By: E&P Staff
To the surprise of no one, the saga of former White House correspondent James D. Guckert, also known as Jeff Gannon, took center stage at a briefing conducted by White House spokesman Scott McClellan today.
Gannon/Guckert quit his post at an obscure Web site, Talon News, Tuesday night after bloggers exposed the fact that he had been working under an alias and had possible links to sex-oriented Web sites. Questions have emerged about how and why the White House allowed the reporter to attend briefings and even ask President Bush a very friendly question at his recent press conference. (See previous E&P Online story.)
McClellan admitted today that he knew that “Jeff Gannon” was not the reporter’s real name. Yet at numerous televised press briefings he addressed him as “Jeff.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) today asked McClellan to immediately release all documents related to what the White House knew about “Gannon,” and when they knew it.
From the transcript of today?s briefing:
Q: Jeff Gannon. How did he get a White House pass, or what kind of credentials did he have?
McClellan: Just like anyone else who comes to the White House.
Q: Hard pass?
McClellan: No, he had never applied for a hard pass. He had a daily pass. I think he’s been coming for —
Q: Was he coming for —
McClellan: Hang on. I think he’s been coming for more than two years now.
Q: Under what name?
Q: Under what name?
McClellan: Well, you have to get cleared. You have to — just like anybody else that comes to the White House, you have to have your full name, your Social Security number, and your birth date. So you have to be cleared just like anybody else.
Q: So he was being cleared under James Guckert, or whatever his name is?
McClellan: My understanding, yes.
Q: OK, and how did he get picked to get a question asked at the last news conference?
McClellan: He didn’t. The president didn’t have a list. The president didn’t — he was in the briefing room. There are assigned seats in the briefing room. We didn’t do any assigning of seats, and the president worked his way through the rows, and called on people as he came to them. He doesn’t know who he is.
Q: Were you aware that he had another name?
McClellan: Was I aware? I had heard that. I had heard that, yes, recently.
Q: But did you know during all this time that he really wasn’t Jeff Gannon?
McClellan: I heard at some point, yes — previously.
Q: As Press Secretary, what do you think about this whole —
McClellan: Well, like I said — what do I think about it? Well, let me explain a few things. First, as the press secretary, I don’t think it’s the role of the press secretary to get into picking or choosing who gets press credentials. Also, I don’t think it’s the role of the press secretary to get into being a media critic, and I think there are very good reasons for that. I’ve never inserted myself into the process. He, like anyone else, showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly, and so he was cleared two years ago to receive daily passes, just like many others are. The issue comes up — it becomes, in this day and age, when you have a changing media, it’s not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist. And there — it gets into the issue of advocacy journalism. Where do you draw the line? There are a number of people who cross that line in the briefing room.
And, as far as I’m concerned, I would welcome the White House Correspondents Association, if they have any concerns or issues that they want to bring to my attention, they know my door is open and I’ll be glad to discuss these issues with them. I have an open dialogue with the Correspondents Association. No one’s ever brought such an issue to my attention, in my — during my time as being press secretary. And you all cover the briefing room on a regular basis. You know that there are a number of people in that room that express their points of view, and there are people in that room that represent traditional media, they represent talk radio, they represent — they’re columnists, and they represent online news organizations.
Q: Was the White House aware at all — was the White House aware — was the White House aware at all about the online Web sites that he was linked to?
McClellan: No. This has only come to my attention through the news reports, just a few reporters calling in.
My understanding was, when he started coming to the White House about two years ago, the staff asked to see that it — that he represented a news organization that published regularly. And they showed that, so he was cleared and has been cleared ever since based on that time.
And this is just now something that’s come to my attention more recently because it’s been an issue raised in some media reports.