Paul From Minneapolis

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Guckert/Gannon: An Exchange with Ron Hutcheson

This post is pretty basic. Just the facts. I might have posted it before, but what prods me now is an tiny event in my life from last weekend reviewed in the post above. So these two posts are a pair. Read them in either order.

This doesn’t need much explanation. Ron Hutcheson of Knight-Ridder is the current president of the White House Correspondents Association, elected by the other correspondents. This brief e-mail exchange conveyshis view of the Jeff Gannon-Jeff Guckert caper. It started after I saw Mr. Hutcheson interviewed on Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC where his intent seemed to be to add a note of calmness.

But as I say, the substance of the exchange is pretty clear, I think. Here we go.

Me, writing to an e-mail address I found pretty easily:

Hello Mr. Hutcheson -

Saw you on Olbermann last night. Thought you did a good job; I was surprised how Olbermann just sort of seemed to accept your version of things and then move on. I have a question or two, if that's okay. (I'm a proto-blogger…It exists but not for public consumption yet.)

Anyway, are you actually here and would you have a couple minutes for a quick back and forth?

Thanks -

Paul S. in Minneapolis

Ron Hutcheson:



Thanks -

I assume the association you're currently the president of is a non-partisan thing, right? That your presidency while sign of a certain respect is also something that people kind of take turns at? (Not to denigrate your role, of course.) And I assume you're no particular Bush supporter or defender?

Beyond that, I just to make sure I understood your points accurately:

Traditionally, there is an atmosphere of letting people in for the daily briefings, rather than keeping people out. So if a guy has any claim to any credibility, the tendency is to err on the side of openness. So it's actually pretty easy to get a daily pass.

The decision would have been made below the level of press sec, and would have been nothing "the White House" (that is, W or his advisors) had anything to do with. So the press sec's claims of ignorance about the details of who he was or why he was there are logical.

(Your organization doesn't have a role in this, does it? You're just
describing a kind of collegial and open tradition, was my sense.)

There is a tradition of agenda-driven pseudo-reporters from both sides of the fence - I believed you called them "cocoanuts" - that the rest of you tolerate; Guckert/Gannon fit with that tradition, as far as anyone could tell.

Then, just a couple questions: Would whoever have made the decision to grant a day pass have known about the fake name, and just accepted it as a "writer's name," so what the heck? Would they have known about the gay porn site stuff in researching Guckert, and decided, well, that's not enough reason to keep him out? Or - is it possible they didn't know about the name, which would seem like a security issue, but not one related to a secret WH plot to insert a gay porn site operator using an alias into the press briefings?

Or is it possible the decision-maker knew Guckert was, liked him but didn't know about the porn stuff?

Anyway, thanks - hopefully I didn’t ramble too much -


Ron Hutcheson:

Correct on all of your first three assumptions, although I would note that the association presidency is an elected position. We take turns only in the sense that people typically do not run for the job again after serving.

You've also done a great job of describing the situation. I don't buy the conspiracy theories at all. There is a long history of people with questionable journalistic credentials, from both the left and the right, attending briefings. There's a good story in today's NY Times that captures this element.

In any case, I very much doubt that anyone in the White House was aware of the porn connection. I'm unsure on the fake name issue, but the Secret Service requires a Social Security number and a date of birth for the background check. It seems that those requirements would uncover any fake name. I don't think a fake name would ring any particular alarm bells.

Finally, you're right that the correspondents' association doesn't have any role in this. The White House would gladly hand it off to us because they don't like making judgment calls about journalists either. We'll discuss the issue at our next board meeting on Feb. 28, but, speaking strictly for myself, I would oppose any effort to drag us into this. I want our organization to be on the side of getting people access to the White House, not shutting them out.

Hope this helps.

Thankfully for us in the Twin Cities, though, we have Tim Sherno on the case.