Sunday, February 20, 2005

Why the Jeff Gannon Story Is Important

The Jeff Gannon story is not merely a humorous chuckle over a gay prostitute who gained White House access posing as a reporter for a right-wing "news" organization. It is a story about National Security and how the Bush administration was willing to overlook its own policies in order to gain favorable press coverage, and that is much more significant.
Recent reports document that "Gannon," whose real name is Jim Guckert, attended White House press briefings as early as February 2003, several months before the creation of the "news" organization, Talon, for which he later worked as Washington bureau chief and reporter.
Now getting into the White House press room is not -- or should not be -- an easy trick.
To get a "hard" press pass, one that allows regular access, evidently involves a thorough background check that can take several months to complete. Gannon/Guckert never had one of these. Instead, for nearly two years, he obtained "daily" passes, the kind meant for visiting journalists who do not normally cover the White House. Presumably because of its short term and short-notice requests for it, this type of pass involves only an abbreviated background check.
I have never applied for a White House press pass, but I am told, and most certainly believe, that they are extremely difficult to obtain. So how did a gay prostitute with no journalistic education or background gain steady access to one?
Guckert was turned down when he applied for press access to the Capitol, a process that I understand is controlled by the working press and is supposedly a prerequisite for a White House press pass.
It took a few days for this story to be picked up by the mainstream press, perhaps because of its "unsavory" sexual aspect, and perhaps because the big corporations that run most major press organs really didn't want to run with a story that could be so embarrassing to the Repbulican administration they coddle. But now it's out there. The Washington Post and The New York Times have both covered it, as have the television news outlets. It's even gotten comic treatment from "The Daily Show" and Bill Maher.
But only a few are picking up on the fact that this man with no credentials and an unsavory past gained almost unheard-of access to a room that put him in close proximity with the president, at a time when White House security is supposedly at an all-time high. If the White House did not know that Guckert was a prostitute, it is only a small leap of logic to suggest that he might have made it inside the doors had he been a terrorist.
What or who did Guckert "do" to secure this extraordinarily preferential treatment? And isn't that person guilty at least of extremely bad judgment that in any ordinary administration would have consigned him to unemployment? At least? After all, this person theoretically put the President in harm's way.
Why aren't Republicans jumping up and down and demanding blood over this breach? Could it be that Guckert's patron is so high up in the administration or the party that exposure would be more humiliating than they could tolerate? Is a major security breach preferable to embarrassment?
One who has commented on the security aspect of this story is Senator Joe Biden, whose comment I lift from, which opened up this story and has done the most thorough job of covering it:

"Why isn't every major network in the country investigating a security breach,
forget anything else. How could the FBI, for 17 years I was chairman of the
Judiciary Committee, the ranking member. I've read more FBI reports than I ever
wanted to know. How could that happen and no one had any idea who this guy
was?... The Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate should be
investigating it. The House Judiciary should be investigating it. And if it were
the other party in charge, it would be investigated."