Skip to comments.Web Site Owner Says He Knew of Reporter's 2 Identities
Posted on 02/21/2005 8:57:57 AM PST by Pikamax
Web Site Owner Says He Knew of Reporter's 2 Identities By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
OUSTON, Feb. 19 - The operator of an activist Republican Web site and news service said Friday night that he had known for two years that his White House correspondent went by two identities.
But the operator, Robert R. Eberle, denied in an interview that the correspondent, Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert, was an administration plant or was given preferential treatment as a Republican partisan to ask soft questions at briefings.
Mr. Guckert, who wrote for the Gopusa.com Web site and its offshoot Talon News, agreed. In an interview on Saturday, he said had never even made phone calls to administration officials, not even to ask routine questions or clarify basic facts.
"My relationship with the White House and with Talon News was on the basis of a reporter and a reporter only. And all that, all of this other stuff out there that I was given favorable treatment, access to things - is absolutely, categorically untrue," Mr. Guckert said.
Mr. Eberle, breaking his silence about details of the events, which have been portrayed by Democrats as a Republican effort to manipulate news, said it took him by surprise in early 2003 when the freelancer he had taken on as Jeff Gannon said he was gaining White House accreditation under the name James D. Guckert. "He said Gannon was his professional name; he didn't like the sound of his other name," Mr. Eberle recounted.
Mr. Eberle, 36, an aerospace engineer with a penchant for conservative politics, said the disclosure raised no red flags about Mr. Guckert's journalistic credentials or professionalism.
Mr. Eberle said that in the two years that Mr. Guckert worked for him, he had not kept track of his volunteer reporter.
"Jeff did his thing, I did my thing," Mr. Eberle said. He also said that while he saw some of Mr. Guckert's writing samples before engaging him, "I don't know if I actually asked about his background and training."
Mr. Guckert said Saturday that he had no journalism experience before arriving at Gopusa, apart from working for his high school and college newspapers. Asked why he did not, in his function as a White House reporter, even try to interview White House officials, he said, "I thought there was a lot of meat that came out of the press briefings."
"You may say that lacks some kind of journalistic ambition," he added.
Mr. Guckert denied seeing a Central Intelligence Agency memorandum disclosing the identity of Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. operative, even though he had strongly insinuated as much in an interview with her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, the transcript of which he posted on the Internet.
Mr. Guckert's phrasing in that interview so strongly suggested he had seen the classified memorandum that it brought F.B.I. officials to his house as part of the Plame leak investigation, he said. But he said referring to the memorandum as though he had seen it was merely an interview technique. "What I said was no more than what was reported in The Wall Street Journal a week before," he said.
Mr. Guckert resigned soon after a news conference when he asked Mr. Bush: "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" referring to Senate Democrats.
Mr. Eberle said it was not his idea of a proper question. "I would have phrased it differently," he said. Still, he said, the backlash surprised him. "I had no reason to think he was not adhering to professional news standards." The White House generally reserves slots for professional reporters, not political activists.
Mr. Guckert said he had never worked on political campaigns, or for the Republican Party, but admitted asking "pointed" questions at regular White House briefings from the point of a conservative. "Did my writing have a slant? Absolutely," he said. He said he has hired lawyers to examine whether he can take legal action over some of the information posted about him on the Internet, including the public posting of his Social Security number.
Mr. Eberle also said he had no inkling that Mr. Guckert had created pornographic Web sites or offered himself as a gay escort. Those revelations came in recent accounts in The Washington Post. If he had known, Mr. Eberle said, "I don't think I would have brought him on."
Mr. Guckert would not address the salacious details of his personal life - including sexually explicit photographs of him online but said "all of these personal things" have nothing to do with the administration or Talon News.
Mr. Eberle said that he and some friends founded Gopusa out of his Houston home about five years ago and later created Talon News. They expanded by buying another conservative site called MillionsofAmericans.com.
Mr. Eberle, who once worked for Lockheed Martin and says he prefers to keep his current employer unidentified, said that he was not bankrolled by any backers and that he and his wife had made few Republican contributions. Texas Republicans said he was not well known in the party.
Before engaging Mr. Guckert on "a volunteer basis," Mr. Eberle said he himself got temporary press credentials to attend a White House briefing. "I think I asked a question about a U.N. resolution on Iraq," Mr. Eberle said.
Mr. Guckert, having disclosed his real name, which he needed to use for even the cursory White House checks for a nonpermanent accreditation, then began attending briefings, Mr. Eberle said. "He would go as often as he could; he would try to go every day," he said. Mr. Guckert did not travel with the president.
The question, Mr. Eberle said, was, "Can this person take information and put a news product together?" Mr. Eberle said the answer was yes. Mr. Guckert's stories have since been removed from the Web site.
As for Mr. Guckert's reporting, Mr. Eberle said, "I've gone on record against softball questions on any side," but said that he did not monitor correspondents' performance. "I thought he was doing a good job. He did a good job, until that question."
Anne E. Kornblut contributed reporting from Washington for this article.
Anti-freepers have done this to me personally in the last year. They even got hold of bad data in their opposition research of me and claimed that I have multiple SS numbers. It's still up on their site, in fact.
I've warned them about it, but haven't taken any legal action to date.