have a good reason for lying and it must be in your best interests. We just have to trust him. What's the matter, don't you trust your commander in chief?

lol, just kidding. I'm actually really glad that these GOPig faux journalists are finally being exposed.


Timothy Karr said...

Not sure I would call this "advocacy journalism." I'm not sure what advocacy journalism is, but it sounds problematic to me.

It's a blog, which, as I said, is it's own beast. If I were called by a newspaper editor and asked to gussy this up for print, I could choose to take two tacks (thank you anonymous). I could strip out the colorful inferences -- "bell jar," "shrill tones," "administration house pet" -- and personal points of view and fill the blanks with interviews of people close to the story. This would then be a straight news item.

Or I could clean it up pretty much as is, but lighten the snide a bit, and present it as an op-ed.

But that's beside the point.

The point is this is a blog entry, the rules for which are slightly different than what we consider to be journalism of the traditional sort. I don't know -- and don't want to know -- what those blogging rules are as yet; we're all making them up as we go.

My aim with this was to get more people interested in and involved with this issue. You can call it what you like, as long as you learn something new from the account.

Anonymous said...

The United States of America will be defeated in April


Virgil Kret
I.C. News

Anonymous said...

So now accurately quoting a liberal is unfair?

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable news on this Gannon-gate affair. Oh wait...I should have expected the Republicans to be doing this stuff. That's how they won the election...spin. Keep up the good work, MediaCitizen!

Anonymous said...

if you atually take sides with this fake reporter guy you are the devoid of reality one, he was/is a male escort/republican advocate/ so called reporter, how can you not be biased against him being allowed not only in the press conferences on a dialy basis but the ties between him and texa republican party and rove, the only biased position int his is the one you take if you side with him

Anonymous said...

Great Column. I posted over at the vox poli whatever forum due to your pointing the way.. but not stay there as it's just the usual illinformed right wing rhetoric.

I think it's a hopeful sign that many former conservatives, Brock, Kevin Phillips, (name?) that libertarian economist over at Newsday, etc. are opening their eyes to the threats to our liberties and pocketbooks that this administrtion is encouraging. The Real War of Terror is being operated out of the White House.

Now, David Gergin said that Pres. Kennedy "used" a journalist lady from the south to feed him soft ball ?s.. However, other Administrations didn't accidiously deny press passes to so many legitimate journalists as this one... so the few that are allowed in the room are carefully monitored. And also the other fact: This President rarely meets the Press anyway in order to keep his secret plots secret. Alas Libertarians of the right and 'Fascists' with Bible thumpers are trying their best to eliminate the First Amendment: Govt. support of religion and suppression of the Press is their first order of business.