Michael Dietz

Becoming Jeff Gannon

When James Dale Guckert gave notice to his employers at Karmak, a West Chester, Pa. large-vehicle body shop, at the end of 2001, no one found any drama in the event. After nearly three years as manager of Karmak's small office, JD wanted to move on; he was going to find work in Washington, D.C., he told his boss. He didn't say what kind of work, and there seemed no particular reason to ask; he'd been an office manager before Karmak; he would probably be one again.

Barely a year later, in January 2003, Jeff Gannon is seen on video attending a State Department press briefing. He authored opinion pieces published on a number of conservative web sites, and his byline was set to appear on Bobby Eberle's GOPUSA News, whose parent organization would, just a month later, list him as a director. He was a hustler, an aggressive networker, a figure in the D.C. Free Republic community. From out of nowhere -- no history in journalism, no apparent interest in it -- Jeff Gannon was a right-wing up-and-comer.

When J. D. Guckert exited the confines of the western Philadelphia suburbs where he had lived most of his adult life, to emerge rechristened as Jeff Gannon of the D.C. press corps, he did more than just adopt a pseudonym. He acquired an identity and a sense of purpose. From one perspective, he was playing out the classic narrative of American reinvention: a big new self in a big new place, the old, failed self sloughed off and forgotten. From another perspective, he was tracing a darker but no less familiar American arc: that of the man of no fixed character, the enlistee without an army, ready to shape himself to the needs of whatever cause might promise to give his own life shape.

Through the fog of Guckert's various personas -- JD, Bulldog, The Conservative Guy, "Jeff Gannon," some overlapping, some contradictory -- the process of his enlistment in the right-wing noise machine is teasingly difficult to make out. We can trace his life up to the brink of the change, and we can watch him emerge a few months later on the other side, but motives and occasions -- how the machine found him, or he it -- are still dim. Where did JD acquire ambition and political commitment? How was he funded during the year of his transition? (How, for that matter, is he being funded now?) We have a lot to learn about becoming Gannon: but in a relatively short time we have passed (to paraphrase a prominent American philosopher) from a landscape of unknowns to one of known unknowns. Here are the shapes we can see today.

JD in the valley

To all appearances, JD Guckert had found a home. West Chester, Pa. straddles two worlds: on the westernmost edge of Philadelphia's suburban belt, it boasts a sizeable university and the studios of home-shopping giant QVC; on the threshold of the Brandywine Valley, it breathes the air of a historic territory of the American Revolution, still largely rural, a significant tourist destination. JD moved here in 1975, from his childhood home in northwestern Pennsylvania's Conneaut Lake, to attend West Chester College (now West Chester University), and once in the area he stuck. The roots he put down may not have been deep, but they certainly seemed lasting.

Graduating in 1980 with a social sciences degree and a Pennsylvania teaching certificate, JD began an aimless, two-decade course through a succession of decent but small-time jobs, a course that seems to have moved him no farther afield than the regional center of Wilmington, DE, at the southern end of the Brandywine Valley, where he soon settled in to live. He worked as a landscaper; he claimed to have taught high school for a time. Most of his working life was spent managing operations in a couple of liquor distributorships in the region.

Recollections of JD are uniformly positive, but colorless: he is polite, affable, well-spoken, a good employee. He was out enough, at least on one side of his life, to play for a bar-sponsored team in a gay Philadelphia softball league; he was closeted enough, on another, to be seen occasionally bringing a girl with him to office parties. He was quiet, though not apparently close-mouthed or secretive, and did not discuss his personal life with his fellow workers.

In a mission statement published on Guckert's Conservative Guy web site in 2002, he tells us that:

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