I’m not one to bitch-slap the mainstream media (MSM). After all, the alternative—the blogosphere—grants ideologues a pulpit to huff their own outrage, destroying the entire concept of newsworthiness by pursuing every genuine story and every incidental nit with the same self-stroking zealotry. Still, I can barely contain my exasperation for the old-guard media’s sputtered indifference toward what has clearly emerged as pattern of deceptive propaganda emanating from the Bush administration. Latin American dictators have shown more candor.
Currently, journalists are playing dainty with the “privacy” of a right-wing call boy caught fudging with his Holly Hobby journalism kit when it wasn’t long ago that they were circulating details of Bill Clinton’s rim jobs. It doesn’t take Shaggy and Velma to see the Jeff Gannon (a.k.a. Jim Guckert) is simply the latest administration assault on the free press. That a partisan hack infiltrated the ranks of actual journalists through a departure from procedure isn’t even surprising any more. What is surprising is that he doesn’t appear to have been on the White House dole like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher. Gannon purportedly asked the president how he would be able to work with Democrats who were “divorced from reality” because he believed he should facilitate the president’s point of view at the explicit expense of those that might disagree with him.
Gannon’s preparation for his reporting job was to attend a two-day seminar funded by seething Party wing nuts. As this approach to credentialing journalists has few quality controls, it also helps to create a body of writers with no ethical boundaries, no historical tradition of speaking truth to power, and no independence from the political movement shaping their “journalistic” instincts.
Confusing partisanship with journalism is paradigmatic of both the Republican style of power and the conservative style of reporting. When the Armstrong Williams story broke, I figured that we’d be talking about it for years, even after the Congressional investigations finished. If the press had ever revealed that Clinton’s White House paid New York Times columnists to promote its agenda, the bloody murder impeachment cries would have been deafening. That this White House’s practice had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the light of day shows that the Republican party sees journalism as an extension of its political apparatus, but knows well enough that such blending of state and press rightly makes many ordinary folks queasy. Gannon may not have been on the financial teat of Rove and Co., but as the titular public face of Republican backer and activist Bobby Eberle, he may as well have been carrying Scott McClellan’s coffee to the podium.
Part of what angers a liberal like myself is the pants-on-fire double consciousness Conservatives display when defending their media whores, both literal and metaphorical. The faux news agency Talon News’ website claims to be “committed to delivering accurate and unbiased news coverage.” Conservatives argue both that there is no bias in their news organizations and that such bias is justified as a bulwark against their phantom victimization. Curiously, this argument means that finding the truth is simply a matter of balancing opposing distortions on a scale where an equal number of lies produce certainty. No one explains how to manage this in a media environment where bias is not just de rigueur but lauded, but I suspect that conservatives are not so much concerned with a “fair and balanced” media as they are temporarily committed to the arguments that best serve their own bottomless will-to-power.
In absolving Gannon of the least bit of wronging for everything from operating under a political action committee posing as a news agency to plagiarizing White House press releases and even renting out his barker for $1200 large a weekend, the National Review‘s Tim Graham writes, “But what they really might wind up accomplishing with their ‘Gannongate’ pounding was the silencing of a rare right-leaning voice in the White House press corps. To them, you can only be “authentic” by pounding the President from the left” (“Gannon’s to the Left of Me,” 16 February 2005). Gannon was only “silenced” when journalists discovered that his press pass circumvented the usual rigor for such access, that his employer was bogus and he shagged for cash with other men, an incidentally rich irony from the party of ferocious sexual panic. In other words, Gannon was busted because a handful of journalists still do their fucking job.
But Graham’s argument has the suspect effect of destroying the free press, subsuming the entire institution under the umbrella of political warfare. In his analysis, parroting the president is legitimate journalistic practice; this begs the question: why is journalism even necessary? Why not just have the president monologue and blink a lot into the teleprompter while doing that palsied Elvis hip swivel he does whenever he’s seeking to evade a real question. Why not just allow the winning administration to staff the newspapers and disseminate all publicly available information? How does this differ in ideological content from the practices of the communist party in China or Bush’s authoritarian soul-mate, Vladmir Putin?
Is Graham seriously suggesting that the same media that promoted the non-stories of Travelgate, Whitewater, the death of Vince Foster, and the complete demonization of John Kerry’s outspoken wife can be unambiguously identified with the Democratic Party? Is the New York Times just the print arm of MoveOn.org? It’s one thing to use inflated rhetoric about the “liberal media” to cow journalists into being your bitches, but quite another to believe the mythology, which is balls-out crazy. Fox News provides ample proof that conservatives don’t mind bias. The marriage of the state and the press gives them little pause as long as their star seems ascendant.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan recently justified Gannon’s access with the excuse that the White House’s only criterion for granting a journalist’s access was that he write for an organization that “published regularly,” a loosey-goosey standard that obviates the need for journalists to have any formal training or experience. Since then, journalists like Eric Boehlert at Salon have uncovered the fact that Gannon had White House press access even before his Talon News stint, when he wrote for GOPUSA, Talon News’ root organization and a ferociously partisan Republican website and group. McClellan now states that they only checked to make sure that the organization “existed” before granting the coveted passes. I’m relieved to find out that if I go back and stick a few phrases in like “ownership society” and “liberal slant,” that I’ll finally gain access to the president based on my junior high diary, which, it turns out, “existed.”
Once you discover the pattern of propaganda, it serves as a handy cipher for the entire Bush presidency. His approach to Social Security reform reeks of deceit, the kind of underhanded carnie ruse that makes me worry that someone is trying to usher in the Antichrist. Conservatives have never believed in Social Security, seeing it as part of FDR’s toxic legacy of socialism. But they also have enough public relations savvy to know that their belief system cannot be sold on its face and must be dishonestly repackaged. Gannon had no intention of doing more than pasting the White House press releases under his byline and maybe cribbing some of Sean Hannity’s bumper sticker upchuck. But then, few people, especially people of good conscience who happen to be suckered by the pyrotechnics of affected right-wing passion, would trust Talon News Agency if it had called itself the “Republican Propaganda Orifice Staffed By Queer Hookers.”
The focus on Gannon’s ass-slinging side gig diverts attention from the larger issues embodied in this story. (Truth be told, I only bring up the homosexual call boy issue because God gets pissed off when you don’t take time to savor the delicious work of Grandma Karma.) Perhaps the fleeting fixations of the media cycle prevent the Gannon story from being situated within the larger one, that is, the Bush administration’s allergy to the truth. It’s important to ask how a prostitute with no journalism credentials got to toss slow pitch strikes to a president who can barely play tee ball. Still, the real question is not how a hooker got into the White House, but how the White House became such a low-rent brothel in the first place.