Accuracy in Media

Fox News Watch is proving to be one of the most disappointing programs airing on the Fox News Channel. Purporting to be media critics, the show’s panelists make accusations about the media that are themselves in dire need of correction. In a show during the presidential campaign, a panelist and “media writer” named Neal Gabler astonished the audience by claiming that a “secret email” proved that a New York Times reporter was actually biased against John Kerry. Despite repeated requests to provide the explosive evidence, he refused to do so. Host Eric Burns also refused to respond to several requests for comment about the matter. But the February 26 edition of the program showed Gabler, Burns and other panelists going even further off the deep end, giving viewers a grossly distorted view of the affair that has been labeled “Gannongate.” If the past is any guide, don’t count on Burns & Company to correct the record in this case.

The segment concerned the conservative journalist, Jeff Gannon, who got into White House briefings and press conferences, and whose real name is James Guckert. He was forced to resign from Talon News, an on-line conservative-backed news operation, when his personal life came under scrutiny and he was linked to homosexual activity. The far left, which claims to respect peoples’ privacy, just won’t let go of this story.

Fox News Watch panelist and columnist Jim Pinkerton, who is fairly conservative on most issues, turned in the worst performance on the February 26 show, insisting that Gannon had gained access to the White House under a false name and that this constituted a major security threat that requires an investigation. This is precisely what liberal Democrats are demanding.

Pinkerton, who worked under two Republican presidents, said, “I worked in the White House for 6 years. I can tell you that clearing somebody in under a false name with the Secret Service takes an incredible amount of intervention from somebody high up in the White House to do that.” Host Eric Burns asked, “So somebody was complicit?” Pinkerton replied, “Yes.”

Yet Pinkerton offered no evidence for this sensational charge-and there is none. Those concerned-Gannon, his former employer, and White House officials-all say that he got into the White House under his real name, and no evidence to the contrary has been produced. Gannon got a daily press pass in the same way that Ralph Nader associate Russell Mokhiber has been getting access to White House briefings and asking questions about such off-beat matters as industrial hemp and the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty. AIM broke the story back on February 11 about Mokhiber’s access to the White House, which he advertises on an obscure far-left website. In contrast to Gannon, who went through a journalism training program at the Leadership Institute, Mokhiber has never taken a journalism class. 

To his credit, Pinkerton brought up the Mokhiber case, saying that the media never issued a protest about his bizarre line of questioning and that the almost exclusive focus on Gannon proves a double standard. Pinkerton neglected to mention that AIM had brought this case to the attention of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and others who have commented or written about it.

Accepting the dubious premise that Gannon had received White House access under a phony name and with special help, Jane Hall of American University added, “There’s actually a serious problem of security for the President. If there’s that kind of a lapse, and somebody’s intervening, that’s a serious issue.” Hall is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University and is described on the Fox News website as “a nationally recognized expert in politics and the media, ethics in journalism and other topics relating to issues in the news media.” In talking about “Gannongate,” she flunked Journalism 101. That’s a serious issue, too.

By this point in the show, two panelists had suggested without any evidence at all that the White House may have planted Gannon in the White House press corps. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas, another panelist on the show, failed to put a brake on the rampant speculation. 

Gabler, who represents the hard left on the show, expanded the conspiracy theory and claimed inside knowledge of who was behind it, saying, “We know how he got credentialed. The White House wanted him there. They wanted him to ask softball questions.” Who were “they?” He didn’t say. Asked by host Eric Burns about the Mokhiber case, Gabler said that if Mokhiber were a left-wing operative, “Well, then he shouldn’t be there. I don’t know whether he got a daily credential every single day as Guckert did.” As a matter of fact, he did. Mokhiber has confirmed that to me and others. So Gabler, like Hall and Pinkerton, was unaware of the facts in the case. But that didn’t stop him from making sweeping pronouncements about the alleged involvement of the White House. 

There was more. Implying that he had direct evidence of a White House connection to all of this and even the name of the villain, Gabler announced that Gannon had once thanked White House aide Karl Rove for his “assistance, encouragement and guidance.” Gabler added, ominously, that, “I think that is very, very interesting.” Gabler got it wrong, again. In fact, Gannon’s former employer, Bobby Eberle, had thanked Rove-and G. Gordon Liddy, Grover Norquist and several other conservatives-for “their assistance, guidance and friendship” in a holiday message on his website. Eberle’s GOPUSA and Talon News operations were well-known at this point, and it wouldn’t have been surprising for White House officials and conservatives to encourage him to continue his work. Why wouldn’t the White House want to support conservative-style journalism? Only the far left finds this repugnant.    

The issue, however, has never been whether Bobby Eberle or Jeff Gannon thanked Karl Rove or whether Gannon had a conservative or pro-Republican bias. The issue is why Gannon was singled out for savage scrutiny as a conservative journalist and why left-wing bloggers investigated his private life and harassed his family members in order to drive him out of those briefings and press conferences. Host Eric Burns didn’t want to tackle that. Instead, he introduced the segment by making fun of Gannon’s predicament. 

If the purpose of Fox News Watch is to be entertaining, rather than enlightening, then this kind of cavalier approach makes some sense. But if that is indeed the case, then they should dispense with the label of “news watch.” The press has a bad enough reputation without “media watchdogs” compounding the mistakes that should have been corrected on the program in the first place.




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