Another Police State Propagandist:
White House reporter's credentials questioned
Man worked for Web site owned by Republican activist
CNN | February 10, 2005
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A New York congresswoman asked the White House to explain Wednesday why a man who worked for a news Web site owned by a GOP activist was able to obtain White House press credentials under an assumed name.
James Guckert, who reported from the White House for the Talon News Service under the name "Jeff Gannon," announced he was quitting the business "in consideration of the welfare of me and my family."
"Because of the attention being paid to me, I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News," he said in a statement posted Wednesday on his Web site.
In a letter to President Bush, Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat, questioned why Guckert routinely received credentials for White House news briefings.
Slaughter linked Guckert's case to recent revelations that two conservative columnists who supported Bush administration policies had received government money.
"It appears that 'Mr. Gannon's' presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your administration," Slaughter wrote.
The White House had no comment.
The House and Senate press galleries declined Guckert's request for credentials in 2003.
Julie Davis, chairwoman of the Senate press gallery's executive committee, said Guckert could not demonstrate any separation between Talon News and GOPUSA, a Republican consulting group.
Both organizations are run by Bobby Eberle, a Texas GOP activist. Many Talon News articles also appeared as news releases on the GOPUSA Web site, said Davis, a reporter for The Sun newspaper of Baltimore, Maryland.
In a statement on the Talon Web site, Eberle referred to "Gannon's" resignation and said, "I understand and support Jeff's decision."
Slaughter said she was writing at the request of senior editors of the Niagara Falls Reporter in her Buffalo-area district.
The newspaper ran an open letter questioning "how a partisan political organization and an individual with no credentials as a reporter -- and apparently operating under an assumed name -- landed a coveted spot in the White House press corps."
During White House press secretary Scott McClellan's regular briefings, Guckert routinely offered administration-friendly questions.
He became the focus of liberal and media Web sites after Bush called on him during his news conference January 26.
Guckert asked Bush how he could deal with Democratic congressional leaders "who seem to have divorced themselves from reality."
Guckert told The Washington Post in an article published Tuesday that his political leanings were "admittedly" conservative "and that point of view is not represented in the briefing room at all."
"Call me partisan, fine, but don't let my colleagues off the hook," he said. "They're partisan too, but they don't admit it."
Slaughter said ideology had nothing to do with the dispute.
"It doesn't matter whether he's a conservative reporter. The question is, is he a reporter?" she said.
She told CNN that she believed the White House gave Guckert credentials to get a friendly questioner into the room during White House briefings.
"I don't want to be fed propaganda from this White House," she said. "I don't want people to be paid to give it to me. We deserve the facts, or this democracy will suffer."
Last month, conservative commentator Armstrong Williams apologized for not disclosing that his company had received $240,000 from a public relations agency hired by the Department of Education to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind education overhaul.
Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher also apologized to her readers for not disclosing a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help create materials used to promote Bush's $300 million initiative encouraging marriage to strengthen families.
At the January 26 news conference, Bush said he disapproved of such practices and wanted them to stop.
"There needs to be independence," he said.
"All our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying ... commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet," Bush said. ( Full story )
HHS later disclosed that a third conservative columnist, Mike McManus, had received $10,000 to promote Bush's marriage initiative, according to an Associated Press report. His weekly column appears in about 50 newspapers.
Several congressional Democrats have introduced a bill to stop what they termed taxpayer-funded "covert propaganda campaigns" that violate a provision included in annual appropriation acts since 1951.
Under the new bill, dubbed the Federal Propaganda Prohibition Act of 2005, the prohibition on propaganda would become a permanent part of federal law.
Federal agencies would also have to notify Congress about public relations, advertising and polling contracts, and the funding sources of all federally funded public relations materials would have to be disclosed.