February 17, 2005
White House Correspondents' Association
Ron Hutcheson, President
1920 N Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Messrs. Hutcheson and McClellan:
Last month, I wrote Mr. McClellan, asking that he consider revoking the White House press credentials of Jeff Gannon, formerly of Talon News. Though the Gannon story has taken several turns since then, and attention has regrettably focused on less relevant information about Mr. Gannon, my objection to his presence in White House press briefings was simple: Mr. Gannon is not a reporter.
I say this not because Mr. Gannon is an avowed conservative; the press room is full of liberals, conservatives, and everything in between. And my complaint with Mr. Gannon has nothing to do with the fact that he wrote for a website rather than a newspaper, as some have suggested.
My contention that Mr. Gannon should not be considered a reporter is based on the following: he had no journalistic experience that we know of prior to showing up at the White House and declaring himself a reporter; the "news" outlet he worked for is nothing more than a front for a political activism website, GOPUSA.com; his former employers and colleagues are longtime Republican Party activists who lack journalism experience; he and his former employers were denied a Capitol Hill press credential because they could not establish that they were an independent news organization unconnected with a political organization; and his "news reports" often consisted of little other than verbatim reprints of White House talking points passed off as original reporting. Moreover, as Salon.com reported today, it seems Mr. Gannon attended press briefings as early as February 2003 -- more than a month before Talon/GOPUSA first published. Mr. Gannon is no more a reporter than Howard Dean is, but I presume Dr. Dean would not be admitted to presidential press conferences and given the opportunity to ask the president a question.
I understand that Mr. McClellan recently met with WHCA President Ron Hutcheson, and that neither is eager to take on the role of deciding who is and is not a journalist. I can appreciate this hesitancy -- though in Mr. Gannon's case, the decision does not seem a difficult one, and though refusing to make a decision is, in effect, a decision in the affirmative. Nevertheless, I can well understand why, in cases that are less clear-cut than that of Mr. Gannon, the White House and the WHCA are reluctant to take responsibility for making these decisions.
There is a simple, partial solution that is worth considering: limiting the number of times per year a person may use a "daily pass" to attend a press briefing. Mr. Gannon apparently used these "daily passes" to attend press briefings nearly every day for two years, presumably because he was unable to obtain a "hard pass." If use of a "daily pass" was limited to twelve times per year per person, out-of-town reporters would still be able to attend briefings while in Washington; news organizations that don't have full-time White House correspondents would still be able to send a representative on occasion; and new or "alternative" media outlets that are unable to obtain a "hard pass" would still be able to attend occasional briefings. But the "daily pass" could no longer be used as an "end-around" to the "hard pass" procedures, and somebody like Mr. Gannon would not be able to attend every briefing for two years while, to use The New York Times' Richard Stevenson's apt description, "hijacking" the press room.
I understand the difficult position all of you are in and the complications of deciding who is and who is not a journalist, particularly given the rapidly changing shape of the profession. I think such a limit on the frequency with which a person may use a "daily pass" could be a helpful first step in addressing the problems highlighted by Mr. Gannon while still maintaining an "open" briefing room.
I would be happy to discuss this idea, or the Gannon situation in general, with any of you.
President and CEO
Media Matters for America
cc: Mark Smith, AP Radio, WHCA Vice President
Doug Mills, The New York Times, WHCA Treasurer
Edwin Chen, Los Angeles Times, WHCA Secretary
Steve Scully, C-SPAN, WHCA Board Member
Jim Angle, FOX News, WHCA Board Member
Kenneth Walsh, U.S. News & World Report, WHCA Board Member
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, WHCA Board Member
Terence Hunt, Associated Press, WHCA Board Member
Julia Whiston, WHCA Executive Director