The Dispassion of the Christian Right
They were livid over SpongeBob Square Pants' participation in a video advocating tolerance, and fuming about Buster the Bunny's visit to a lesbian household. So where's the outrage from the Christian right over the Jeff Gannon Affair? Despite a chunk of time having passed since the Gannon Affair was first uncovered, Christian-right organizations are still cloaked in silence. As of Feb. 24, there wasn't any news about the Gannon Affair available on the web sites of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or the Traditional Values Coalition. As best as I could determine, no special alerts about the Gannon Affair have been issued; and no campaigns have been launched to get to the bottom of the matter.
Curious about this wall of silence, I phoned several Christian-right groups on Tuesday, Feb. 22, hoping to find someone who could comment on the Gannon Affair. This is what I found:
- Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family: I filled out an interview form and waited to hear back. Several hours later, a FotF administrative assistant called me to say that no one there could answer my questions about Gannon. She said a lot of folks were out sick and no one was available. "Would someone be available tomorrow or Thursday," I asked. She pointed out that no one would be available the following day or the day after to talk about this issue. "Next week?" "No."
- The Family Research Council: I spoke with Amber Hildebrand, FRC's media director. She said "We haven't made any public comments about this. There have been other pressing issues that have taken precedent, although this came as a shock to FRC." Hildebrand said she would see if FRC's vice president of government affairs Connie Mackey, would talk with me. At press time (Thursday evening) Mackey has not called.
- The Traditional Values Coalition: I filled out an interview form and waited for a call back. As of Feb. 22, TVC Action Alerts are focused on the persecution and subsequent dismissal of charges against the "Philadelphia 5," a group of fundamentalists that disrupted a pro-gay activity in Philadelphia in order to preach "the Gospel to homosexuals," and on Columbia House for developing "a new subsidiary called Hush to market pornographic materials in association with Playboy and other pornography companies." At press time no one had returned my call. After making a second call, a TVC spokesperson told me that "no one is available to speak on that topic right now."
- The Free Congress Foundation: Over at Paul Weyrich's Washington, D.C.-based organization, Jill Farrell, the director of communications told me that she hadn't "heard anyone say anything at all" about the Gannon Affair.
The editors at Town Hall, the Heritage Foundation's one-stop shopping center for conservative ideas, and the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, currently involved in trashing HBO's Bill Maher over recent remarks he made about religion, didn't return my calls. Charisma News Service and the Christian Response Network didn't respond to my e-mail questions about their lack of coverage of the Gannon Affair.
That was then ...
While waiting for callbacks, my mind's eye drifted back to the Clinton White House. Tim Bannon, a liberal activist, had made his way into a presidential press conference; Bannon had been attending press briefings for nearly two years, under the name Slim Cannon. No one seemed knew much about FallOnNews.com, the internet news service he worked with, but many suspected it was a front group for the Democrats.
Clinton had been taking a well-publicized beating over the Monica Lewinsky Affair. At the president's first press conference in quite some time, he called on Cannon, who asked the following question: "Mr. President, given revelations about House Speaker Newt Gingrich's serial affairs and the abandonment of his wife when she had cancer, and given that Congressman Bob Livingston has a similar record of perfidious peccadilloes, and given stories about the sexual shenanigans of a host of televangelists including Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, could you please comment on whether the right-wing media, isn't selectively focusing on the Lewinsky affair, and doesn't want to deal with sexual scandals in its own backyard?"
Less than 24 hours later, a host of right wing web sites – suspicious that Cannon may have been planted by the White House – discovered that Slim Cannon's cannon was prominently featured on a number of gay porn sites, and that in his off hours he may have been a gay "escort." Intrepid researchers find out that Cannon had been privy to secret documents before any other duly accredited White House reporters.
"Clinton's gay consort" became the right's theme for the next several months.
Reality-based fans will recognize that the above scenario never happened. If a Tim Bannon, as Slim Cannon, had insinuated himself into the White House on President Clinton's watch, and lobbed softball question after softball question, all hell would have broken loose. Right-wing media, and the pulpits and newsletters of fundamentalist Christians, would have been ranting and raving: "Where's the outrage?" Bob Dole's mantra from his failed 1996 presidential campaign might actually have finally resonated. The mainstream media would have no doubt jumped on board.
This is now ...
What has actually happened bears some resemblance to our fictitious scenario. The major difference is that the scandal involving Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert, is happening on President George W. Bush's watch. The vituperative voices of the right are quiet and their voracious appetites for sex, slime and salacious details about Democratic dalliances have disappeared since it's a GOP scandal.
On the heels of the payola scandal involving Bush administration payoffs to Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and McManus – a loose coalition of the shilling – along comes the Gannon/Guckert affair.
James D. Guckert, as Gannon, represented a conservative news site called Talon News. Somehow, within a short time of his entering "journalism," Gannon was able to get credentialed and attend numerous White House briefings and lob softballs at White House officials. According to DemocraticUnderground.com, "Gannon was actually in the White House as early as Feb. 28, 2003 – a month before Talon News even existed. Gannon also got called on by President Bush at one of his rare news conferences. Gannon ended his question with "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" referring to Sen. Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Details of the Gannon/Guckert affair are still being uncovered. Thanks to the blogosphere and largely through the efforts of Media Matters for America and John Aravosis' Americablog we are learning more than we ever wanted to know about someone we'd rather know little about. These blogs, and a handful of other enterprising bloggers, blew the lid off Gannon's shameful charade. Beneath the lid was James D. Guckert in pre-fig leaf Garden of Eden splendor: As a contributor to such sites as Hotmilitarystud.com, Workingboys.net, Militaryescorts.com, MilitaryescortsM4M.com and Meetlocalmen.com, Gannon's cannon is on full display.
"'Jeff' has now quit Talon News," writes Frank Rich in the Feb. 20 edition of The New York Times, "not because he and it have been exposed as fakes but because of other embarrassing blogosphere revelations linking him to sites like hotmilitarystud.com and to an apparently promising career as an X-rated $200-per-hour "escort." (For more on all of this including links to some of Gannon/Guckert's web sites, see Americablog.)
There are innumerable aspects of the Gannon/Guckert Affair that should keep curious mainstream reporters busy for quite some time: how did Gannon/Guckert get into all those White House press briefings and the President's press conference?; Was he on the payroll of Team Bush?; Did he play a role revealing Valerie Plame's CIA employment? – the investigation is ongoing; how did he get by with being a phony right-wing reporter by day and a gay prostitute by night?
A few weeks back, Buzzflash.com editorialized: "The Gannon story touches upon everything from manufactured news to manufactured 'reporters' to the Valerie Plame affair to web sites that have a connection to the White House, but appear independent, to a Bush Cartel hypocrisy about gays, to payola, to scripted Bush news conferences, to who knows what. This is a BIG media story that should be on the cover of The New York Times and Post."
Unable to speak with representatives from Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition, I turned to Joe Conn of American United for Separation of Church and State and John Aravosis, the creator of Americablog.
In a telephone interview, Conn said he wasn't surprised that there hasn't been any response from Christian right organizations because "The religious right is pretty much a team player when it comes to the Bush administration. Unless it's an issue like same-sex marriage – a core issue of their agenda – they will give the president a pass."
"Clearly this is an example of the religious right's hypocrisy," Conn point out. "If it was Bill Clinton they would be in total uproar."
Via e-mail, I asked Aravosis why he thought the Christian right was being silent about the Gannon Affair.
"Because they're hypocrites," he wrote in an e-mail. "They know this scandal is hurting Bush and they put politics ahead of their God. That's how petty and un-Christian they are."
"Am I correct in thinking that they certainly would have responded to a similar situation if Bill Clinton was still president?," I asked. Aravosis responded with tongue firmly implanted in cheek: "Do you think the religious right would care if Bill Clinton welcomed a gay hooker to the White House, and then slipped him classified intelligence information? Let me think about that one."