Gannon attended White House Christmas parties -- but who invited him?

Former Talon News Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent Jeff Gannon (aka James D. Guckert) attended at least two invitation-only events in Washington, D.C.: the 2003 and 2004 White House press Christmas parties. Gannon has been discredited by numerous charges -- most notably that he is a Republican activist who has reproduced sections of Republican Party and White House materials verbatim in his own “news reports,” and not a true news reporter. So the question arises: who invited Gannon to these exclusive events?

In a February 11 interview with Editor and Publisher, Gannon claimed that “The only connection I had with [White House press secretary] Scott McClellan was when he got married and I sent him a card.” McClellan told Editor & Publisher that Gannon was not issued a permanent White House press corps pass, but obtained only daily passes. And according to a February 18 New York Times article, McClellan said that White House “credentialing is all handled at the staff assistant level.”

But in past years, the White House press secretary has played a significant role in arranging the guest list for the Christmas parties. As the Washington Post reported on December 9, 1992: “Some national correspondents who cover the president [George H.W. Bush] have apparently been unceremoniously axed from the annual White House Christmas party list. ... Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, who's said to be wielding the ax for the half-dozen gigs, didn't return a call.”

Former President Bill Clinton apparently delegated the responsibility to the White House social secretary, according to the Post on December 25, 1995: “The Clintons draw far and wide to make up their holiday invitation lists, said Ann Stock, White House social secretary. ... The season takes a toll on Stock and her staff. 'It's 16- to 18-hour days for a month,' she said on Friday, adding with evident relief: 'Now everyone can turn to their personal Christmas.'”

But an April 29, 2002, New York Times article suggests that the responsibility in the current Bush White House -- at least for the previous year's party -- again rested with the press secretary: "[then-Press Secretary Ari] Fleischer offered to have Rachel Sunbarger, the 23-year-old, highly efficient manager of the White House press office, work as a clearinghouse to sort invitations [to the White House Correspondents Dinner for administration officials]. ... Ms. Sunbarger, who considers her position 'the greatest job in the world,' said that the invitation task was not as bad as the job she had in December of overseeing the invitations to the White House Christmas party for the clamoring press." McClellan replaced Fleischer as press secretary in July, 2003.

The 2004 White House news media Christmas party had “two shifts of 600 guests each,” according to a December 13 New York Times report. As for the significance of the Christmas party, Chicago Tribune columnist Michael Killian observed on December 31, 2003, that receiving an invitation is a sign that “one may consider oneself a member in good standing of the fabled Washington establishment.”