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Retracting the Talon

The ConWeb relies on the same news-gathering techniques as Jeff Gannon -- softball questions at White House press briefings and copying from press releases.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 2/15/2005

Thank goodness for Eason Jordan.

That's what the ConWeb is surely thinking. If it couldn't spend time reviving those timeworn attacks on the so-called liberal media by way of the resignation of the CNN president over reportedly claiming that the U.S. military was deliberately targeting journalists in war zones, the ConWeb might be forced to write about a subject a little too close to home -- Jeff Gannon.

Why? Gannon, aka James Guckert, the former writer for conservative Talon News, has a couple things in common with his ideological confederates in the ConWeb: a taste for press-release journalism and a practice of asking loaded or softball questions at White House press briefings.

Les Kinsolving, a conservative Baltimore radio host who has a history of pitching loaded polemics-in-the-form-of-questions to White House press secretaries, is WorldNetDaily's designated softball hurler, as ConWebWatch documented last year. Among Kinsolving's Gannon-esque liberal-bashing softballs:

  • "Since one of the president's fellow guests at tomorrow's Clinton festivities in Little Rock is Whoopi Goldberg, can you assure us that the president will not be giving Bill Clinton a pardon for 'pardongate'?"
  • "Scott, as commander in chief, the president is surely aware of the fact that the mother of U.S. Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, who was killed in Iraq, has called the filmmaker Michael Moore 'a maggot that eats off the dead' for using the major's funeral in his film without the family's permission – and also using, without family permission, footage of Army Reservist Peter Damon, who lost part of both of his arms. And my question, the commander in chief wants the Defense Department to give every assistance possible if these two service families sue Moore, doesn't he?"
  • "The Boston Herald reports that during an interview, Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino, who is, as you know, the national co-chairman of the Kerry campaign, called the rest of that Kerry campaign -- and I quote -- 'small-minded and incompetent and trying to find a scapegoat for their incompetency.' And my first question: Neither the president nor anyone else in the White House would find fault or disagree with Mayor Menino, would they?"
  • "Since the White House Press Office has undoubtedly learned what Al Gore said and shouted at length in New York, you may also be aware that columnist John Podhoretz has written and the New York Post has published the statement, and I quote, 'It is now clear that Al Gore is insane.' And my question, does the White House, with a lofty 'no comment,' want to let that statement stand unchallenged, or how can you disagree with Podhoretz?"
  • "Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reviews of 'The Passion of the Christ' were very strongly negative. Despite that, you told us the president plans to see it, as did the largest winter opening day audience in American history. And my question: Since these two newspapers often pan the president, like they panned 'The Passion,' would you deny this is a sign of their notably waning influence?"
  • "The California Democrats have put together a number of recorded telephoned comparison spots against Schwarzenegger, including one by the reverend adulterer, Jesse Jackson, and another by the presidential adulterer, Bill Clinton. And question: Since the president is understandably interested in this California election, does he see the incredible behavior of the Democrats in trying to critique a reported groper with two nationally notorious adulterers?"

Like Gannon, Kinsolving has also fabricated claims designed to make non-conservatives look bad in his briefing questions, as ConWebWatch has also noted (here and here).

Kinsolving has managed to thus far escape the scrutiny that Gannon collapsed under, for a few reasons. First, he's currently out of the briefing room and off the air as he recuperates from a heart attack. Second, unlike Gannon, he hasn't been pursuing the masquerade of writing "news stories" for an conservative advocacy group posing as a news organization -- while WorldNetDaily does have a copious pro-conservative bias in common with Talon News, Kinsolving's questions are presented in a straight-from-the-briefing Q-and-A format -- and third, Kinsolving hasn't posed for any gay porn sites that we know of.

But Kinsolving's slanted softballs, mixed with Gannon's charade -- even as the ConWeb complains about the so-called liberal media -- provide a reason to re-examine the way the White House press corps does business, which it has announced it will do.

Softball questions aren't the only area where Gannon and the ConWeb are of like mind. Both NewsMax and WorldNetDaily have, like Gannon, have spun press releases from their favorite sources into things presented news stories, as ConWebWatch has detailed:

Is it any wonder that the ConWeb doesn't want to get into this particular can of worms? WND, NewsMax and have yet to post an original news story or opinion piece about the Gannon controversy. One possible reason is that in October, WND was forced to retract an inaccurate story it got from Talon News. (WND did ever-so-briefly link to an outside AP article about Gannon's resignation.) Another reason could be that NewsMax is an advertiser on GOPUSA, Talon News' even-more-partisan sister site (currently advertising for people to take its worthless "Condi vs. Hillary" poll).

Only Accuracy in Media has bravely stepped forward to defend Gannon. "His crimes were that he was too pro-Republican, attended White House briefings, and asked questions unfair to Democrats," wrote Cliff Kincaid in a Feb. 10 column.

Kincaid complained that liberal bloggers went too far in "personally attacking Gannon" and digging up his gay-porn connections, or as Kincaid put it, "being linked to conduct, homosexuality, that is accepted and celebrated by those who were going after Gannon in the first place." Kincaid singled out Media Matters for America (full disclosure: my employer) for getting the ball rolling: "Ironically, the Media Matters group is run by former conservative and once-closeted homosexual David Brock."

But Media Matters was not involved in uncovering the revelations about Gannon's sex life (not to mention irrelevant to his being a conservative shill). And Kincaid's concern about Gannon being persecuted for his sexuality rings hollow since, in his quest to prove liberal media bias, he loves to repeat a claim that "three-quarters of the people deciding what's on the front page [of the New York Times] are not-so-closeted homosexuals."

And a Feb. 11 AIM press release about an alleged "liberal activist and associate of Ralph Nader ... obtaining access to White House press briefings while claiming to be a legitimate news reporter" attributes to Kincaid the claim that the Gannon controversy "was manufactured by left-wing bloggers and liberals in the media because they don't want conservatives in the White House press corps."

Ironically -- more so than Kincaid's claim about Media Matters -- the ConWeb's current focus on CNN's Eason Jordan allows it to ignore another controversy besides Gannon.

Conservative talking head Ann Coulter, when asked on the Feb. 7 edition of MSNBC's "Kudlow and Cramer" about Eason's claim that, in the words of host Lawrence Kudlow, "the U.S. military is deliberately targeting and assassinating American journalists," responded by saying: "Would that it were so!"

Yet we don't see WorldNetDaily rushing to cancel Coulter's column or NewsMax distancing themselves from Coulter over her history of advocating violence against journalists, and isn't encouraging the military to kill journalists at least as offensive as the suggestion that the military already was? Not to the ConWeb, apparently.

If the ConWeb can't work up any anger about that, why would they be bothered by exposure of the kind of lazy and biased journalism Gannon practiced when it does the exact same thing?

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