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Loose 'Gannon'

How did an inexperienced White House 'reporter' get such extraordinary access despite using a fake name?
 
 
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Jeff Gannon, the controversial White House correspondent for the obscure, conservative web site Talon News who resigned from his job Tuesday, confirmed late Wednesday, in a phone interview with National Public Radio, that he has been using a false name. A few hours later, Howard Kurtz, writing in The Washington Post , confirmed earlier tips, arising from liberal blogs, that the reporter's real name is indeed James D. Guckert.

Despite the ruse, "Gannon" still managed to gain access to many White House briefings and was one of the few reporters allowed to ask President Bush a (very friendly) question at a press conference two weeks ago.

NPR reported Wednesday that when Gannon was turned down for Capitol Hill credentials – a move first reported by E&P last week – he had used the name James Guckert. He admitted to NPR that Gannon was not his real name, and left it at that.

This "begs further investigation," James Pinkerton, a media critic for Fox News, told the online magazine Salon.com. He recalled that in the six years he worked for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the White House was "strict about who got in. It's inconceivable to me that the White House, especially after 9/11, gives credentials to people without doing a background check. ... If [Gannon] was walking around the White House with a pass that had a different name on it than his real name, that's pretty remarkable."

Dana Milbank, the former White House correspondent for The Washington Post , said the "scandal" of the whole episode was that it was blogs, and not the White House, that ultimately exposed Gannon's ruse. Milbank, on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program, said he'd seen Gannon at the White House as recently as Monday.

Gannon, amazingly, also has ties to the Valerie Plame/CIA scandal.

Adding another twist, NPR's David Folkenflik, in his report Wednesday night, referred to revelations arising from liberal blogs earlier in the day, connecting Gannon to sexual Web sites such as HotMilitaryStud.com, among others.

"These sites are registered to an address in Delaware that's the same as one held by a James Guckert," Folkenflik said. "And that's the name that Gannon used to apply for press credentials on Capitol Hill. ... As for those [w]eb sites, Gannon said he created them for clients of a software company he used to work for. And Gannon said his Christian faith has enabled him to receive forgiveness for the sins of his past."

The New York Daily News ' story on Thursday carried the headline, "Bush press pal quits over gay prostie link." Washington reporter Helen Kennedy wrote: "A conservative ringer who was given a press pass to the White House and lobbed softball questions at President Bush quit yesterday after left-leaning Internet bloggers discovered possible ties to gay prostitution."

On Tuesday, in a message on his Web site ( www.jeffgannon.com), Gannon announced: "Because of the attention being paid to me I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life. Thank you to all those who supported me."

E&P has not been able to reach "Gannon" since. But he told the daily paper in his hometown in Delaware, the News Journal of Wilmington: "I asked a question at a White House press briefing and this is what happened to me. If this is what happens to me, what reporter is safe?"

Gannon's real name, Guckert, had been outed earlier Wedneday by investigators at DailyKos, Eschaton and other blogs. They also showed that Talon News is run by a Texas GOP activist.

Also Wednesday, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to President Bush asking him to "address the matter" in light of "mounting evidence that your administration has, on several occasions, paid members of the media to advocate in favor of Administration policies."

Gannon first gained attention several weeks ago when he asked a question at a presidential press conference that some in the press corps considered so friendly it might have been planted. Later E&P revealed that Gannon had been turned down last year for a congressional press pass because he could not prove his employer was a valid news organization. That denial barred him from receiving a White House "hard pass," allowing regular access to White House press events.

But Gannon had been obtaining daily White House press passes, a situation that had irked some veteran White House reporters who also questioned his credentials or considered him to be too partisan in his questioning.

On Olbermann's program Wednesday night, however, Milbank said he had seen Gannon with a pass and photo I.D. that certainly looked like it was of the permanent variety.

On Thursday, the Boston Globe reported that Gannon told them he had gotten no special consideration at the White House. He had applied for a background check and daily passes under the name on his driver's license, not his "professional name," he said.

Earlier in the day, on CNN, The Washington Post 's Howard Kurtz said that White House spokesman Scott McClellan had told him that "President Bush didn't know who Jeff Gannon was when he called on him at that news conference."

Gannon's original refusal to deny he used a fake name sparked investigations by a number of blogs, which probed his true identity. In addition, those sites posted allegations that web sites such as hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com, and militaryescortsm4m.com, were registered to the same owner as Gannon's personal Web site.

"The bloggers," Kurtz writes today, "also have linked to a since-withdrawn America Online photo of a man who appears to be Gannon, posing in his underwear, with a screen name bearing the initials 'JDG.'"

In her letter to President Bush, Rep. Slaughter charged that "it appears that 'Mr. Gannon's' presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your [a]dministration."

Dan Froomkin, the Washington Post columnist, said Wednesday in an online chat, "the heat should be on" Scott McClellan: "Why did he call on Gannon? Did they ever pre-arrange anything? Did they have contact with his parent organization?"

Another intriguing issue is his involvement, along with the better-known Robert Novak, Judith Miller, and others, in the Valerie Plame/CIA episode. Gannon's name turned up on a list of reporters targeted for questioning by the federal prosecutor in the case. Froomkin of the The Washington Post wrote last spring that "the reason Gannon is on the list is most likely an attempt to find out who gave him a secret memo that he mentioned in an interview he had with Plame's husband, former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson."

The Talon News site today scrubbed its archives of many "Gannon" articles and removed his biography. It said it was already looking for a replacement for its star reporter.

In an e-mail to E&P last Friday, not published until now, Gannon wrote: "Much has been made about whether I use a professional name or not, but I am reluctant to provide information one way or another because of the threats that have been made against my person, property and family in both internet postings ... as well as in e-mails that I have forwarded to law enforcement. I'm sure you understand."

Olbermann on his TV show Wednesday referred to Gannon as "HBO's Ali G, without the satire."

Joe Strupp and Greg Mitchell ( letters@editorandpublisher.com) are editors at E&P.