Sunday, February 20, 2005

The White House Mole

The articles keep being published about Jim Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon) and still the mainstream press refuses to treat the story as the major scandal it undoubtedly is. The mainstream American press, I should say. Because the British newspaper, the Guardian, has indeed offered a thorough report on the issue along with an analysis of what's wrong with the Fourth Estate in the United States. Entitled "The mole, the US media and a White House coup", the article is by Paul Harris.

[Gannon] was writing under a false name and working for a Republican front organisation. Suddenly, his 'softball' questions to White House officials looked less like eccentricities and more like plotting by an administration which has frequently displayed a dark mastery of the arts of press control.

When it emerged that Gannon was also linked to gay prostitution websites and might be a gay prostitute himself, the scandal as to how he was allowed daily access to the White House grew even murkier. The American media is now being forced to confront the possibility that Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, was simply a Republican plant, used by officials, including President George W Bush, to ask easy questions in difficult press conferences. 'The idea of having a mole in the White House press corp is amazing, but that's what it looks like,' said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University.

Harris takes a look at just how the White House practices this art of press control by reminding us of the recent stories concerning journalists for hire as well as outright deception using the medium of television.

Last week a federal watchdog warned the Bush administration that any video news releases must state that the government is the source. Twice in two years, government departments have been accused of distributing fake news packages, using actors as journalists.

The ridiculous idea that we have a "liberal media" is also discussed.

Right-wing media ratcheted up the long-standing conservative complaint that the media is dominated by liberal publications. Though many journalism experts deny that is the case, the image has settled in the American consciousness, forcing newspapers, magazines and television stations to go out of their way to prove they are not liberal. 'We have a conservative media and also a mainstream media, which is also now fairly conservative because it has been forced to deny being liberal,' said Lule.

The Gannon case is a prime illustration. If, during the Clinton administration, a fake reporter from a Democrat front organisation, using a false name, had been exposed as attending White House press conferences it would have been a national scandal. If he had then been shown to be a gay prostitute, the scandal could have threatened a Democrat presidency. With 'Gannon' and Bush there has been no such outcry. The mainstream media has approached the story warily, while right-wing organisations such as Fox News have largely ignored it.

Finally, the role of the blogosphere is examined.

It was not the mainstream media that exposed Gannon, but left-wing website Media Matters for America which enlisted other liberal bloggers to help. All the significant breaks in the story emerged online, forcing Gannon to resign, reveal his real name and go into hiding.

Some commentators see the emergence of blogging as a media force as a liberating phenomenon. Unlike the mainstream media, blogging is cheap, easy and open to anyone regardless of qualification or background or money. 'Blogging gives a voice to those who were previously silent,' said Ananda Mitra, a communications professor at Wake Forest University.

Others see it as part of the trend towards partisan journalism. Spearheaded by the nakedly right-wing Fox News, journalism in America has come to resemble a political shouting match rather than any form of debate of the issues. But with soaring viewership, Fox has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in the media landscape. Other networks, such as CNN and MSNBC, have sought to copy Fox's personality-led and opinion-based news.

I keep waiting for the Gannon-Guckert story to get the attention it deserves in the mainstream press. Until then I'll raise my little voice along with all the other liberal bloggers in protest against the way it's being minimized. For the Republicans to plant a mole in the White House press corps is simply beyond outrageous.

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