Ex-White House reporter's presence on panel draws ire

Gannon raises contention in discussion on blogs

April 10, 2005|By Dawn Withers | Dawn Withers,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Jeff Gannon, the former White House reporter for Talon News, a conservative online news outlet, has once again roiled the Washington journalism establishment.

Gannon, whose actual name is James Dale Guckert, resigned two months ago after gaining notoriety for using a fake name while working as a reporter covering the White House. Though he had no journalism experience and previously worked as an escort, he managed to ask President Bush a question at a nationally televised news conference.

On Friday, with an invitation from the National Press Club, he appeared on a panel about bloggers and journalists. At the end of the gathering, one blogger shouted at Gannon and was escorted from the building

"We operate under the illusion of an objective media," Gannon said. "Perhaps the objective media is no longer an ideal we can reach. There's a lot of advocacy journalism out there, and we see they practice it all the time."

Even before he spoke, Gannon's presence on the panel drew the ire of some bloggers, people who post their opinions on personal Web sites, as well as journalists representing more traditional publications. Joe Strupp, associate editor of Editor & Publisher, a trade magazine for the newspaper industry, wrote in a recent article that Gannon's "spot on the panel wrongly legitimizes him as a journalist."

Strupp's opinion reflects the larger sense of discomfort some journalists feel about the emerging prominence of the blogosphere in the news media culture.

But how much of a challenge blogs pose to mainstream news media remains uncertain; one recent national survey showed that 62 percent of Americans said they did not know what a blog is.

The bigger issue might be how bloggers could change journalism. And even journalists on the National Press Club panel struggled to define just who should be called a journalist.

There was little consensus among the panelists on such definitions. But they expressed ideas of how journalism is changing.

"There's a specific intention behind a story that ends up on a blog," said John Stanton, a writer for National Journal's CongressDaily. "It's to promote an agenda. Reporters would be delinquent in their duty if they only ever went out and covered one party."

During one of the more contentious moments of the discussion, Gannon defended the Bush administration's payments to writers who offered favorable comments on some of its policies.

"What I find interesting about ... Armstrong Williams [a commentator who was paid $241,000 by the Education Department to promote Bush's education policy] is that in order for the administration to get a fair hearing on the No Child Left Behind Act, it had to pay somebody to say it because I don't think anybody wrote a positive article about the No Child Left Behind Act," Gannon said. "All we hear is the mantra that it's underfunded and doesn't work."

"I'm sorry," interrupted Ana Marie Cox, editor of the blog Wonkette, "that's the opposite of a fair hearing. You don't pay somebody to get a fair hearing."

With the differing viewpoints left hanging, one man left the gathering muttering, "There's no professionalism left in the room."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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