|Secret Service records raise new questions about discredited conservative reporter
Raw Story | April 24, 2005
Updated: Day discovered with two check-ins but no check outs; Other events found on some days without press briefings
In what is unlikely to stem the controversy surrounding disgraced White House correspondent James Guckert, the Secret Service has furnished logs of the writer’s access to the White House after requests by two Democratic congressmembers.
The documents, obtained by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal Guckert had remarkable access to the White House. Though he wrote under the name Jeff Gannon, the records show that he applied with his real name.
Gannon’s ready access to President Bush and his work for a news agency that frequently plagiarized content from other reporters and tailored it to serve a conservative message may raise new questions about the White House’s attempts to seed favorable news coverage. Democrats have sought to paint Guckert in the context of other efforts by the Administration to “plant” positive spin by paying for video news releases and columnists to espouse their views.
Guckert made more than 200 appearances at the White House during his two-year tenure with the fledging conservative websites GOPUSA and Talon News, attending 155 of 196 White House press briefings. He had little to no previous journalism experience, previously worked as a male escort, and was refused a congressional press pass.
Perhaps more notable than the frequency of his attendance, however, is several distinct anomalies about his visits.
Guckert made more than two dozen excursions to the White House when there were no scheduled briefings. On many of these days, the Press Office held press gaggles aboard Air Force One—which raises questions about what Guckert was doing at the White House. On other days, the president held photo opportunities.
On at least fourteen occasions, Secret Service records show either the entry or exit time missing. Generally, the existing entry or exit times correlate with press conferences; on most of these days, the records show that Guckert checked in but was never processed out.
In March, 2003, Guckert left the White House twice on days he had never checked in with the Secret Service. Over the next 22 months, Guckert failed to check out with the Service on fourteen days. On several of these visits, Guckert either entered or exited by a different entry/exit point than his usual one. On one of these days, no briefing was held; on another, he checked in twice but failed to check out.
“I’d be worried if I was the White House and I knew that a reporter with a day pass never left,” one White House reporter told RAW STORY. “I’d wonder, where is he hiding? It seems like a security risk.”
Others who have covered the White House say not checking in or out with the Secret Service is unusual, especially in the wake of Sept. 11. The Secret Service declined to comment.
“We responded to the FOIA request and can provide no further information,” Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry said.
Guckert declined to comment, directing all questions to the Service.
The records furnished by the Service are unlikely to finally answer who approved Gannon’s “temporary” day passes into the presidential residence. The Service keeps a record of who approved passes only for the last sixty days; previous records are kept by the White House.
Since December 2004, all but one of Gannon’s forty-eight temporary appointments were requested by Lois Cassano, a White House Press Office media assistant. One additional request was made by Peter Watkins, a press assistant who now works as deputy press secretary to First Lady Laura Bush.
Guckert sometimes stayed for an extended period of time before and after press conferences, particularly early in his tenure. This was especially common during his first few months, when he might be in the White House for as long as six hours.
A White House reporter dismissed this as insignificant, noting that sometimes reporters stay between events.
“You could probably find people who stayed there for nine hours,” the reporter said.
Occasionally, the former Talon News reporter visited the White House twice on the same day. This was also most common in the early months.
The Secret Service furnished the records after a Freedom of Information Act request from Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
Guckert drew fire from liberals after asking a question of President Bush earlier this year in which he misquoted the Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Investigative bloggers at Daily Kos and AmericaBlog.org discovered that Guckert owned male escort sites, and was himself a male prostitute.
The now-blogger has also been accused of lifting copy from press releases and other reporters.
A Massachusetts editor and reporter have accused Guckert of plagiarism, which RAW STORY reported in March. The watchdog Media Matters for America has also found that many of Guckert’s stories lifted directly from White House press releases.
Talon News, which shut down after the fracas over Gannon erupted, was self-avowedly Republican. Bobby Eberle, the site's founder, told the Washington Post, "We make no bones about it: It's a partisan site."
In a February letter to President Bush, several Senate Democrats raised concern about Gannon in connection with what they believe is an attempt to “buy” coverage.
“The Gannon/Guckert affair is disturbing because of what we have recently learned about apparent efforts by some in your Administration to try to "buy" favorable news coverage,” the Democrats wrote. “These other efforts include paying news personalities … large sums of money to promote your Administration's education and marriage initiatives, and using taxpayer dollars to produce video news releases promoting the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries and other policies the Administration regards as accomplishments.”
The Administration has defended such efforts, and has sought to downplay their significance.
The first set of times for each date is Guckert's login and logout. The second set is the briefing time. Research conducted by Raw Story researcher Muriel Kane. No briefing does not necessarily mean no briefing took place, only that none was scheduled by the White House press office. We have tried to make note of other briefings held on the dates there was no White House press briefing.
*ANALYSIS UPDATED -- 12:24 A.M. Dates without briefings reduced to thirty.
2/25/03 11:46 - 1:25 (briefing 12:26-1:03)
3/3/03 9:51 - 1:32 (unusually long) (briefing 12:21-1:00)
4/4/03 12:18 - 1:31 (12:20-12:59)
5/6/03 11:27 - 12:56 (11:50-12:30)
6/10/03 12:13 - 1:19 (12:33-1:12)
7/1/03 11:25 - 1:42 (12:50-1:26)
8/1/03 12:18 (no exit) (12:24-12:54)
9/2/03 12:37 (A4 HC Entry Lane, no exit) (12:42-1:23)
10/1/03 11:51 - 1:37 (12:44-1:30)
11/6/03 12:09 - 1:09 (12:35-1:04)
12/2/03 2:08 - 3:29 (no briefing)
1/14/04 12:30 - 1:33 (12:41-1:15)
2/2/04 12:32 - 1:35 (12:48-1:28)
3/1/04 12:50 - 2:04 (1:20-2:00)
4/1/04 12:42 - 1:57 (1:25-1:53)
5/5/04 12:02 - 2:25 (1:38-2:16) (arrives unusually early)
6/1/04 9:20 - 12:03 (Condi Rice briefing, 9:45)
7/1/04 12:22 - 1:36 (1:01-1:37)
8/2/04 10:59 - 1:47 (1:02-1:39) (there 2 hours early)
9/10/04 11:19 - 12:55 (no briefing)
11/2/04 1:31 - 2:20 (no briefing) (Election Day)
12/6/04 12:37 - 1:59 (1:03-1:36)
1/18/05 12:05 - 1:36 (12:28-12:57)
2/1/05 12:11 no exit (12:18-12:47)