J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Thoughts on Gannon Gate, and the Changing Blogosphere

Posted by chanders on February 14, 2005

Starting to think hard about what I’m going to say at the 2005 Indyconference. Here’s a start: a feature I wrote for U.S. Indymedia on the aftermath of Gannongate:

Why shouldn’t James Guckert (aka ‘Jeff Gannon’) have been allowed in the White House briefing room?

Multiple questions surround the rapidly blossoming White House scandal: did Guckert blow the CIA cover of Valerie Plame? Or not? What’s Guckert’s connection to the raft of homosexually-themed military escort websites registered under his name? What is ‘Talon News’? How does the Guckert case relate to other recent Bush-admnistration propaganda scandals? What’s his connection to Karl Rove and the rightwing PR
machine
? The real question, though, is far harder to answer: what does it say about the state of American journalism when a fraudulent, partisan journalist is unmaked by insurgent, partisan bloggers?  On what grounds can those of us in the radical media criticize J.D. Guckert?

That sounds a little harsher than its meant to. After all, the bloggers at Daily Kos and Atrios, along with Media Matters who uncovered this farce really are heroes. And there are a few big differences between Guckert and the members of the left-wing blogosphere; for one thing, they don’t use fake names to get access to White House press conferences, and for another they haven’t been under invesitgation for their connection to the Plame affair.

But the issue goes deeper than this. After all, we in the alternative media have been gleefully tearing down the walls that separate journalists from ordinary people for years now. It seems the Bush administration is cynically taking our advice, and doesn’t seem to care who is a "journalist" these days as long as this or that person adhere’s to the Bush regime’s far-right agenda. As White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday, "in this day and age, when you have a changing media, it’s not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist."  Of course, as long as they spin your lies and shill for your domestic programs its easy to look the other way.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I can point to a possible place to begin the discussion. In 1997, from the jungles of the Chiapas region of Mexico, Subcomandante Marcos observed: "the world of contemporary news is a world that exists for the VIPs — the very important people. Their everyday lives are what is important: if they get married, if they divorce, if they eat, what clothes they wear and what clothes they take off — these major movie stars and big politicians. But common people only appear for a moment — when they kill someone, or when they die."

James Guckert is a VIP; so is Armstrong Williams, Scott McClellan, and George W. Bush. Even David Brock is a VIP. Almost eight years after Marcos delivered his indictment of the global media system, how close have members of the new community of "participatory journalists" come to rectifying the imbalance he observed? While this discussion might seem a long way away from staged White House briefings and gay-themed web sites, having it seems to be more important than ever.

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