Bush administration blurs media boundary
Controversy over a 'journalist' adds to the buzz about message control in capital.
(Page 2 of 2)
The Bush administration isn't the first to pay journalists to promote their causes. President Jefferson hired journalist James Callender to attack his rival John Adams, only to have Callender later turn on him with reports that he had fathered a child with his slave, Sally Hemings.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The classic presidential tack for managing the news is to shut off access to journalists. Deeply frustrated by the coverage of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon directed his staff to ban any representative from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsweek, CBS, and a UPI reporter from the press pool - an order his staff largely ignored. But during the 2004 campaign, a New York Times reporter assigned to cover Vice President Cheney was routinely excluded from the press plane.
And adversarial relations with the media aren't limited to Washington, D.C. In Maryland, a federal judge ruled Monday that Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) can bar state employees from talking to two reporters for the Baltimore Sun - a move described by Sun editors as "scary."
While such actions rankle the press, they don't always disturb the public.
"Over the past several years, the Bush administration has learned that it can engage the press in an adversarial way, and the public won't mind. It's yet another step in managed news," says Tom Hollihan, another journalism expert at USC's Annenberg School.
These include screening the people who attend meetings that appear to have a town-hall format, and bypassing the national media to go directly to local media where, he says, "there are more softball questions."
In a preemptive move last month, senior House Democrats called on the White House to halt "use of propaganda" to push the president's plan to create private or personal accounts in Social Security. Democrats are requesting all materials created for radio, TV, or newspapers and other venues to promote the plan.
"There is a pattern of propaganda by the Bush administration that must be stopped," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
The Gannon case raises the tougher question of who gets to be a journalist. In Washington, credentialing standards vary among the different branches of government. Gannon, who wrote for the GOP-linked Talon News website, was first criticized by liberal Internet bloggers, who objected to the pro-administration slant in his questions, such as "...How are you going to work with [Democrats] who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"
Turned down for a congressional press pass because he did not meet the standards set for a journalist, James Guckert (Gannon's real name) has had access to the White House briefing room for more than two years on day passes. "Many seasoned journalists have not had the honor of attending the events or enjoying the access Mr. Guckert has," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) of New York. This week she asked for release of information on Gannon's credentialing.