|CREDIBILITY IN QUESTION|
trust in the news media has been shaken by several recent scandals and
lapses of journalistic judgment. Two experts answer your questions about
specific cases of journalistic misdemeanors and how the news organizations
in general can improve their credibility.
Special Report: Credibility in Question
R.C. Sanders of Ocean Springs, Miss. asks:
President Bush explicitly states the White House has nothing to do with the payola scandal, but then looks to his list of journalists to call on -- prepared by his staff -- and calls on Jeff Gannon of the Talon News Service.
Now, it turns out Jeff Gannon is a serial plagiarizer, cribbing off White House and RNC talking points. Is it fair that Gannon gets called on regularly by the president and at White House press conferences when so many other reporters do not?
How do reporters, like Gannon, get White House press credentials, and does Talon News qualify as a legitimate news service when it is operated by Republicans? Have past administrations used pseudo-journalists to help improve media coverage?
Jay Rosen responds:
We don't know exactly how Gannon got his passes day after day. Talon News was never a legitimate news service, in my view, but not because it was operated by Republicans. It had no standards. It had no quality. It was not a serious product.
There have always been friendly questioners in the White House briefing room, and press secretaries knew who they were. But that is a long way from saying there have been many Jeff Gannon's.
Michael Getler responds:
This is obviously a very bad and corrupt practice that is still unfolding at the time of this writing. Much has now been disclosed about "Jeff Gannon" aka James Dale Guckert and I don't know any more about the details than what has been disclosed so far in the papers and by bloggers on the Web.
Two crucial questions, however, seem to remain unanswered satisfactorily. To paraphrase a reader who recently wrote to me about this situation, how is it that in an era when we have to take our shoes off to get on an airplane, a guy gains access to the White House who uses an alias once inside, and to what extent was granting Gannon access another form of buying or manipulating the news?
This is worthy of greater investigative effort on the part of newspapers. There are, I believe, other examples over many years of persons with flimsy "news" credentials who have gained access to the daily White House news briefings. But the duration of Gannon's access to the daily briefings -- almost two years -- and his being called on by the president at a news conference, make it more than a quirk.
This is especially so considering the recently disclosed use of government contract funds to pay for other services by some syndicated columnists, and the use of actors and fake TV news spots ("In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting") produced by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote its Medicare drug prescription plan, a technique that the Govenment Accountability Office described as illegal covert propaganda, and other fake news videos disseminated by the also chastised Office of National Drug Control Policy.