The president testily conceded the arrangement with Williams had been a mistake, then uttered some boilerplate about the indispensability of an independent press, then urged reporters to view his policies objectively. Then he pointed to the beefy man with the shaved head in the fourth row.
Gannon thanked him, then jumped into his question. In fact, he even ad-libbed a bit, interpolating a line Rush Limbaugh had used on his radio program the previous day, attributing to the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, of Nevada, something that Reid had never actually said.
Gesturing casually, Gannon seemed as if he were chatting up an old friend, someone with whom he was cozy enough even to share enemies. And all before a national audience. For a couple of hours, Gannon was thrilled, particularly after the supremely narcissistic Limbaugh praised the question on the air. In and of itself, that made it a grand day for the Jeff Gannon brand. But the tide soon turned. Indeed, with that single question, something on the American left seemed to snap. And the vitriol soon engulfed Jeff Gannon. Initially, Gannon was charged only with being a hack—a fake reporter with a fake name and nonexistent credentials who had gotten into the White House under false pretenses and who slavishly reprinted Bush-administration press re- leases in his articles.
Gannon was inundated with hateful, often homophobic e-mail. His mother and brother, he says, were threatened. On the air, in print, even in Doonesbury, he became a punching bag and punch line.
What was the deal with Jeff Gannon?
The right-wing network that had given Gannon an online radio program pulled the plug. So too did entities such as the Drudge Report and the Christian Right that would have pounced on the scandal in a different administration. And through his past behavior, public statements, petty deceptions, and all-around sense of mystery, Gannon all but goaded them on.
Why would a grown man suddenly change his name? How, in middle age, had he suddenly become a reporter, and with White House access to boot? And why is he so vague as to how he got that access?
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Gannon, who is philosophically opposed to bankruptcy, says he is continuing to pay off his debts. How could someone so self-assured, so confident, so articulate have so little to show for his life unless he was really doing something else or was someone else?
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I have such a short attention span. I just like to move on, move on, move on. The deeper the bloggers dug, though, the shallower Gannon seemed to become; the more they tried to build him up, the more he seemed to shrink. He gained access to the White House under the name Guckert, not Gannon, scotching any ideas of deception.
For all his purported inside ties, he broke almost no stories. Gannon did not obtain a secret memo in the case of Valerie Plame, the C. He did not have advance word of the American bombing of Iraq. He scarcely knew Ari Fleischer and, apart from sending Scott McClellan a card when he got married, had little personal contact with him. True, by publishing a series of scorching articles with a scoop or two, he played a perplexing and arguably important role in the defeat last year of Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, of South Dakota.
But, from the standpoint of Washington, D.
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The New York Times Magazine did a question-and-answer with him. Gannon talks of writing a tell-all book, and suggests he has good gossip on important Washington, D. He was subsequently scratched, which is too bad, because he had his material at the ready: Security personnel at the club checked audience members on their way in, less for guns and knives than for lemon meringue pies.
The charge that he is a fake is what stings Gannon most. He has noted, proudly, that he has written more than articles for Talon News, and insists he was no more political than the left-wingers in the media mainstream. Nor did any revelations about his past or the reaction to his incendiary question change anything.
Never, he maintains, has he written anything anti-gay himself, though his gay critics say his animus is more subtle than that—a matter of his choice of words and the disproportionate weight he gives to right-wing anti-gay voices. Gannon is maddeningly coy about many other things as well. He volunteers that his story is more complex than described, involving secret work for which he needed security clearance, then refuses to elaborate. But even here, he hedges. He implies that he never actually worked as an escort, despite the fact that he advertised himself as one.
On such and such a date, I did this! You bet! Gannon was raised in Cochranton, Pennsylvania, a small town in the northwestern corner of the state, by a family of union-oriented, Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy Democrats. When James was in high school, the Guckerts moved to Conneaut Lake, a resort town 17 miles to the northwest. His classmates remember him as intelligent, charismatic, self-centered, manipulative.
He was voted student-council president and best dancer, played football, and edited the school paper and yearbook; he wore his hair long in the style of that era, like the sixth member of the Dave Clark Five. For college he went diagonally across Pennsylvania to West Chester State College, near Philadelphia, where he joined a fraternity and wrote on sports for the school newspaper.
He then spent several years working for a prominent local landscaper and horticulturist, who in arranged flowers for one of George H. Politically, he drifted rightward. Eventually, Gannon got into liquor distribution in Delaware, both for others and for himself.
Jeff Gannon, George W. Bush's Back Door Man.
The business he partly owned went belly-up. In the late s he went to work running the office and keeping accounts for an old friend, Randy McFarland, who was setting up an auto-body shop in West Chester. At some point, unbeknownst to his colleagues, Gannon branched into escort work, primarily in the Philadelphia—Wilmington—Washington, D.
Shortly thereafter, he registered—for someone else, he has said—the names hotmilitarystud. Gannon was also becoming increasingly political, and vocal, writing op-eds for various conservative Web sites. Mostly, it was a commercial thing, for his fledgling media career. Sometime near the beginning of , Gannon gave notice at the auto-body shop. He told McFarland, among others, that he was taking a job with a subcontractor for the Department of Defense, something for which he would need security clearance. For someone of conspicuous patriotism, with a fascination for things military, it seemed a good fit.
In fact, Gannon was still in Delaware, though he drove to the Capitol on September 12 just to express his solidarity with his embattled country. The attacks, he said, only heightened his resolve to straighten out his life and contribute to the commonwealth. Now he intensified his writing, and, to clean his slate completely, moved to Washington, D.
Though his escort business seemed to be tapering off and some of those Web sites went off-line, the two livelihoods apparently overlapped on occasion: Eberle was looking to start a national news service and, after meeting Gannon during a Washington, D. It was a shoestring operation: It was for Gopusa.
Gannon says it took him some time to obtain the pass, forced as he was to navigate the White House bureaucracy, but he is evasive on just how long, or with whom he dealt, or who finally let him in. Perhaps the story ends there. The Bush administration has demonstrated a profoundly disturbing commitment to blurring the lines between propaganda and objective news.
This commitment goes completely beyond the White House's routine friendliness to reporters from Fox News or the Pax network—the administration has filmed press clips with actors and sent them out to news stations as legitimate reportage and paid commentators to argue for White House policy proposals without revealing that they were compensated to do so. Now, like con men using a ringer, the President's staff has enabled, if not endorsed, fake reporters taking up residence in the White House press pool to toss softball questions designed to make a press conference look like the O'Reilly Factor.
May And will Americans ever see those images?
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July It has been conclusively proven that Wilson's assessment that the rumors were unfounded was correct. And my personal favorite, from back in February: Did he make speeches alongside Jane Fonda, denouncing America's racist war in Vietnam? Did he testify before Congress that American troops committed war crimes in Vietnam? And did he throw somebody else's medals at the White House to protest a war America was still fighting?
One expects to hear scripted drivel like that on a late night "informercial,' which is designed to delude insomniacs into purchasing useless products. One also expects that dictators like the monsters who head countries in the "axis of evil' will manipulate the media to create an illusion of news coverage that is in reality a tissue of lies. One doesn't expect the leader of the free world, the man who has promised to shine the light of freedom into all the dark recesses of tyranny Uzbekistan, anyone?
Gannon couldn't get a regular press pass because he couldn't conceal that he worked for an explicitly Republican organization, yet he received special attention from the administration allowing him to treat the Secret Service's security check like his own personal coat check.
Press Secretary Scott McClellan has acknowledged that Gannon was cleared for his perpetual day pass under his real name, and that McClellan himself knew that his real name was Guckert.