Manufactured journalism

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Manufactured journalism, as so aptly illustrated in the February 13, 2005, Houston Chronicle news story below, is "the practice of buying ostensibly independent reporters and writers to shill for politicians."

Avery Walker, The Raw Story columnist, points out in "The worst of the old names itself the voice of the new" that

"Last week, cable news programs were overpopulated with forgettable, self-important talking heads ranting about the lack of “credentials” behind the Gannon discovery. Apparently, this implies that the facts and evidence offered by bloggers are somehow made false by the fact that their presenters never pleasured Scott McClellan for a press pass. Though certainly not for the White House, I’ve gone through the credential process as a representative of newspapers, and I’ve also chosen the internet as my preferred outlet. As someone who carries two with me at all times, let me just tell you that anybody who believes their press pass somehow makes their work more true is either a deranged egomaniac or completely incompetent. Of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible.
"If the press were still expected to do their job, Jeff Gannon would never have made headlines in any sense. But they’re not. The New York Times buried a story that seemed to indicate Bush had indeed cheated in the debates. A major news outlet carried a story about an Aryan supremacist’s (William Regnery II) founding of a whites-only dating site, just days before quoting the same man as a Swift Boat Vet, never making the connection. A cable comedy show that doesn’t even gather firsthand information shames the news coverage of four twenty four-hour news channels. And the only sources of trustworthy news about international policy are BBC and PBS. Let’s all think about that for a moment.
"And now we have Jeff Gannon, so shameless a mouthpiece for the right that his stupidity has thrust him into the limelight. Finally, a journalist so unqualified, he made news! Unfortunately, the response of print journalists has often been to crucify not Gannon, who was especially inept at doing their job without those “credentials” that they’re so crazy about, but Americablog, which managed to outdo them without ever having to claim that they were only a pimp.
"The general claim being regurgitated is that internet sites are digging up dirt from Gannon’s past that is personal and unrelated to his career, making claims that are unsupported as they go along. And I’ll agree that Gannon’s sex life isn’t the issue; it merely serves to illustrate how completely ludicrous the GOP propaganda machine is. Well, that and to make us all yearn for the good ol’ days, when the whores worked in the White House, not out of it."

The Houston Chronicle provided a summation to date on the case of Jeff Gannon a.k.a. James D. Guckert, whose status as a fake White House "correspondent" for the fake news agency Talon News was outted by bloggers:

"The unmasking of an alleged journalist who used a pseudonym to gain access to White House briefings and news conferences, raises more questions about the Bush administration's tactics for securing favorable news. James Guckert, who used the Talon News byline Jeff Gannon, managed to get access to the White House on a daily basis for two years."
"Guckert questioned President Bush at a January news conference last month, tossing a softball query that ridiculed Democrats for 'being divorced from reality.' The organization Guckert worked for turned out to be an arm of a partisan group, GOPUSA, a conservative Web site based in Houston and dedicated to 'spreading the conservative message throughout America.' It turns out Talon News was created only a few days before Guckert first applied for a White House daily pass.
"Guckert was denied similar credentials to cover Capitol Hill because of questions about his legitimacy as a reporter. His identity was exposed by bloggers, and he turned out to be associated with a number of sexually oriented Web sites. Guckert resigned, claiming harassment by liberals.
"Guckert's only credential as a journalist appears to be attendance at a two-day seminar by the conservative Leadership Oriented Broadcast Journalism School [1]. He apparently gained access to the White House using little more than a fake name, a Social Security number, and date of birth. In an age of heightened security, it's hard to believe this lapse could occur without someone inside the White House vouching for Guckert. The alternative would be little meaningful security at the executive mansion.
"White House press secretary Scott McClellan said President Bush did not know who Guckert was. A journalist familiar with the process says it's likely Bush was tipped by his press staff that 'the bald guy would lob him an easy one.' If so, setting up ringers to toss fawning questions to the president is another indication, if any were needed, that the administration prefers the media to be propagandists rather than independent inquisitors.
"At least there's no indication the White House was involved in directly paying Guckert for his services, as the administration did in three other recent incidents. Last month, conservative commentator Armstrong Williams apologized for not disclosing that his company had received $240,000 from a public relations agency hired by the Department of Education to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind Act." (See Bush administration education reform.)
"Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher also apologized to her readers for not disclosing a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help create materials used to promote Bush's $300 million initiative encouraging marriage to strengthen families.
"HHS later disclosed that a third conservative columnist, Michael McManus, had received $10,000 to promote Bush's marriage initiative, according to an Associated Press report. His weekly column appears in about 50 newspapers.
"The practice of buying ostensibly independent reporters and writers to shill for politicians deceives the public and corrupts the free media. Allowing fake reporters to compete with credentialed journalists for sparse press conference time with the leader of the free world demeans the whole process."

On February 16, 2005, MensNewsDaily.com countered with "Left-Wing Activist Poses as Reporter At White House Press Briefings":

"... media watch-group Accuracy in Media charged today that a liberal activist and associate of Ralph Nader has been obtaining access to White House press briefings while claiming to be a legitimate news reporter.
"Russell Mokhiber, who sells a $795 a year newsletter that bashes corporations, attends the briefings to make obscure anti-Bush political points. Recently, for example, he asked spokesman Scott McClellan whether President Bush violated one of the Ten Commandments by invading Iraq. Mokhiber, who told AIM that he has never taken a journalism class in his life and was denied a permanent White House press pass, posts his ludicrous questions and answers on a far-left web site under the title 'Scottie & Me'."
  • The Accuracy in Media article to which MensNewsDaily.com refers was actually posted February 11, 2005, and not on the link provided.
  • The "far-left web site" referred to is Common Dreams.

White House 'Daily Show'

Frank Rich, writing in the February 20, 2005, New York Times article "The White House Stages Its 'Daily Show'," says that:

"By my count, 'Jeff Gannon' is now at least the sixth 'journalist' (four of whom have been unmasked so far this year) to have been a propagandist on the payroll of either the Bush administration or a barely arms-length ally like Talon News while simultaneously appearing in print or broadcast forums that purport to be real news. Of these six, two have been syndicated newspaper columnists paid by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the administration's 'marriage' initiatives. The other four have played real newsmen on TV. Before Mr. Guckert and Armstrong Williams, the talking head paid $240,000 by the Department of Education, there were Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia. Let us not forget these pioneers - the Woodward and Bernstein of fake news. They starred in bogus reports ('In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting,' went the script) pretending to 'sort through the details' of the administration's Medicare prescription-drug plan in 2004. Such 'reports', some of which found their way into news packages distributed to local stations by CNN, appeared in more than 50 news broadcasts around the country and have now been deemed illegal 'covert propaganda' by the Government Accountability Office.
"Even now, we know that the fake news generated by the six known shills is only a small piece of the administration's overall propaganda effort. President Bush wasn't entirely joking when he called the notoriously meek March 6, 2003, White House press conference on the eve of the Iraq invasion 'scripted' while it was still going on. (And 'Jeff Gannon' apparently wasn't even at that one). Everything is scripted.
"The pre-fab 'Ask President Bush' town hall-style meetings held during last year's campaign (typical question: 'Mr. President, as a child, how can I help you get votes?') were carefully designed for television so that, as Kenneth R. Bazinet wrote last summer in New York's Daily News, 'unsuspecting viewers' tuning in their local news might get the false impression they were 'watching a completely open forum.' A Pentagon Office of Strategic Influence, intended to provide propagandistic news items, some of them possibly false, to foreign news media was shut down in 2002 when it became an embarrassing political liability. But much more quietly, another Pentagon propaganda arm, the Pentagon Channel, has recently been added as a free channel for American viewers of the DISH Network. Can a Social Security Channel be far behind?"
"It is a brilliant strategy. When the Bush administration isn't using taxpayers' money to buy its own fake news, it does everything it can to shut out and pillory real reporters who might tell Americans what is happening in what is, at least in theory, their own government. Paul Farhi of The Washington Post discovered that even at an inaugural ball he was assigned 'minders' - attractive women who wouldn't give him their full names - to let the revelers know that Big Brother was watching should they be tempted to say anything remotely off message."

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