Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bronson Complains about "Planted" Question at Obama's Press Conference and Ignores the 2005 "Jeff Gannon" Fiasco

Yesterday I wrote about the outrage of Dana Milbank at the Washington Post exposed after Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post asked a question from an Iranian during the last Presidential news conference.

Today, I noticed that Peter Bronson of the Cincinnati Enquirer also jumped on this topic a few days ago in this post to his blog. Bronson says:

The media would still be in seizures if President Bush had planted questions by friendly media at his White House press conferences.

A conservative blogger was once invited to a Bush press conference and the media pitched a fit. But that was nothing like what happened last week, when President Obama set up a scripted question from his friends at the far-left Huffington Post. He even offered a sort of chicken-dinner speaker introduction, setting up the question by announcing who would ask it and what they would ask.

I was going to write about this embarrasing and amatuerish charade, but my friend at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Kevin O'Brien beat me to it and did a fine job.

This is the type of one-sided posting for which Bronson can always be relied upon. Bronson seems to think that the White House contacting Pitney the night before the press conference (to let him know that he may be called on) and planting a specific question, are the same thing. Nevermind that Pitney and the White House both have denied that the question was scripted or agreed on in advance.

But it is the first part of Bronson's post is perhaps the most amazing. It looks like the late folk singer Utah Phillips was right when he said that the "most radical thing in America is a long-term memory." Bronson claims that the media would still be "in seizures" if President Bush had planted questions at press conferences and that the media "pitched a fit" when Bush once invited a conservative blogger to a press conference.

This "conservative blogger" that Bronson refers to is most likely Jeff Gannon, who in 2005 lobbed softball questions to Bush Administration officials as a member of "Talon News". From Salon back in 2005:

When President Bush bypassed dozens of eager reporters from nationally and internationally recognized news outlets and selected Jeff Gannon to pose a question at his Jan. 26 news conference, Bush's recognition bestowed instant credibility on the apparently novice reporter, as well as the little-known conservative organization he worked for at the time, called Talon News. That attention only intensified when Gannon used his nationally televised press conference time to ask Bush a loaded, partisan question -- featuring a manufactured quote that mocked Democrats for being "divorced from reality."

and then came the revelations that "Jeff Gannon" was actually James Guckert, who months before being granted access to the White House briefing room, was working as a $200/hour male escort. That and the revelation that "Talon News" wasn't even a legitimate news organization. From another Salon piece in 2005:

James Guckert's mysterious career as a White House correspondent for Talon News just took another strange twist. And once again, the newest revelation raises the central question: Who broke the rules on Guckert's behalf to give him access to the White House? Despite administration claims that Guckert simply followed established protocol in order to routinely slip inside the White House briefing room, it now appears clear that Guckert, who just months before his 2003 debut as a cub reporter was offering himself up online as a $200 an hour male escort, benefited from extraordinarily preferential treatment, likely granted by someone inside the White House press office.


Thanks to the continued digging by online sleuths, there's now documented evidence that Guckert attended White House briefings as early as February 2003. Guckert, using his alias "Jeff Gannon," once boasted online about asking then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer a question at the Feb. 28, 2003, briefing. The date is significant because in order to receive a White House press pass, Guckert would have needed to prove that he worked for a news organization that, in the words of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, "published regularly," in itself an extraordinarily low threshold. Critics have charged that while Talon News may publish regularly, it boasts a nearly all-volunteer news team that includes not a single person with actual journalism experience. (The team does, though, have quite a bit of experience working on Republican campaigns.) In other words, the outfit is not legitimate or independent, two criteria often used in Washington to receive press credentials.

But what's significant about the February 2003 date is that Talon did not even exist then. The organization was created in late March 2003, and began publishing online in early April 2003.

and why would the White House have wanted Gannon, I'm sorry, Guckert in the briefings? From the Guardian in 2005:

The fact that someone using a fake name and working for a fake news organisation can gain regular access to White House briefings has astonished many media pundits. Yet 'Gannon' has been a regular in the White House since 2003. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that - as Media Matters for America chronicled in excruciating detail - Gannon was used as a source for favourable questions by White House officials. Whenever White House spokesman Scott McLellan was under fire from aggressive journalists, he could call on Gannon and invariably be lobbed a 'softball' question.

So in one scenario we have the Bush Administration giving access to the White House to someone with no journalism credentials, a background that includes being a male escort, and who doesn't even work for a legitimate news organization, for close to two years. He is called on by the Press Secretary (and even once by the President himself) and continually asks softball questions during times when Administration officials are getting grilled.

In the other scenario we have an actual reporter for the Huffington Post who has been covering the unrest in Iran in real-time for the past few weeks and who is responsible for conveying many of the videos and images from out of Iran. Because of this the White House contacts him the night before a press conference and tells him that he may get an opportunity to ask a question the following night. Pitney transparently posts about this on his blog and solicits questions from Iranians. He is called on the following night and asks a tough and relevant question of the President that he selected from those that he received from Iranians.

The Jeff Gannon fiasco was a little more than simply the media "pitching a fit" over President Bush inviting a "conservative blogger" to the White House. In fact, Bronson seems to forget that this happened at all as evidenced by his comment that: "The media would still be in seizures if President Bush had planted questions by friendly media at his White House press conferences."

Bronson is right about one thing, these two scenarios are nothing like each other. It seems as though his selective memory of these events only works toward achieving his continued goal of defending the actions of the previous Administration while mischaracterizing events in order to criticize the current administration.

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