Gannon Fodder

Posted February 15, 2005 at 6:43pm

With the story of faux reporter “Jeff Gannon” growing more bizarre and salacious by the minute, at least two Members of Congress want more information on how the conservative activist got clearance to cover White House news conferences under a pseudonym. [IMGCAP(1)]

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) sent a Freedom of Information Act request Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security seeking all records pertaining to the Secret Service’s decision to clear the

“reporter” into White House news conferences.

“He is not a legitimate journalist,” Slaughter told HOH. “I think of all the legitimate journalists who would love to have access to the White House. And he gets in there with no clearance and is given access to private CIA memoranda. This is devastating.”

Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, resigned last week from the conservative Web site Talon News under intense scrutiny from liberal bloggers, including John Aravosis, who this week posted evidence — including photos — on his Web site AmericaBlog.org that Guckert was involved with gay sex sites and may himself have been a male escort.

Guckert told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last week that he only worked as a software consultant on those sites and that nothing was ever actually posted on them. But AmericaBlog shows at least a half dozen gay escort sites, including MeetLocalMen.com and WorkingBoys.net, featuring photos that are allegedly of Guckert.

Slaughter said allegations of male prostitution did not motivate her and Conyers to submit the FOIA request. “I don’t care about his personal life. I don’t care about his politics,” she said. “But I do care about who gives us the news.”

The FOIA request, which was reported Tuesday on the Web log RawStory.com, seeks, among other things, all records about what types of passes were issued to Guckert, the frequency of his White House clearances and “whether the Secret Service or the White House routinely allow guests to use false names.”

Coming so soon after revelations that conservative commentator Armstrong Williams took payments from the Bush administration, the Guckert controversy is all the more troubling, Slaughter said. “I think Americans ought to wake up and have some idea of where their news is coming from,” she said.

Meanwhile, some Senate Democrats who had considered signing on to the FOIA request had second thoughts after discovering the latest information on Guckert’s alleged sexual exploits. One Senate Democratic aide told HOH the Senators wanted to wait and see how the story “shakes out” before acting.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), aka the “hottest Senator,” asked the White House last week for all documents relating to press credentials for Guckert. His office has yet to receive a response. Guckert could not be reached for comment.

Party Animal. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) was spotted Saturday night at Café Japone, the popular Dupont Circle sushi bar and karaoke parlor, partying with his staff and doing a little crooning of his own.

There was much to sing about. Honda had just won a vice chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee and was taking his campaign staff out to celebrate.

Honda and his aides sat a table next to some “loud, scantily clad, barely legal birthday partiers screaming and squealing,” according to one source who was there. The squealers chose Britney Spears and “Summer Lovin’” from “Grease,” a personal fave of HOH.

Our informant said Honda was reluctant at first to sing in front of the packed bar. But his persistent staff egged him on. After he finished his noodle soup, the Left Coast Congressman got up and belted out “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

The Congressman said Café Japone is one of his favorite spots and that “many of my staff enjoy the atmosphere there.” Why the reluctance to sing, Congressman? “My voice was hoarse from all the shouting at the campaign, so I didn’t think I would sing at all — just have some hot tea and enjoy the scene. But when I heard the opening strains of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,’ well, instinct took over!”

More Gannon … er, Guckert, Scoop. The Gannon controversy prompted leaders of the White House Correspondents’ Association to seek an emergency meeting Tuesday with Scott McClellan, President Bush’s spokesman. Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder’s White House correspondent who serves as president of the correspondents’ association, told HOH that the purpose of the meeting was to get information on the credentialing process. He said they did not discuss security.

He said the “fact-gathering” meeting did not focus on Gannon, who went to White House news conferences and lobbed easy, and critics say conservative-tinged, questions at Bush. Rather, he said, the meeting focused on the “broader issue of credentialing.”

Gannon, as he was known to other reporters, was denied credentials to cover Congress. But as McClellan explained to the correspondents’ association members, one does not need a Congressional reporter’s pass to get a daily pass to the White House. A Congressional pass is required only to get a permanent pass to the White House.

Hutcheson said while there were “times when I got annoyed with Gannon’s questions — they were stated to express an opinion. … I was far more concerned about non-responses from the podium” to substantive questions from real reporters about Bush’s policies.

The board of the White House Correspondents’ Association is scheduled to meet Feb. 28 to discuss the credentialing issue further.

Oppression of Speech. Sponsors of legislation to protect journalists from being federally compelled to disclose their sources renewed calls to pass the bill in light of Tuesday’s federal appeals court ruling against two journalists.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), went on the House floor and declared, “In the wake of today’s troubling court decision, now is the time for Congress to reassert the First Amendment freedom of the press vigorously by enacting a federal media shield.” He said his bill would “protect the confidential source tradition that is at the very center of the freedom of the press.”

Time magazine’s Matt Cooper and Judith Miller of The New York Times face up to 18 months in jail for refusing to reveal their sources before a federal grand jury probing who leaked undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame’s name to the media. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court ruling that Cooper and Miller are not protected by First Amendment privilege.

Cooper has written about the Plame controversy; Miller has not. Robert Novak is the journalist who published Plame’s name in a 2003 column, citing two senior Bush administration officials as his sources.

Asked about Tuesday’s court decision, Cooper told HOH, “I was disappointed by the ruling obviously. In the United States you hope no journalist would have to go to jail simply for doing his or her job. And it’s of course unsettling to face that prospect.”

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.