Well, it’s official. The White House Correspondents’ Association has weighed in on “Gannongate,” saying “individual episodes” should not prompt a crackdown on credentialing. That was a reference to a conservative reporter, Jeff Gannon, heavily criticized for asking anti-Democrat questions. Matt Drudge reported on February 28 that in a resolution adopted at a meeting in Washington that morning, the association said it “stands for inclusiveness in the credentialing process so that the White House remains accessible to all journalists We hope that individual episodes do not obscure the broader principles of a fair and evenhanded credentialing process.”
The resolution explained that since 1914, the White House Correspondents’ Association has operated independently of the White House and the White House credentialing process. “We intend for the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) to remain independent of that process,” they wrote, adding that the process serves the goal of a free and full exchange of information.
“We wanted to err on the side of inclusion,” Steve Scully of C-SPAN told the L.A. Times. Scully serves on the executive board of the WHCA. “Once you start dictating who is a journalist, you go down a slippery slope.”
This is not surprising. The WHCA did not launch this crusade against Gannon. (It was launched by the left-leaning Media Matters for America.). In fact, if you look at C-SPAN clips of White House press briefings, it seems that established and well-known reporters often chuckle and grin good-naturedly when Les Kinsolving, Jeff Gannon and others writing for online news services ask loaded questions. It seems this presence has always been part of the White House press room “culture” and that it has livened up the proceedings.
Sarah McLendon, who described herself as a “citizen journalist,” ran her McLendon News Service out of her own cluttered D.C. apartment. The elderly McLendon once lobbed this softball at President Clinton: “Sir, will you tell us why you think people have been so mean to you?” AIM editor Cliff Kincaid noted that the media had long tolerated not only McLendon but liberals such as Helen Thomas and Naderite Russell Mokhiber, who once asked White House spokesman Scott McLellan if President Bush had violated the sixth commandment when he launched the Iraq war.
Johanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times was one of the few reporters who put the story into appropriate context. Her story, dated February 27, said, “?the White House press corps is not the thoroughly screened and scrubbed journalistic elite Americans might presume. Along with stars of the country’s major media organizations, it has long included eccentrics and fringe players.”
Neuman explained, “Marlin Fitzwater, former press secretary to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said in an interview that he created day passes in response to a federal court decision in the late 1970s requiring the White House to admit all journalists unless the Secret Service deemed them threats to the president or his immediate family.” That lawsuit, Neuman wrote, involved Robert Sherrill of The Nation, who was denied a press pass on the advice of the Secret Service, because he had punched out the press secretary to the governor of Florida.
Since then, Neuman explained, the White House press corps has attracted an “array of unusual personalities.” She cites Naomi Nover of “Nover News Service” whose work no one ever saw published. “Lester Kinsolving, conservative radio commentator, wore a clerical collar to White House briefings in the Reagan years,” she notes, “His loud voice and off-beat, argumentative questions often provoked laughter.”
There were plenty of people in the mainstream media willing to hawk the non-story of Gannongate to an audience not versed in White House press room history. It’s a shame more reporters did not make the effort to place the story in historic and factual context, as Neuman did.