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Culture

Jeff Gannon: Erosion of Ethics

Bill Gibron

Condemning Jeff Gannon is the moment when everyone in the media jumped the shark, and decided that selling your body demanded your immediate exile.

+ "Jeff Gannon: Bad Apple from a Rotten Tree" by Terry Sawyer

Here's a quick note to whoever is holding the deed on the Fourth Estate: it's time to foreclose on that ethical money pit before it has no value at all. While there was a time when the news media were respected, now they're prey to powers heck-bent on robbing the First Amendment of all relevance. Back when Woodward and Bernstein were kicking the corruption out of the White House, everyone wanted to be an investigative crusader. A nation of misguided youth, confused by both drugs and disco, was desperate for a champion who shared their cynical eye.

The funny thing is, many of these manic muckrakers actually changed things. Thanks to his breaking of the Willowbrook story -- and not just because of the muy macho moustache -- Geraldo Rivera became an icon of the good the press might do. He could take down New York's horrific state mental health institution by day, then party with other swinging celebrities throughout the night.

In journalism school, they used to teach objectivity. Today, so-called reporters preach to the perverted, making sure no one walks away from a column without understanding exactly where they stand on all issues. Almost no one enters the palaces of the press without an agenda or bias, a personal or political philosophy laying next to his copy of the AP Style Manual.

Among the most egregious of these cavalier correspondents is the con artist formerly known as Jeff Gannon, self-proclaimed member of the media, possible shill conservative causes, and recently outed gay male escort. Gannon, whose other name is James Guckert, newly resigned from the right-leaning Talon News as their White House correspondent. As he hit the exit, defending his past and updating his resume, Gannon made quite the nasty name for himself, leaving a list of unresolved questions and an ever-growing line of angry dupes.

But if Gannon's pro-Bush positions are fairly clear, his pro-penis platform has apparently clouded the rest of the conversation. A quick Google graze and you can find all the images you want of Gannon showing off his own personal talking points. His ass-for-hire websites offer testimonials from satisfied customers, all claiming that when it came to his ability to probe deeply and get to the meat of the issue: Jeff has special skills. In interviews following the disclosure of his same-sex scarlet past, Gannon argues that everyone is entitled to make mistakes, and his past should not disqualify him from pursuing the truth or -- once he's determined it -- writing about it.

Gannon may have a point, but it's too late to stop the rush to roast this self-proclaimed conservative in the public scandal stew pot. Liberals and Democrats (trust me, there's a big difference) are demanding investigations and special prosecutors. And his defenders -- mostly from the right -- have to stand up for a fellow freedom fighter who happens to enjoy a little all-guy slap and tickle. The result of all these crossed lines is what the neo-journalists do best: a balls-out (literally) media circus.

Long before Gannon, however, "legitimate" journalists were succumbing to pressures of the tabloids. Fetid fish wraps like the Star, the National Enquirer, and the Weekly World News wallowed in dirt. And thanks to a few famous names -- Gary Hart, Kitty Dukakis, Bill Clinton -- the supermarket shit sheets were incorporated by broader media structures that recognized their increasing popularity and influence.

With the repeated complaint that the mainstream ("elite") press corps have a liberal bias, it was only a matter of time before the Enquirer and its ilk completed the erosion of ethics that once made the news media famously reliable. Thanks as well to the worldwide web, increasingly a broadband version of Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, anyone can be a "source" of information. Individuals who want to vent their own cogent or crackpot take on truth only need laptops and a complete lack of accountability to get their names all over the 'net.

Gannon is himself a beneficiary of and blight on this lunacy. Talon News turns out to be a front for Texas Republican and conservative "activist" Robert Eberle, and the happy hooker holidays Mr. G enjoyed were uncovered by hackers using the same technology that gave Gannon the opportunity to peddle himself. How appropriate that the very individuals who should be supporting his outsider/insider validation -- his fellow Internet know-it-alls who rant their way into everyone's business -- became the blog-based Brutus to his Caesar.

So, he resigns. He makes a couple of conciliatory statements, worms his way through the softball interview machine, and goes off with Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass to capitalize on his new notoriety (first on the to-do list: up those day rates at militarystud.com). But here's the real question: do either Gannon's gay escort past or his close ties to Republican organizations disqualify him from being (or playing) a reporter? When did a spotless moral history or lack of political conviction become a prerequisite to digging for facts? Gannon may not have been upfront when it came to who he was and what he represented (given the fact, of course, that Gannon is not his real name, and that he gained his first press credentials while not associated with a legitimate news organization), but what are the most potent grounds for outrage here?

Certainly, one can argue the kindergarten-level skill required to cut and paste White House briefings into your copy, as Gannon is accused of doing, or that he more or less played prosecuting attorney for the President during White House press conferences, lobbing questions at the commander in chief like helpless kittens to a starving coyote. But every time a valid gripe about Gannon surfaces, it's sidetracked by the whole butt-sex thing.

One hopes that the information that sways public opinion, influences voters, and sets the agenda for the nation would be presented by someone with genuine training. A reporter has two duties: he needs to present the facts and understand that the manner of presentation shapes the reception. Given these baselines, sexual proclivity or promiscuity doesn't appear to have much to do with journalism. According to the leaps in logic made by some pundits and journalists, a straight, frigid monk would be the perfect purveyor of the facts (as well as having the necessary religious foundation that makes his morality unimpeachable, apparently). According to this logic, someone who can't get enough nookie must be a press room pariah.

In fact, most protests against Gannon begin with his lack of disclosure. After all, if he hid his other career as a guy gun for hire, and his orientation for that matter, maybe there are other, far more important omissions made in his quest for White House access. But the long-term effects of his duplicity might be worse than the actual misdeed. We are a nation in love with rules and regulations, a people happy to have our inherent freedoms fucked over for the sake of a smidgen of (proposed) security. It is easy to envision a sudden stoppage in the issuing of press credentials, a tightening of restrictions, and an increase in background checks.

If those in power play it right, they might build up a whole new McCarthyism, with Congressional confirmation-style hearings for would-be correspondents; previous shocking activities -- discussing porn in the workplace, rooting for someone other than the home team, or unlawful protesting -- could be reason for dismissal. Ex-partners could come crawling out of the woodwork to discuss your bi-curious bedroom habits, your personal hygiene, and the way you cry whenever "Shannon" by Henry Gross comes on the radio. Sexual orientation and the manner in which you choose to express it would be part of the primetime portion of the process, where members of What Not to Wear, Extreme Makeover, and Queer Eye will argue over who gets to handle your new-you debut before the Commander in Chief.

Laugh if you must, but this is where we're heading. We no longer want to gauge individuals based on their talents or skills. While Gannon's commitment to his cause may seem extreme, is he any worse than Harry Knowles and his web full of entertainment spies? (At least Gannon hasn't tried to spoil the plot of Episode III.) His devotion to conservative ideals should be the one and only factor fueling the ongoing angst right now, with his use of it to turn the tides of those press conferences he attended a close second. Who or what he does with his wang is no more important than any other facet of his personal life... except that it sure makes great cultural theater.

We long ago passed the point of no return. Journalists have joined the pathetic politicos they once eschewed. The lessons offered by the muckrakers are evaporated; the "right to know" is an open-ended mandate to gather as much information, personal or otherwise, on anyone. Gannon will pass into shadows, his 15 minutes cut short by those pictures. But sitting in the wings, updating their sites and moderating their discussion boards, are the next generations of Gannons, a pack of pretenders who don't quite realize that visits to hornysoccermoms.com or the Kirk/Picard slash fiction they pen will adversely affect them in the future.

The denunciation of Gannon may seem like simple party politics, but it's not. It's the moment when everyone in the media jumped the shark, and decided that selling your body demanded your immediate exile. Funny, they haven't addressed the consequences of selling one's soul.

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