January 31, 2005
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. McClellan:
I am writing to ask you to consider revoking the White House press credentials apparently granted to Jeff Gannon of Talon News. Mr. Gannon and Talon News appear to be political activists rather than actual journalists, and as such should not be presented to the public as an independent news agency.
- Talon News is virtually indistinguishable from an organization called GOPUSA, which describes itself as "dedicated to promoting conservative ideals." Both are run by Bobby Eberle, and websites for both entities are registered to Mr. Eberle at his home address. The contact information listed for Talon News includes Mr. Eberle's GOPUSA.com email address.
- The staff of Talon News and GOPUSA is comprised almost entirely of Republican activists with no journalism experience whatsoever. For example, Mr. Eberle is president of GOPUSA and also serves as editor in chief of Talon News, but his biography lists no journalism experience. He did, however, serve as a delegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention, and has held numerous other Republican Party posts in the past. Other Talon News and GOPUSA staff include county Republican Party chairs, delegates to state Republican conventions, and other Republican officials.
- Posts by Messrs. Eberle and Gannon on the online forum Free Republic make clear that the two men are partisan activists, not journalists. Mr. Gannon, for example, used Free Republic to try to organize partisan political activities designed to embarrass and discredit Senator John Kerry during last year's presidential campaign.
Mr. Gannon's conduct during your briefings, as well as presidential press conferences, further suggests that his true role is that of a partisan operative rather than an independent journalist. His questions reliably criticize Democrats and praise President Bush, often containing false assertions, such as his question last week -- based on Rush Limbaugh's radio program -- that incorrectly asserted that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid "was talking about soup lines."
Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin noted in a March 10, 2004, column that Mr. Gannon frequently asks "softballs" during White House press briefings, adding:
And press secretary McClellan seems to appreciate it.
Yesterday, for instance, McClellan was getting hammered with questions about the 9/11 commission and the possible inappropriate juxtaposition of a visit to a 9/11 memorial with a fundraiser on Thursday.
It was getting ugly. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," McClellan said in response to a jibe.
Then he saw daylight:
"Go ahead, Jeff."
Mr. Gannon wrote in a post on FreeRepublic.com that you are apparently aware of what he will ask you at briefings; in response to a comment about your reaction to a question he asked, Mr. Gannon wrote: "It's hard to say with Scott but he usually knows what he's going to get from me."
Given all of this, it seems that Mr. Gannon serves not as a reporter during press briefings but as a useful lifeline for you to rely on when you get in trouble.
In light of recent revelations about the Bush administration's relationship with conservative writers Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Michael McManus, as well as about the administration's repeated use of fake video "news" reports to promote policies, the public is understandably concerned that the White House seems to be trying to manipulate public opinion using fake "news." Given that Talon News seems to be little more than a partisan political organization and given that, based on what Mr. Gannon has written, you apparently know what he will ask during your briefings, Mr. Gannon's continued participation in White House press briefings would seem to exacerbate those concerns.
The public has a right to expect that when you hold press briefings, the reporters are real and the questions are not staged beforehand. They have a right not to be deceived into thinking they are seeing and hearing reporters ask honest questions when they are really seeing a staged performance by partisan operatives.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gannon's propaganda doesn't end at the conclusion of White House briefings. His "articles" are frequently little more than reprints of White House press releases and fact sheets, as Media Matters for America has demonstrated. I understand that your office issues press releases with the hope that reporters quote them. But surely you understand that when Mr. Gannon's "articles" lift heavily from President Bush's statements without directly disclosing that the words are the president's, not Mr. Gannon's, he is working not as a journalist but as an agent of the White House.
Mr. McClellan, the public needs to be confident that your briefings and the president's press conferences are honest, open dialogues with real reporters. Now more than ever, the public needs to be certain that the White House isn't using fake "journalists" to manipulate public opinion. Revoking Mr. Gannon's credentials would be a good first step in that direction.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance or if you would like further information. I have attached some materials about Mr. Gannon we have produced that may be helpful.
President and CEO
Media Matters for America