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'Gannongate' momentum


The story of Jeff Gannon aka James Guckert, the gay escort who took up long-term residence in the White House press room, has been dominating the left hemiblogosphere for a roughly two weeks, and has slowly made its way into a few receptive corners of the mainstream media.


As exhaustively covered on Americablog, we have a full-fledged situation here. It does not yet have the totemic value of the right-wing’s scalping of Dan Rather, for obvious reasons, but as stories airing conservative dirty laundry go, this one has legs. The reluctance of many Democrats and most of the traditional media gatekeepers to touch this story with… well, to touch it at all, has paradoxically added news cycles and attention as they gingerly weigh in seriatim. I think Gannongate* is worth every last bit of the churning it is getting, though not for the obvious reasons.

Gannongate isn't newsworthy because there is something reprehensible about a "reporter" running a gay escort service, or even marketing it by displaying his Johnson on the Internet, though there is considerable entertainment value in watching the party that has institutionalized homophobia attempt to portray the story as a gay witch hunt. And it isn't important merely because Gannon could be counted on to lob a whiffle ball to Scott McClellan or his boss on command -- if that sin got folks tossed from the White House press room, the room would soon look like The Staples Center in the 4th quarter of a blowout Lakers loss. And it isn't because, a la David Dreier, the gay-bashing Gannon/Guckert/whatever has proven himself to be a world-class hypocrite, though it sure as hell ought to be.

There are at least two vital benefits to maintaining the scrutiny on this story that have not received much attention.

First, it is vitally important that we keep making a stink about this not because Gannon is some bizarre outlier, but because as a “journalist,” he is virtually indistinguishable from most of his colleagues. Repackaging White House talking points and shilling for an Administration that has been universally hostile to real journalism has become so ubiquitous that some so-called reporters have begun to actually define that task as their jobs.

Getting to the real explanation for his presence in the press room and his relationship with the White House should allow us to finish the job that started with the exposure of fellow shill Armstrong Williams. Shining a spotlight on the Bush Administration’s brazen purchase of favorable treatment by a number of columnists put the onus on other columnists and pundits to demonstrate their bona fides. Making Gannon’s alleged reporting an object of scorn and ridicule, and making its sotto voce motivations public may be one of the few effective ways to shame other reporters, who have been only slightly less shameless in their obsequiousness to the Bush machine, into doing their jobs. We need to embarrass them back into the world in which reporters make their bones by standing up to power rather than sucking up to it.

Once upon a time, the press was seen as the antidote to the abuses of power. But today’s fourth estate is less predator than prey. The press corps is plainly motivated by fear of la famiglia Bush. If we can escalate a countervailing fear -- the fear of being seen as a RINO (reporter in name only), we just might be able to make their pathetic herd mentality work for us rather than against us for a change.

As encouraged as I am at our progress so far, I am too jaded to expect the press to rise to the call. But that brings me to the second way in which this story could be a watershed – the emergence of the blogosphere as the new watchdog of democracy.

Blogs have only been around for a couple of years. For most of that time, they have generally functioned as a sort of echo chamber for sounds that originate elsewhere. Bloggers commented on the news, debated policy, and hurled brickbats, but major stories were broken and investigated by newspapers and, to a lesser extent, television. Bloggers were more critics than actors.

What is new, weird and wonderful in the Gannongate saga is the inversion of that relationship: the news desk, paralyzed by fear and situational ethics, seems to be leaving it to us to do the heavy lifting. And as bloggers uncover fact after contradiction after scandal, it is left to the traditional OpEd page to cluck and scold.

I’m sure the other hemisphere would argue that the Dan Rather imbroglio was the dawning of this new era. While the accusations there also moved from blog to mainstream, there was a fundamental difference – in that case, the mainstream feeding frenzy clearly served their keepers, and their bloodlust to devour one of their own merely rationalized their previous unwillingness to cover the underlying story. In short, Gannongate is the first time the role of demanding answers from the government, long vacant, is being effectively played by blogs.

So these are our salad days. We -- primarily those who did the digging, but also the rest of us who disseminate the dirt -- are the Woodward, Bernstein and the Washington Post here. We need to persevere, and remember that Watergate was a “second-rate burglary” for months before it gained the gravity and momentum that took down a dishonest presidency.

*Does anyone think it is a coincidence that Republicans were so quick to coalesce around “Travelgate,” “Memogate,” “Monicagate,” and so on? I haven’t yet read George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” but dollars to donuts he would urge us to frame this story effectively. And for more than thirty years, “–gate” has been the suffix of scandal -- a tool the Republicans effectively appropriated despite its Nixonian roots. If we are smart, we will shout a single name – Gannongate – from the rooftops until everyone adopts it.

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