Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Eberle and Gannon

An interesting Salon article tells us more about the day-passes that Gannon (aka Guckert) was able to procure for months on end:

So the mystery remains: How did Guckert, with absolutely no journalism background and working for a phony news organization, manage to adopt the day-pass system as his own while sidestepping a thorough background check that might have detected his sordid past? That's the central question the White House refuses to address. And like its initial explanation that Guckert received his press pass the same way other journalists do, the notion first put out by White House officials that they knew little or nothing about GOPUSA/Talon News, its correspondent Guckert or its founder Eberle has also melted away. Instead, we now know, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer personally spoke with Eberle about GOPUSA, so concerned was Fleischer that it was not an independent organization. (Eberle convinced Fleischer that it was.) Additionally, Guckert attended the invitation-only White House press Christmas parties in 2003 and 2004, and last holiday season, in a personal posting on GOPUSA, Eberle thanked Karl Rove for his "assistance, guidance, and friendship."

The article notes that during the Clinton administration a reporter would get a day-pass only if she or he could justify the need for the reporting to happen from inside the White House rather than from elsewhere on that specific day. Clearly, the Bush administration doesn't use the same criteria. So what criteria do they use?

Whatever they might be, it turns out that Bobby Eberle, a conservative activist and the founder of Talon News, was also able to get a White House pass:

Yet, if there's one other person who did manage to receive the same type of kid-glove treatment from the White House press office, it was Guckert's boss at GOPUSA and later at Talon News, Bobby Eberle. A Texas-based Republican activist and a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2000, Eberle founded Talon News after he became concerned that the name GOPUSA might appear to have a "built-in bias." With no journalism background, he too was able to secure a White House press pass, in early 2003, on the strength of representing GOPUSA, dedicated to "spreading the conservative message throughout America."

Is there anything wrong with any of this? I believe that there is a clear ethical problem in letting political activists infiltrate the press corps for the purpose of asking planted questions or steering the questioning into a safer direction. This makes the White House press conferences into total farces. It is also an attempt to manipulate public opinion in ways that are at least sneaky if not outright nasty.

Other problems with careless screening of journalists should be obvious to even the White House. For example, a terrorist could get in on a day-pass.

But my major concern with the whole Gannongate is how it reveals the tentacles of the administration in all sorts of improper places, just as the earlier revelations about paid journalists did. How much else is there that we don't know about yet? How many superficially independent journalists are getting their talking points and their bank accounts filled by the White House?