Ari Fleischer's doubts about Gannon

By Tim Grieve

Published February 18, 2005 2:22PM (EST)

The reporter formerly known as Jeff Gannon first came to public attention last month, when he lobbed his now-famous softball question about Democrats who are divorced from reality. But it turns out that the White House -- or at least former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer -- had an eye on Jim Guckert long before that.

In an interview with Editor & Publisher, Fleischer said he was so concerned about Guckert's Republican political connections that he stopped calling on him for a while back in 2003.

"I found out that he worked for a GOP site, and I didn't think it was my place to call on him because he worked for something that was related to the party," Fleischer told E&P. "He had the editor call me and made the case that they were not related to the Republican Party. He said they used the GOP name for marketing purposes only."

Fleischer said he began calling on Guckert once the owner of GOPUSA -- the firm that owns Talon News -- "assured me that they were not part of the Republican Party."

While Fleischer denied that he ever called on Guckert in the hopes of getting a softball question from the right, he said he was well aware of the kind of questions that Guckert would ask. "He was one of the few identifiable conservatives in the room," Fleischer told E&P. "[With] some reporters, you know you will get a question from right field, and [with] some you know you will get a question from left field. I made a deliberate practice to call on everyone in the room. It was a way to make sure large organizations got their questions in, but also to be fair to organizations who do not get their questions in right away."

Although the press secretary's office handles the distribution of the daily press passes Guckert used, Fleischer said he knew little about that process. He said he did not know that Gannon wasn't Guckert's real name, and he said that a reporter's private life should be of little concern to those who dole out White House press credentials. And although Fleischer admitted that the allegations about Guckert's private life are "all a bit odd," he insisted that Guckert was -- and here's a comforting thought -- "just as legitimate as some of the fringe organizations in the room."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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