The press rewrites the Jeff Gannon story

The Beltway press decides it was right to ignore the Gannon/Guckert controversy because it was a nonstory.

By Eric Boehlert
Published May 19, 2005 11:30AM (EDT)

Watching ensconced Beltway journalists get busy trying to rewrite the Jeff Gannon story in recent weeks has made for some strange reading, as scribes argue they were right to ignore the controversy because, in retrospect, it was no big deal. The whole revisionist exercise would be funny if it weren't so sad; a telltale sign of today's press corps timidity.

A good chunk of the recent Vanity Fair feature on Gannon -- the former male escort who used a phony name while volunteering for a phony news organization and got instant access to the White House briefing room without having to submit to a full background check -- was set aside to explore the media elite notion the controversy was a big nothing. The Washington Post's Mike Allen and ABC's Terry Moran, two White House correspondents who all but ignored the Gannon story as it unfolded right in front of them for weeks last winter, were quoted to that effect. Allen assured readers it was "super-naive to think" the White House had anything to do with getting Gannon whisked inside, while Moran tipped his hat to Gannon, calling some of his briefing questions "valuable and necessary."

That's their (defensive) spin and they're entitled to it. But it was a revisionist Boston Globe column from this week that really made War Room's jaw drop. Penned by the paper's D.C bureau chief Peter Canellos, the piece, "Gannon's Story Left Critics Tarnished, Too," took a tsk-tsk approach to Gannon's online accusers. War Room thinks that's a bit of a stretch, but so be it. But this passage was just unpardonable:

"In many respects, the Gannon scandal followed a similar trajectory as the similarly unproven allegations of the swift boat veterans who claimed that John Kerry had lied about his military service: Newspapers could not verify any of the allegations except one that Kerry himself acknowledged. But the veterans' TV ads nonetheless commanded wide coverage as symbols of Kerry's weaknesses as a presidential candidate."

That's right, the Gannon story, which, as Salon detailed, was essentially boycotted by major media outlets for weeks at a time last winter, "followed a similar trajectory" as the Swift Boat story which dominated the political news cycle for a solid month last summer, to the point where it helped wipe out Sen. John Kerry's post-convention bounce last August, and arguably cost him the election.

For some context, consider that during the roughly four weeks last February as the Gannon story made news the Boston Globe published exactly three stories or columns that mentioned the controversy, according to the Nexis electronic database. During the roughly four weeks the Swift Boat story made news last August, the Boston Globe published 41 articles or columns that mentioned the controversy.

Search Nexis' category of major newspapers for mentions Gannon last February and you get 122 hits. Do the same search for Swift Boat Veterans for last August and you get 748 hits.

Yet according to the Globe, the two stories, a fictitious one that targeted a Democratic candidate and was embraced by the Beltway press, and a factual one that targeted a Republican White House and was downplayed by the Beltway press, "Followed a similar trajectory."

It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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