By: Joe Strupp
In the wake of revelations about ex-reporter ?Jeff Gannon,? veteran White House correspondents told E&P today they could not recall another instance of a credentialed reporter using an alias allowed on that beat.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan acknowledged this morning that he knew Talon News reporter ?Jeff Gannon? was really James D. Guckert.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), meanwhile, asked McClellan today to ?immediately release documents to my office relating to the White House press credentials of James D. Guckert, a.k.a. Jeff Gannon.?
Several White House reporters told E&P they are concerned that Gannon?s ability to get into briefings, and even ask President Bush a question two weeks ago, suggests that it may be too easy for reporters to gain admission to the James S. Brady Briefing Room despite being from a purely partisan or bogus news organization.
“Virtually no one is not allowed in,” said Gwen Flanders, a USA Today editor who oversees the paper’s White House reporters. “Getting that [day] pass is a simple matter of passing a background check and working for a news organization.” But she added that there is not as much scrutiny of the legitimacy of the news organizations: “Who is in the position to say who is not legitimate?”
Bruce Bartlett, a syndicated columnist and former White House staffer in the Reagan administration’s Office of Policy Development, took the concern a step further, claiming the use of fake names could open the door to terrorists. “Some terrorist could invent some publication and put through their name and get in,” he said. “It raises the question of whether it is appropriate for the White House Press Office to clear people who are operating under aliases.”
White House Press officials did not respond to several calls for comment. Most White House reporters who spoke with E&P declined to comment on Gannon’s work, other than to say he was known to be partisan.
“There was a ‘there goes Jeff again’ attitude among many in the room,” said Ken Herman of Cox Newspapers, who often sat next to Gannon at press briefings but rarely spoke with him. “He was often agitated by other’s questions. He seemed wound up pretty tight at times.”
But Herman, who has covered the White House on and off since 2001, said there are a number of reporters who show up from news organizations he’s never heard of or offer questions as partisan as Gannon’s, although in their cases, mostly likely, they are working under their real names. “There are times in that briefing room where I am hard-pressed to tell you who they are working for or who sees their reporting,” Herman said.
“Every day there are a whole bunch of people there I have never seen, and their questions make you wonder who they are representing,” said Judy Keen, a USA Today White House reporter whose time there dates to 1992. “It is not as rigid and structured as people might think.”
Several reporters pointed to Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, who has been attending press events through a daily press pass for several years. Some say he is as partisan as Gannon in his questions, but often with a left-leaning approach. One reporter called him “the ideological flip-side of Gannon.”
Most recently, Mokhiber gained notice during a McClellan press briefing on Feb. 1 by asking the press secretary if Bush believed in the Sixth Commandment — thou shalt not kill — and if so, how could he support the Iraq War? McClellan did not respond to the question.
Mokhiber, reached by E&P, did not want to comment on his work, but explained that his print publication comes out 48 times per year and circulates to about 500 people, while his Web site also offers news. He said he was denied access to the White House for about four months in 2001 and told only that it was for security reasons. He also said he requested, but was denied, a long-term pass, called a “hard pass”.
Many White House reporters who spoke with E&P were reluctant to bar access to anyone with a legitimate interest in news coverage but acknowledged that questions like those from Gannon and Mokhiber might be out of place.
“There is a certain amount of consternation among reporters from the mainstream media about some people coming in to the briefing room and using it as a platform,” said Richard Stevenson of The New York Times, who has covered the White House for more than two years. “I don’t think it is good for our profession to have the briefing room hijacked.”