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No sex, please: We’re liberals!
Thoughts on Jeff Gannon and the squeamish mainstream media. Also, is the Herald for sale? And a piss fight breaks out over who’s a ‘self-hating’ Jew.

THE SORDID TALE of Jeff Gannon, the conservative activist masquerading as a reporter who was driven from his perch in the White House press room earlier this month, is exactly the sort of story that makes the mainstream media intensely uncomfortable. Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, resigned from his position at Talon News — a right-wing Web site associated with the frankly partisan GOPUSA site — after it was revealed that he had posed nude for gay Web sites, and that he had apparently worked as a $200-an-hour gay prostitute as well.

The Gannon story has been driven by bloggers, mainly on the left, who see this as a scandal at least as riveting as the remarks that led to the recent resignation of CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan — a mirror image in that the Jordan story was driven by bloggers on the right. At the recent economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jordan apparently said — no one knows for sure, and the videotape has not been released — that the US military had targeted journalists in Iraq. He then tried to back down after he was challenged by a fellow panelist, US Representative Barney Frank. A firestorm broke out, and Jordan quickly resigned. So why, the critics want to know, are the media treating the Gannon affair with such trepidation?

Well, riddle me this: is the Gannon matter really a scandal? To be sure, there are scandalous aspects. Perhaps the most scandalous is that the White House allowed a non-journalist into news conferences so that press secretary Scott McClellan and President Bush himself could call on him in a pinch for a predictably softball question. The Gannon story broke shortly after we’d learned that the administration had secretly paid off conservative columnists such as Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher. It was also curious, to say the least, that Gannon apparently had no trouble getting a series of day passes to the White House even though New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd claimed this past Sunday that she has been unable to obtain a so-called hard pass, which grants journalists daily access without having to get approval each time. Of course, Dowd is a Bush critic.

Thus the Gannon matter stands as a prime example of the Bush administration’s sleazy efforts to manage the news. But as for the rest of it — well, that’s another matter. Last week, on CNN, Gannon told host Anderson Cooper that "the effect of this has been that we seem to have established a new standard for journalists in this country, where if someone disagrees with you, then your personal life, your private life, and anything you have ever done in the past is going to be brought up for public inspection." And if Gannon were a liberal brought in to cover a Democratic administration, I suspect most of his critics would find themselves agreeing with him.

Of course, the difference is that if, say, a Gore or Kerry administration had brought in a gay hooker to act as a ringer at news conferences, it would have quickly exploded into the biggest story in the country. Fox News would devote hours upon hours to it. So would Rush Limbaugh. So would the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells and the James Dobsons. Needless to say, so would the Republican Party. And here’s where the difference between liberal and conservative sex scandals, and how the mainstream media handle them, becomes clearly visible. When there’s a scandal on the left, there is a built-in machine, already in place, to spew shock and outrage on a 24-hour-a-day basis, and the mainstream media naturally cover that. But when there’s a sex scandal on the right, there’s really no one to speak out. Do liberals really care that men are having sex with each other? Or that Jeff Gannon supposedly has been paid as much as $1200 for one weekend for the pleasure of his companionship? To ask these questions is to answer them: no, and no.

The paradigmatic example is the Monica Lewinsky story. You may recall that the investigation into Bill Clinton’s sex life was driven not by the media, but by a $50 million official government investigation and a congressional witch-hunt led by the Republican majority. If the Bush White House really does become embroiled in a sex scandal — and, at this point, it looks like a genuine possibility — well, who is going to push this into the hyperstory realm? There simply are no liberal equivalents of Sean Hannity and Rush. Al Franken? Please. He’d be laughing too hard to take this seriously. And Howard Dean is not likely to position himself as the Democrats’ sexual inquisitor.

There is a sex angle to the Gannon matter, and it needs to be explored. But it’s not that Gannon is or was a gay hooker — it’s that he somehow got into the White House, and past the Secret Service, despite that. What did the White House know, and when did it know it? And since the connection between sex and politics is ancient and venerable, that angle needs to be explored as well. Among those who have been doing the exploring is Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, whose stories on the Gannon affair have left little to the imagination.

"While I didn’t go into journalism to be poking around Web sites like Hotmilitarystud.com, it’s a legitimate part of the Gannon story," Kurtz told me this week. "And I was surprised at how many major news organizations lagged in telling their readers and viewers what everybody on the Internet already knows: that this guy has a history of posting naked pictures of himself on gay-escort sites."

Still, Kurtz, like many mainstream journalists, has heard from critics on the left who wonder why he doesn’t report all that he knows. Readers of the Web site Raw Story, for example, know that there are rumors involving a high-ranking, married White House aide who may or may not have had a homosexual affair with Gannon, and who may or may not have provided Gannon with a confidential document concerning the investigation into who leaked the identity of former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

This is piling rumor upon rumor. And in any case, Gannon told Anderson Cooper that reports about his having claimed to have seen the Plame document were based on a misunderstanding. In fact, he said he’d only seen a Wall Street Journal article describing the document.

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Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
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