WASHINGTON -- In a letter to President Bush yesterday, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called for an explanation of how a Talon News reporter who used the pseudonym "Jeff Gannon" was admitted to White House briefings.
Gannon resigned late Tuesday amid a flurry of accusations about his professional credentials and links to the Republican Party and could not be reached for comment.
"It appears that 'Mr. Gannon's' presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your administration," wrote Slaughter, a senior member of the House Rules Committee who has been active in media fairness and ownership issues.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said he had not seen the letter from Slaughter, but dismissed her suggestion that Gannon was allowed into White House news briefings to help promote Bush's political agenda.
"She must not be following the briefings too closely, because she'd see that here are a number of people in that room that are advocates," McClellan said. "There are a number of people who express their views in that briefing room."
But liberal bloggers allege that Gannon is, in fact, James "J.D." Guckert and that Web sites such as hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com and militaryescorts4m.com are registered to the same owner as Gannon's Web site, jeffgannon.com.
All the sites are down and not accessible.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz told CNN yesterday that the liberal bloggers may have gone "too far" in investigating Gannon's personal life in the weeks since he asked a question at a presidential news conference that included criticism of Senate Democrats and, thereby, attracted national attention.
But John Aravosis, who operates the AMERICAblog Web site, where the allegations about Gannon are summarized, said in response to Kurtz that his investigation of Gannon was motivated by "the family-values hypocrisy."
He also condemned him regarding the outing of Valerie Plame. According to The Washington Post, Gannon's name was among those of journalists targeted for questioning by the federal prosecutors investigating the White House leak of an internal CIA memo that named the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador and Iraq war critic, as a covert CIA agent.
In articles and in questions posed to McClellan at the briefings, Gannon was frequently unflattering in his portrayal of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.
For example, in detailing Kerry's ties to organizations advocating expanded legal rights for gays, Gannon wrote: "Inasmuch as Bill Clinton is considered by some members of the African American community to be 'the first black president' because of their perception of his positions with regard to minority issues, Democratic Sen. John Kerry might someday be known as 'the first gay president' were he to win the White House in November."
Aravosis also questioned why the White House, with the country at war, would allow almost daily access to news briefings to someone using a pseudonym. "Isn't that a national security threat?" he said.
Responding to questions about Gannon's attendance at White House news briefings, McClellan said, "I don't think it's the role of the press secretary to get into being a media critic or to get into the role of picking or choosing who gets press credentials."
McClellan noted that Gannon did not have the so-called hard pass designating regular White House beat reporters but rather a daily pass that required Secret Service clearance with each entry to the White House compound.
But Slaughter, in her letter to Bush, said the White House should address the issue of Gannon's involvement because of "the mounting evidence that your administration has, on several occasions, paid members of the media to advocate in favor of administration policies."
The most notable incident of such payments involved conservative radio/TV host Armstrong Williams who received money from the Bush administration to promote the "No Child Left Behind" education reforms.
"I was already concerned about what appears to be an organized campaign to mask partisan propaganda as legitimate news by your administration," Slaughter's letter to Bush added. "That we have now learned this same type of deception is occurring inside the White House briefing room itself is even more disturbing."
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