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By Mike Hudson

I've learned not to expect too much from my colleagues at the Niagara Gazette and Buffalo News. For the most part, they're a lot younger than I am, and apparently learned the practice of journalism in a very different fashion.

On Feb. 9, when Rep. Louise Slaughter wrote an open letter to President George Bush demanding an investigation into how a person using an alias, with a background in gay pornography and no journalistic credentials whatsoever, managed to obtain White House press passes nearly every day for two years, it made headlines around the country.

The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, "Salon" online magazine, CNN, the Associated Press, MSNBC and a raft of other major media outlets have all reported on the burgeoning scandal. It seems that a man calling himself "Jeff Gannon" -- and acting as an agent for a wholly owned subsidiary of a Texas-based Republican group known as GOPUSA -- had received White House clearance to pretty much come and go as he pleased and, by his own admission, had access to highly classified national defense documents.

The White House press corps is the most rarefied of American journalistic beats. Maureen Dowd, who writes for The New York Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for her scathing indictments of Bill Clinton, had her press pass revoked when George W. Bush took office.

Days after writing her letter to the president, Rep. Slaughter, along with Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, called on the Secret Service to launch its own investigation, and referred the matter to Patrick Fitzgerald, the special Justice Department prosecutor investigating the leaking of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the media. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland also encouraged the special counsel to look into the matter. And Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey called upon White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to release all documents related to Gannon.

Still, despite the fact that our congresswoman blew the lid off of what promises to be the first major scandal of Bush's second term, the local dailies have remained silent. Why is it that Slaughter's brave challenge is big news everywhere but in her own district?

I've got a sinking suspicion I know the answer. You see, in the first sentence of the first paragraph of her letter to the president, Slaughter states, "I feel compelled to ask you to address a matter brought to my attention by the Niagara Falls Reporter, a local newspaper in my district."

How did we find out about it? There are any number of excellent sites on the Internet that had been way out front with the story. Daily Kos, Media Matters for America, BuzzFlash, AMERICAblog and Eschaton, to name but a few. In much the same way that Matt Drudge's Web site drove the Monica Lewinsky feeding frenzy, today's bloggers have been on the current scandal like white on rice.

These intrepid cyber-sleuths not only revealed that Jeff Gannon's real name was James Dale Guckert, they exposed his ties to pornography and uncovered the stranger-than-fiction fact that he had been offering his services as an "escort" with a going rate of $200 an hour. In a recent interview with "Editor and Publisher," Guckert didn't deny any of the allegations.

Further online reporting showed that Talon News, the organization he claimed to work for, consisted of a single obscure Web site, and unveiled the GOPUSA connection. Just for good measure, they discovered that many of the articles Guckert had "written" were nothing more than White House press releases with the Jeff Gannon byline attached and that, in at least one case, he may have plagiarized a piece that had appeared earlier on CNN.

We followed the story online, did a little checking of our own, and wrote the congresswoman voicing our concerns.

Subsequently, we received a lot of help and support from Rep. Slaughter's staff, particularly Suzanne Macri and Jane Schroeder at the Pine Avenue office and Karl Frisch in Washington. Although we didn't know it when we wrote the letter, Slaughter had already been looking into the Bush administration's possibly illegal and certainly unethical payments to syndicated columnists and television talking heads like Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus.

It is a sad disgrace that, unless you're tuned into the national media or what is now known as the blogosphere, or unless you read the Reporter, you can't find anything out about what our local representative in Congress has been up to over the past week.

The Buffalo News was busy lamenting the fact that the steroid-sucking, store-bought governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is ineligible to run for president because of a quaint provision in the Constitution of the United States that says you have to be born in this country to serve in that office. Coincidentally, Warren Buffet, one of the Terminator's chief campaign advisers, also owns the News.

Over at the Gazette, they waxed poetic about what a wonderful occasion Valentine's Day is. How sweet. How sickeningly sweet. They wasted space on a frivolous column a young airhead writes called "I'll Try Anything Once" and exhausted valuable front-page space on a column by Vince Anello which, I think, is called "I Am a Liar and a Thief."

No, I was just kidding. It's actually called "Ask the Mayor."

The Gazette is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., a corporation based deep in the heart of the blood-Red State of Alabama. Last week, the company made industry news when it fired a columnist for his liberal views at another paper it owns -- the Pella (Iowa) Chronicle -- a move that caused the paper's editor to resign in protest.

It's a strange business, this journalism racket. On one hand, you've got a fake news organization employing a fake reporter who turns out to be a gay prostitute gaining access to the highest level of American government and being made privy to classified documents. On the other hand, you've got a bunch of dedicated amateurs who know how to use computers and the Internet exposing him, something the Secret Service and the FBI apparently were unable to do.

So much for "Homeland Security."

Then you've got a small weekly newspaper and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, both having the temerity to ask, "What the hell's going on here?"

And finally, you've got a couple of gutless and bloated dailies that are too lazy, too stupid or too partisan themselves to report on a sensational national news story that broke right in their own backyard. Despite the fact that both papers fill their pages with reams of canned Associated Press copy every day to cut down on editorial costs, the AP stories dealing with Slaughter's valiant efforts have apparently fallen through the cracks.

So here's some news for these alleged news hounds -- this story isn't going to go away any time in the foreseeable future. Sooner or later, they're going to have to report on it.

Last Friday, Slaughter was able to confirm reports that the phony newsman had been attending White House press briefings as early as Feb. 28, 2003, a full month before Talon News even existed. Since Guckert said in a recent interview that he hadn't had any experience in journalism prior to joining Talon, Slaughter called on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to find out how such a thing could have happened.

She and Conyers have also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Homeland Security Department demanding all records relating to Guckert and the process by which he obtained his top-level clearance.

As a member of Congress, Slaughter said, even she could not simply walk up to the White House and gain admittance. And she's losing patience with administration officials who continue to maintain the treatment Guckert received was nothing out of the ordinary.

"It's been a week since I wrote President Bush seeking answers in this matter. I have not yet received a reply," she said last week. "With each new revelation it becomes more and more clear that the relationship between the White House and Jeff Gannon was anything but typical. It is time for this administration to stop stonewalling and come clean with the American people."


Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 22 2005