'Gannon' Appears at National Press Club, Draws Heat

By: Joe Strupp More than two months after he resigned as the White House correspondent for right-leaning Talon News, James Guckert -- also known as Jeff Gannon -- was back in the spotlight this morning as part of a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

When the panel ended at 11 a.m. after the alotted 90 minutes, heated questions were still flying from the audience and moderator Rick Dunham of the Press Club told the audience members to seek out panel members afterward.

The panel had closed with Gannon refusing to say, under repeated questioning, how long it had taken him to get his credentials to the White House, something for which others have had to fight. Another panelist, Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect, commented: "I have a hard time believing that you don't have a recollection of how long it took you to get access to the White House."

Gannon replied: "I guess they felt it was my turn."

Although often under attack, Gannon rarely raised his voice, although at one point he boomed, "I'm not the one who was waving documents at the president saying, 'Hey you were not serving your time in the Texas National Guard!'"

However, as many critics of the Press Club's addition of Gannon to the panel feared, he may have gained stature, in some eyes, simply by appearing at the Club on a serious journalism panel.

Later, on his own blog, Gannon/Guckert claimed that "at the conclusion of the event, an activist created such a spectacle that I left the room immediately with security. Otherwise, I would have remained to talk to members of the press. As I was boarding an elevator to exit the building, this same person made a dash for me with unknown intent. I have been informed that he subsequently had an altercation with a member of building security and has been banned from the premises."

Dressed in conservative jacket and tie, Gannon in his opening remarks took on the topic of the panel, "Who Is a Journalist," this way: "There are various professional groups who have established themselves by default, because no one else wants to, to be the gatekeepers, and they have very specific criteria. But, within that criteria, which admittedly is outdated, I've found myself.

"We operate under the illusion of an objective media, but we have all seen, at least in the last election, that the objective media is an ideal that we no longer reach. You see a whole new group of journalists, bloggers, who have been the source of a tremendous amount of information, correct or incorrect, that credentialed journalists and mainstream media have used. That phenomenon is going to have to be dealt with in the future."

The first three questions from the moderator went to Gannon. He asked Gannon (real name Guckert) why he thinks he got credentialed when others did not, especially since he operated under an alias. Gannon said he went through the process that anyone could have gone through. He said he has never been a political activist, and pointed to George Stephanopoulos, who had worked for President Clinton, as someone who is now treated as a journalist.

As questions continued, Gannon said the administration had to pay Armstrong Williams to get a fair hearing on its No Child Left Behind education policy. "I don't think anyone wrote a story that was positive on No Child Left Behind," he said.

Yglesias countered: "That is not true, I have written fair articles on No Child Left Behind; it has gotten a fair hearing. I kind of wish I had gotten paid since I wrote fair articles about it."

Another panelist, Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox, said she could not believe such a defense of Armstrong Williams: "I have heard that he is not a real journalist, but I have never heard that defense of Armstrong Williams."

Gannon replied: "I was about the only news source providing that information without a filter. There is nothing wrong with reporting what the administration says about a particular issue. ... Why does everything have to be looked at through a lens that represents every point of view?"

When a questioner from the audience asked if Gannon's illegal activities -- a clear reference to his purported work as a male escort -- made him worried about prosecution, he replied: "You are speaking of things that have been alleged and I am not commenting on those things, they have nothing to do with my reporting and I did not come here to speak about those things."

Earlier, Wonkette's Cox had said, referring to the question of who's-a-journalist: "I hope we are able to move this discussion away from this. The only time it is a question that is relevant is when the law or space is an issue, when there are only enough seats on Air Force One. There is a long tradition of non-credentialed press, you don't have to go to school to be a journalist." She cited Tom Paine as an example, adding that she hoped this would be the last panel she sat on that took up this issue.

But Yglesias of the American Prospect, who also blogs, said: "I think a lot of people have the feeling that [Gannon's] case doesn't really fall into the boundaries of gray area where you would have to think about it. There are some behaviors that are clearly not a question of journalism."

At another point, Cox said: "One of the reasons that Jeff got in [to the White House] is that many of the reporters do not go because the briefings are a joke, they do not tell you anything. It is kind of empty. I think it would be awesome if bloggers stormed the briefing room and started asking questions. If more people appeared naked in the briefing room, it would be entertaining."

Sitting on the panel, Gannon joined a wide-ranging group, including bloggers Cox and Graff; John Stanton of Congress Daily, who also has written for National Journal; and Yglesias.

Also on the panel: Julie Davis from The Sun of Baltimore, chair of the Standing Committee of Correspondents on Capitol Hill, which oversees congressional press credentials and denied Gannon a pass last year.

Almost immediately after the panel was scheduled, opposition to Gannon's appearance at the highly respected journalism center started. Critics from both mainstream and online news outlets contended that he should not appear before the club on a journalism panel, since his credentials in that field were weak and he had also apparently worked as a male escort. They claimed his appearance only boosted his credibility and hurt the club's.

Due to the heightened interest in the event, NPC officials allowed only club members, reporters with press credentials, and bloggers who can show proof of their online site to attend.


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