By: Joe Strupp
Among the more curious sidelights of James Guckert’s two years as a White House reporter for Talon News and GOPUSA is his deep involvement in coverage of the 2004 South Dakota U.S. senate race, which brought him into direct conflict with the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls. Guckert told E&P today that, in addition to writing articles, he had ?traded information? with bloggers who are often credited with playing a key role in the defeat of Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader.
Guckert, who quit his job at Talon News two weeks ago, after it was learned he had used the alias Jeff Gannon and had ties to several sex sites, took on the Argus Leader last year in at least a dozen articles in which he sought to link the paper to Daschle or claim a bias by the paper against Daschle’s opponent, John Thune.
“He mainly wanted to know about areas that made the paper look bad,” Executive Editor Randell Beck told E&P Tuesday. “Our alleged bias — he would keep coming back to that even though there was no proof.”
Among the attempts by Guckert to portray the paper as biased in favor of Daschle was a story that Daschle and Argus Leader political reporter Dave Kranz attended South Dakota State University at the same time. “They did know each other there,” Beck acknowledged. “But that was all. He took things like that and tried to put it together and make two plus two equal five.”
Beck also criticized Guckert for going through stories Kranz had written years ago for other newspapers and “selectively offering passages for claims of his alleged bias.” (Kranz declined to comment.)
Guckert defended his work today and said he did not write anything that wasn’t true or was not also being reported by several conservative South Dakota blogs. “I think it was spot-on,” he said about his coverage of the Daschle campaign. “The Argus Leader’s news about Tom Daschle was underplayed.”
Although Guckert said he was not paid by, or directed by, Daschle’s opponents in South Dakota or in Washington, D.C., to write about the Argus Leader, he admitted to sharing information with local blogs, such as Daschlevthune.com and SouthDakotaPolitics.com.
“We traded information back and forth,” he told E&P. “But having some special relationship, I would not characterize it as that. We were pursuing the same story.”
Thune also appeared on Gannon’s Web-only radio show on Feb. 8, 2004. He eventually beat Daschle in what many considered to be a major upset, given Daschle’s standing as senate minority leader.
After the electlon, it became known that one of Gannon’s blog comrades received $27,000 from the Thune campaign, and another took $8,000.
But Guckert said no one in the Republican Party or Thune’s campaign directed him to cover the campaigns. “I looked at the Senate races, and that was going to be the most interesting,” Guckert said. “When I looked at the background, I started looking at the Argus Leader, and it didn’t look right.”
But Beck contends Guckert’s coverage was aimed at making the paper look biased, not at fairly covering the race. “A lot of it was either not true or manipulated to leave the impression that we were biased in favor of Daschle,” Beck said. The editor declined to be specific about claims Guckert made, and since Talon News has removed all of his work from its site, those stories were not viewable.
Beck eventually stopped responding to Guckert’s requests for interviews because “I realized it was not going to do any good. The best way to deal with it was not to deal with it,” he said. “I felt like if we agonized over every new allegation, he was having the effect he wanted.”
The editor, who had made a regular weekly appearance on a local radio program for several years, also stopped that practice at one point in 2004 because, he said, the critics would call up and attack the paper. “I made that decision in a politicized climate where the bloggers would so manipulate the conversation that it was not worth it,” he said.
But Beck said the Argus Leader never ran a story on Guckert’s allegations and, oddly, has yet to publish anything about Guckert’s current problems. “What good is it going to do?” he said when asked why the paper was not covering Guckert’s activities given his past reporting on the Argus Leader. “Because we never did anything in print to respond to him, there is no reason to do it now. I don’t see how it serves the public in any way.”