Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Press corps insider reveals the Bush administration's media manipulation


For two years Jeff Gannon cut an unobtrusive figure at White House press conferences. The shaven-headed, craggily handsome man worked for an obscure news agency called Talon News. He was often the subject of jokes by colleagues from weightier news organizations.

No one is laughing now, because Gannon was far from being a harmless distraction. He was writing under a false name and working for a Republican front organization. Suddenly, his "softball" questions to White House officials looked less like eccentricities and more like plotting by an administration which has frequently displayed a dark mastery of the arts of press control.

When it emerged that Gannon was also linked to gay prostitution Web sites and might be a gay prostitute himself, the scandal as to how he was allowed daily access to the White House grew even murkier. The American media are now being forced to confront the possibility that Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, was simply a Republican plant, used by officials, including President George W. Bush, to ask easy questions in difficult press conferences.

"The idea of having a mole in the White House press corp is amazing, but that's what it looks like," said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University.

But the Gannon affair, which has shocked much of America's political establishment, is just the latest scandal in the media establishment. Newspapers including The New York Times and USA Today have been hit by plagiarism and forgery scandals. Other papers and television stations have been consumed with a soul-searching inquest into how they were misled about non-existent Iraqi weapons programs. Added to that is growing evidence of a White House campaign to bypass or control the media in their everyday presentation of government policy, which included paying one journalist hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote its policies.

How the US media shot themselves in the foot

A series of scandals have not helped the American media's reputation and their struggle for independence.


Reporter Jayson Blair was fired and the newspaper's editor forced to resign after Blair was found to have plagiarized numerous stories.

2. USA Today:

Foreign reporter Jack Kelly was discovered to have invented stories, interviews and witnesses from around the world.

3. CBS:Four reporters lost their jobs and the reputation of legendary anchor Dan Rather was tarnished after doubts were cast on a news report of Bush's National Guard Service.

4. CNN:

Chief news executive Eason Jordan resigned his 23-year career after he claimed that American soldiers had deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq.

Source: The observer

Last week a federal watchdog warned the Bush administration that any video news releases must state that the government is the source.

Twice in two years, government departments have been accused of distributing fake news packages, using actors as journalists.

One question is dominating US newsrooms and television studios: Ignored, scandalized and now corrupted, just what are America's mainstream media for anymore?

The extent of the Bush White House's command and control of the press corps is often revealed in the seemingly innocuous White House pool reports. These are dispatches dutifully filed by a correspondent assigned to travel with Bush and contain little but lists of endless meetings, meals eaten and clothes worn. But no detail is too small to be ignored by Bush's ever-watchful press handlers. One report on Aug. 13 last year contained a remark from Bush that it was a "good question" as to who to support if Iraq's soccer team played the US in the Olympics. Officials scurried to "correct" it.

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