"Jeff: Were you ever at the White House when the day changed?"
"Jeff: Were you ever at the White House when the day changed?" Should be a simple question of fact, eh?
File under: Questions asked, and never answered.
The panel wasn't kabuki, unless kabuki be defined as the art of dancing round the elephants in the room without looking at them. There was also a very neatly executed VRWC meme propagation operation, which we'll get to towards the end.
Katherine Sender--The Annenberg School for Communication;
Anne Gordon--managing editor of our own Inky;
"Jeff Gannon"--syndicated columnnist for the Washington Blade, blogger, and formerly of Talon News;
Katherine Sender moderated--and sometimes made the discussion more moderate, which I thought was a mistake--starting with Anne Gordon.
What follows is a loose transcript. I typed this in live, but much is paraphrase; direct quotes are in quotes, "thus."
ANNE: I'm here to represent mainstream media [Interestingly, this meme was used by all the panelists and passed unchallenged, though it seemed to be used interchangeable with "traditional media"]. Some things to think about:
1. There are 28.7 million blogs, but readership is small by comparison. A lot of talking but not so many are reading.
2. The role of journalism. Often cast as mainstream media vs. blogosphere, then recast as journalism vs. armchair yammering, but both journalism and yammering are present in both media.
No question blogging has changed journalism; I regularly get hundreds of messages from bloggers a day, 300 or 400 in election. Immigration now the hot topic. My name and address are posted, so I am included in a wide stream of information. I read the ones I have found to be thoughtful.
No question the blogosphere is an "early spotter system" for newsworthy topics.
Turning managing editors into cool hunters. Though I'm not sure that's how Anne sees herself.
ANNE: The blogosphere certainly helps us deal with the collapse of the news cycle. It's a useful indicator of what is pushing people's buttons.
ANNE: In the end, users to the site will decide on quality and trustworthiness. [How true!] These qualities of a daily newspaper are [or were] invaluable. Journalism will continue to play an enormous role. This is not to say that journalism only happen in "esteemed" publications.
Thanks. It's nice to be right. Especially when we figure out a story way before the people paid to do such work figure it out.
Next up, Jeff Gannon. From where I sat, I couldn't see if he was reading a prepared statement, unable to speak extemporaneously like the rest of the panel, but he sure sounded that way.
JEFF: Thanks to the forum for recognizing diversity.
I believe the internet most significant since invention of the printing press, real time, access, connectivity, interaction with recipients to their news sources.
I have to admit I came away from the panel with a sneaking respect for "Jeff Gannon." As in the above snippet, so much of what he says is derivative and second-rate. But he's in there punching.
JEFF: The "internets" [yes, plural] and blogs create first truly "level playing field." Used to be, talk: conservatives, print: liberals. Internet permits free speech, the foundation of democracy. It's messy on the internet, can be irresponsible, but that's the price of living in free society. Right used to dominate the internet. Drudge used the Internet, Lewinsky. Free Republic. But the liberals caught up and are now at parity.
Were is not for bloggers, no Howard Dean, Dan Rather still at CBS, Eason Jordan still at CNN.
Sounds like "Gannnon" has a case of blogger triumphalism. It's utterly disingenous to conflate these three cases. Why?
Elephant #2: Republican full spectrum media dominance is what "Gannon" leaves out of the picture. Dean was a netroots phenomenon, not manufactured by anyone, let alone the liberal blogosphere or the press. On the other hand, the Dan Rather story was a classic case of the winger Mighty Wurlitzer in action. Starting with a a single post by one F/Buckhead, a Federalist Society "elf", within 24 hours it was everywhere. Contrast that with the months of effort it took us to get the Downing Street Memo covered. The same goes for the Eason Jordan story.
Gannon actually did have some interesting analysis on GLBT coverage (though maybe it's not new, just new to me:
JEFF: News coverage Balkanized so GLBT loses reach. Hollywood and trad media take up gay issues because as their readership declines, they focus on their base. The conservatives gave up on Hollywood long ago, as the Passion shows. So in the mainstream media. GLBT get greater attention by fewer people.
Blogs are a source for the media [Gordon characterizes them as a "beat," which I think is a more accurate characterization] so rely on blogs for tops, leads, stories, on what is saleable.
Downside is that the media relieves itself of responsibility because they are
"quoting a blogger."
Blogs most useful as a grassroots tool to move media coverage. I have firs-hand knowledge, and see it over and over again [laughter]. This panel indicates power of bloggers. Wise and effective use will increase power of blogs.
MIKE: I report on the hypocrisy of anti-gay officials. In 2000, sat back in utter frustration watching country being stolen. In 2000 bloggers came out for the first time. Same thing happened in 2004. Realized in summer of 2004 Republicans would use gays to attack. So passed out a flyer in DC, "Do you know anyone closeted in the goverment"? and the tips came in.
The goal of bloggers not to equal the New York Times but to have a level of input. I have moved from blogging into a news service supporting my blog, PageoneQ.
Blogs are learning how to manipulate mainstream. It's hot how many readers, it's it's who they are (13% of mine are government IP addresses). Every day 3000 people wake up to read an angry guy [writing that] some senator goes into Union Station ... a district in Central Georgia ... the Pacific Northwest.
The day I fall short of 100% accuracy I have to shut down my operation. If I'm one off. Jeff, this is the question I would like to ask you:
"Jeff: Were you ever at the White House when the day changed? [that is, overnight?]
And that's elephant #3. Isn't it remarkable, or not, that on the one hand you have a Republican party beholden to the base for whom homosexuality is an abomination, and which doesn't think too highly of prostituion either, and on the other hand you have a former male prostitute allegedly spending nights at the White House?
Isn't it remarkable, or not, that after 9/11 changed everything, including security measures at the White House, that "Jeff Gannon" was able to question Ari Fleischer while the ads for his escort service were still up on the web?
Isn't it remarkable, or not, that, after a Democratic President was impeached for a heterosexual blowjob, that nothing about "Jeff Gannon"'s strange career at a Republican White House is deemed worthy of question?
Isn't it remarkable, or not, that "Jeff Gannon" didn't take advantage the opportunity to clear up the controversy by answering Mike's question?
And isn't it remarkable, or not, that none of the high-powered and extremely legitimate journalists on the panel pressed him to do so?
So I guess we have to assume that Gannon did stay the night at the White House. Don't we?
MIKE: David Drier goes on dozens a trips with an aide, but they travel one day apart and separately. Why doesn't the mainstream media report that?
I'm ready to defend what I do, but I don't know if the rest of the media can defend what they do.
Questions from the audience
The panel then took questions from the floor.
[From the audience for "Jeff Gannon"] Were you outed by John Aravosis?
JEFF: No, worst kept secret in DC. I quickly realized that I was part of this community.
Was the outing a consequence of [politics] or your work in the sex industry?
That's part of my personal life, that will have to wait for my tell-all book.
Presumably to be published by Regnery--since "Gannon" doesn't actually name a publisher?
JEFF: My personal life has absolutely nothing to do with White House work.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that "Gannon" didn't take the opportunity to clarify the matter of any overnight stays.
It also seems odd to me that "Gannon" would categorize his career in the sex industry as his "private" life. After all, his escort ad was out on the web. That's private? (Though, again, I feel a grudging respect for "Gannon"'s resilience, forging ahead as he is doing.)
JEFF:John's news service acquired records of my coming and going at the White House, I showed up there 200 times. That's where I went to work, sitting outside offices waiting to get a comment. Similar pattern to other reporters.
Except "Gannon", remarkably, or not, doesn't answer Mike's question. And, remarkably, or not, none of the other high-powered and extremely ethical journalists on the panel press him.
[Question from Katherine for Anne Gordon] Anne, what is usual way to get a press pass?
ANNE: A lot of mud has been slung so Mike could get to his 6001 readers. [Remark about a blogger who was being sued.]
The first part of Anne's answer was a lot angrier and a lot faster than I was able to note down. In fact, her anger seemed entirely disproportionate. Can anyone imagine what would have happened if a former male prostitute had been credentialled as a White House correspondent in the Clinton White House? We'd still be heading the reverberations? After wallowing in Ken Starr's mud for years, suddenly we're worried about being clean?
ANNE: Credentials are given by an authority, the Eagles or whatever. There are Secuurity checks. Every year we do police badges. It's a classic standard approach. Requires the commitment of the organization giving the access. A straightforward access. The Falun Gong woman credentialled.
Unless that incident was orchestrated.
It's a legitimate straightforward process that is helped when there is diversity.
The process may be legitimate in the abstract, but that doesn't explain how "Gannon" actually got his pass, or who gave it to him when his escort ad was still up on the web. Or, needless to say, whether "Gannon" stayed overnight at the White House and if so, where.
[From the audience] Mike, are you a journalist as well as a blogger? Do bloggers have the same obligations as journalists?
MIKE: My accuracy must be 100%. In terms of the journalistic responsibilities-- I.F. Stone, with his mimeographed I. F. Stone's Review, started personalization of journalism. [We derive our expecations of the quality and integrity of journalism from the name of the journalist, e.g. Judy Miller.]
The journalists won't cover the story so I have to.
The one thing I do is try to cover both sides. I call every single person and ask for comment. If person says they will be fired, I don't report. It's personality that holds standards up.
Lifting a White House press release and putting your name on it is not journalism, it's stenography.
Oddly, or not, "Gannon" made no response to this.
ANNE: A press release is a way to communicate. To us, three words in a row is plagiarism. Do we use press release to go get stories? You bet. Not to the extent we are talking about here.
[KATHERINE] So what about outing? Noble and troubling historial past. Yellow journalism and muckracking broke important news. This era and that similar in that major technological change, printing press, brought news much faster than ever before. The difference is that blogging is digital, infinitely reproducible, and instant. Blogs from one day to the next will change rapidly.Mike, talk about outing.
MIKE: I call it reporting. Nobody "outed" Clinton, that was a report. But with a man, it's outing. That's a double standard, and homophobic.
Is it better to get your message into the media, or better to own the media?
Outweek is in print and credible. A revolution where people report on what is happening in their government.
ANNE: Important to stress that in blogging, the holy grail is persuasion, which is not the same as journalism. There are clear differences between a blogger's goal, which is persuasion, and there is quality driven journalism which is not driven by agenda. Journalists have been trained to report. A crucial component of discourse.
When she says this, I believe she believes what she's saying. And I know she's ignoring the elements in the room.
In the course of day to day, agenda-driven journalism that is not part of the issue.
As any repressive government knows, censorship is most efficient when it has been internalized. And over twenty-give years of full-spectrum Republican media dominance, that is what has happened.
When you go to work every day, report what the facts are facts and you can be assured that you're attacked by both sides. "Hit one down the middle."
Ah. "He said, she said" journalism.
JEFF: When liberals lead these campaigns against media outlets, that doesn't help you.
I always think it's cute when winger operatives give liberals disinterested advice. It's harmless, as long as you don't believe a word of it.
[KATHERINE] Jeff, were you attacked for being gay, a conservative, or for your work in sex industry?
JEFF: The attacks started because one conservative in the media is one conservative too many.[Laughter] [Challenges the audience] Name a conservative in the White House press room. [Audience gives name] You see, there are so few conservatives that you can name them.
An effective rhetorical argument. [Futile argument about Helen Thomas deleted.]
MIKE: I agree with Jeff his personal life is not relevant. I thought outing Maya Keyes was heinous. Her blog was personal. Outing her discredits what I do. In terms of calling out conservatives, I'd like to ask Jeff Why were you sleeping at the WHite House? That's what I want to know.
And, remarkably, or not, "Jeff" doesn't answer the questions, and none of the highly paid and extremely ethical trained observers on the panel back him up.
"Move along, people, move along! There's no story here!"
KATHERINE: Should not talk about blogging as one whole thing. Blogs do very different things. Not all blog stories are political stories. The gay teen from TN... The whole ex-gay thing, involving a MySpace blog -- he'd been kidnapped for an ex-gay prison camp.
The other thing is the economics of blogging. Got a call from a woman who was trying to organize 50 women to write two blogs a month of 1000 words. This is a big responsibility. Not credentialled, that gets you nowhere at Penn. She said she'd been trying for six months. I'm not surprised. Where's the money coming from?
If I was snarky, I'd say that's the same question Jeff asked! No, but seriously folks, isn't it remarkable that Katherine considers two 1000 word posts a month burdensome? Heck, I've done five or six thousand posts, and a top producer like Susie clocks in at, like, 14,000. So what is this woman whining about? Of course, from a business model standpoint, neither of these two points is tenable, as Anne points out.
ANNE: Nothing has changed, our journalism has always been supported by ads. Does online pay the bills? It costs $48 million to start the engines and the Internet is a small, small factor in supporting the journalism.
No, the Internet is a small factor in supporting the printing bill. That's not at all the same as supporting journalism.
There is no match now between journalism and money on the Internet. Will there be? We hope so. It costs us $5 million to cover the Iraq war and it didn't increase circulation one bit.
[KATHERINE] If blog readership goes up, does newspaper circulation go down?
ANNE: No proof either way. It is the fragmentation of publications designed for the general reader that is the real challenge.
MIKE: Drudge makes $800,000 a year. $5 million and we didn't get the Downing Street Memos? Not just the Inky, NOBODY could make the contacts to get the Downing Street Memo broken over here, and it took bloggers to do it.
ANNE: You string things together and one thing is seen as a fact and that's troubling.
Here again Anne seemed both angry and incoherent. Notably, she had no answer for why the Inky--God love 'em--didn't break the Downing Street Memo story.
MIKE: We need you to save us from these people!
ANNE: Which people?
MIKE: The Republicans!
ANNE: We want to get you many facts as possible and let you decide.
Again, I believe that she believes this. But look at the elephants in the room!
Further, there's a very simple, glaringly obvious fact waiting to be proved or disproved in the room right now:
MIKE: "Jeff: Were you ever at the White House when the day changed?"
Yet, remarkably, there's no effort to answer Mike's question.
I'm working hard to hit it down the middle so that you decide. Nothing is black and white. I wish it were that simple.
Judy "Kneepads" Miller was sure black and white. Black-and-white enough for Punch to cut her loose, anyhow.
JEFF: My blog is not a profit center, but is supported by readers, jeffgannon.com, take things from the mainstream media. Turned off the coments [like most winger sites, and unlike most liberal sites.] Mine is just a portal for me to put my opinion out there. Will become more important when my book comes out.
Mike and Jeff: When did you come out?
MIKE: I came out in 1986 and to my parents in 1989.
JEFF: I don't know the answer. I didn't stand out on the street.
Most people know.
JEFF: So innate, I never thought of it any other way, so I didn't have one of these epiphanies.
The two reasons to blog are to persuade or to make a profit. I wish that bloggers like yourselves would make the point that young kids doing their personal blogs are putting themselves in harms way.
KATHERINE: There is the fantasy that these things are private.
MIKE: Problem is when so many people jump on the bandwagon and the teen hero goes through his process, finds the Lord and goes straight. We have expectations based on our actions. Take Jacob Robida, 40 of his friernds said his blog really weird, so can use blogs asa way to identify troubled people and reach out.
That's one cure that may be worse than the disease. Especially since to the base, we're all "troubled." Gays most of all.
JEFF: Mike's point is well made that the Internet is like the Wild Wild West, the wonderful connectivty is a loss of privacy.
During the 2004 we had a TV analyst studying blogs during the election. Why would a TV network look at blogs?
ANNE: Bloggers had a role in 2004, and will have enormous role in the next election. Role has been more problmeatic for the Dems, pushed a divide, and from my point of view, it's all good reporting. "It's a beat." If you're expected to cover politics or art or entertaiment, reading the blogs is part of the observational skills. It's growing, and if you're not paying attention to it you're not doing your job.
Odd that the highly touted observational skills don't extend to noticing an elephant in the room.
Now we come to the VRWC meme propagation operation:
I don't have a blog, but I have a comment on newspapers: I don't like the divisiveness. It's beeen harder and harder to have a common ground and have a civil conversation. In my workplace, we can't talk about anything but the Phillies. The persuasion we've heard of drives toward a partisan viewpont.
How does the panel see blogging as a "Civil" discourse?
Civil, like Dignified and Shrill, is a Republican meme that only comes into play when a Democrat or liberal makes a reasoned argument against a Republican talking point or even expresses anger. Because questioning Republican dominance is never, ever Civil. (Needless to say, Limbaugh calling Democrats traitors to an audience of 25 million, including Armed Forces radio, is entirely civil, dignified, and distinctly not shrill. When the VRWC stops calling me a traitor, then I'll be ready to make nice.) We've been calling it out from some time, but as the Man in the Grey Turtleneck points out, the Civil meme is starting to be pushed hard. And guess who's doing the pushing? Check the first link--Why, it's the Republican's own concentration camp advocate, Michelle Malkin!
The second oft-discussed topic about the blogosphere has been civility, or lack thereof. There are plenty[DCOW] of examples about the issue of civility, enough to make you start thinking that raw discourse is simply part of the whole deal. But could all this unbridled, unchecked and unfiltered anger be having a real impact on the blogosphere as a whole?
Another classic example of winger meme transmission. Sigh.
Back to our panel:
ANNE No question that the blogs will evolve. Don't want it to be that we think of the newspaper that makes for discourse, how the journalisn is delivered is very generational.
Note that Anne does not pick up on the meme, and does not directly respond to it.
"Gannon," however, does.
JEFF: You're expressing a sentiment about the poisoned environment started in DC and fuelled by the blogs. [And never, never by the Republicans!] At some point, the American people will tire of this.
JEFF:Civil will, I think will see as an issue in 2008 [Nobody ever said the Republicans didn't play a long game], since 2006 will make 2004 loook like a picnic.
MIKE: The discourse is not that different from what it's always been. I think the new divide is a myth, as false a creation as red state vs. blue state. That's a myth created by Republicans so that if you're from Kentucky you have to vote Republican. The country is divided because the rightwing is beating us every day. What's the media repsonse? Hiring Andrew Sullivan! We can't find one liberal gay of the 77% of gays that are liberal?
I agree with Anne that journalism is a noble calling, and essential to a functioning democracy.
So why is it so hard to get an answer to a simple question of fact:
"Jeff: Were you ever at the White House when the day changed?"
And if so, where were you? And with whom?