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Archive for Saturday, February 19, 2005

Public may regret loss of media scrutiny

February 19, 2005

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Three weeks later, I'm still waiting for a good explanation of what Jeff Gannon was doing in the White House. And for you to be upset about it.

Gannon is the fellow who made himself memorable during last month's presidential news conference by asking about Democratic pessimism regarding the nation's economy. Specifically, he asked if President Bush could work with "people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality."

The unusually partisan phrasing prompted reporters and liberal groups to ask the same question: Who is this guy? Well, it turns out that Gannon is not really Gannon. James Guckert says he prefers that pseudonym for "commercial" reasons. It also turns out that a company he owns is the registered owner of several sexually suggestive Web addresses. Hotmilitarystud.com, to name just one.

Most curious of all, though, is that it turns out he is not really a reporter, at least not if that term still denotes a disinterested observer of events. Rather, Guckert writes for a Web site, talnonnews.com, which is linked to another site, GOPUSA.com. That site serves, as you might gather, to promote the Republican Party.

Guckert resigned last week, saying he and his family have been threatened and harassed. If true, that is deplorable.

But it's also deplorable that he was ever seated in the White House briefing room. As to how that happened, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan has pleaded ignorance, saying that, "In this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide, to try to pick and choose who is a journalist."

Which is patently ridiculous. Contrary to the press secretary's Hamlet-like agonizing, it's not all that hard to know who is and is not a reporter. If an individual reports for a recognized media outlet that observes customary standards of journalistic integrity -- even if it tends to view the world through a conservative or liberal editorial prism -- that person is a reporter. But if the person works for an outlet that simply promotes, or advocates for, one political party or another, then the line between reporter and shill has been well and truly crossed.

It's not brain surgery. So you'll have to forgive me for not extending the benefit of doubt to McClellan. My problem is that he speaks for an administration with a long record of manipulating truth and propagandizing the public. These are the folks who pay pundits to say nice things about them. The ones who pressure scientists to change science that conflicts with political goals. The ones who ignore their own experts when confronted with information they'd rather not believe. And this is a president whose press conferences occur with only slightly more frequency than ice storms do in Key West, who ducks hard questions posed by actual reporters, preferring to bat slow pitches tossed by average citizens pre-screened for their support.

So planting a party stooge among the real reporters hardly seems out of character.

The thing is, a government that is not scrutinized by an energetic and adversarial press is a government that is not accountable for its actions. A government that is allowed to create its own reality is a government that can get away with anything.

So where is our outrage?

Frankly, the only thing more galling than the brazenness with which the White House abrogates the public's right to know is the sheeplike docility with which we accept it, with which we become complicit in our own hoodwinking.

When the history of this era is written, people will wonder why we didn't challenge its excesses, why we didn't know the things we should have. If you're still around, remember the uproar you do not hear right this moment and tell them the truth.

Ignorance was easier.

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