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ISSUE 118 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/4/2005

Misadventures in journalism

By Jonathan Graef
Opinion Editor

Friday, March 4, 2005

As I am a presumably graduating senior, it is now time to find some sort of gainful employment that will ease my transition from St. Olaf to the so-called real world. Considering that I am one of the Opinions editors for the esteemed (don’t act like we’re not) Manitou Messenger, my thoughts have recently turned to a career in journalism.

Well, actually, I have this secret ambition. It’s a long shot, I know. You would laugh at me if I told you.

Oh, jeepers creepers, I’ll tell you anyway. I want to be a White House press reporter. But not just any White House press reporter – I want to be like Jeff Gannon.

Who is Jeff Gannon? Well, I think I’ll tell you. Jeff Gannon, also known as James Guckert, is, or rather was, a reporter (and by reporter I mean “walking toaster,” which is to say, he’s no reporter at all) for a news organization called Talon News.

Talon News was a news organization which took White House press releases and basically rewrote them as news stories. I know that Student Government Association would love it if the Mess did the same thing (oh snap!). But alas, we cannot.

More about this Gannon gentleman: At a press conference a few weeks back, President Bush called on him, and he, like most press reporters these days, asked a question that surely challenged the President’s policy and held him accountable for any perceived policy errors in recent times. Oh wait: that would mean that reporters would have an actual “backbone,” or to put it in the parlance of our times, “balls.”

To be fair, it’s not that there have been any Bush administration policies that could be perceived as fail ... uh, actually, never mind on that one. The question, (a bit of a softball,) that Gannon/Guckert/Hasselhoff asked the White House spokesman was more or less about how the president would work with his opponents on the issue of Social Security.

Nothing unusual about that, except that Gannon referred to Bush’s ideological opponents as being “divorced from reality.”

That question would prove to seal Gannon’s fate, as one cannot ask a question so blatantly partisan and not spark curiosity about the person doing the questioning.

Gannon’s question made bloggers go “hmm.” Further investigation by said bloggers found the following: that Jeff Gannon was an assumed name (information that would have been figured out had the White House run a background check on Gannon, which they apparently did not); Talon News was basically an arm of an organization called GOPUSA; and lastly, that Talon News’ staff consisted of Republican volunteers who had little, if any, journalistic experience.

With all of this information handy, I got to thinking: I have little to no experience as a journalist. I am a creative fellow, so coming up with a pseudonym will be no problem at all.

I’m not the most right-wing of chaps, but people have made compromises in the name of their work before. Considering I need money for food and more food, I thought: “Eureka! I can be a White House press reporter!”

With my hero Jeff Gannon/James Guckert/Milli Vanilli in my mind, I set out to Washington to become a reporter. I found people from GOPUSA and told them I wanted to start a news organization run by people who had no idea how to write news. They actually gave me the go-ahead.

With my new organization, Shim-Sham News, just off the ground, I decided my next course of action would be to obtain the daily White House press reporter pass which would allow me to enter press conferences. “Hi, I’m Ron Aphrodisiac from Shim-Sham News,” I muttered tentatively.

“Say no more,” the nice man with the large firearm replied.

I would have thought that these things took longer, what with this being the age of terrorism and all, but alas, I have been proven wrong.

I was then informed of the president’s next news conference, and that I would be in the front row! This is amazing! I love journalism! I eagerly took my seat, and waited for the show to begin.

Then Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman came out, and the whole shebang started! I raised my hand and said, “Call on me Scott, call on me!” Lo and behold, he did.

Then, sadly, I blew it. I asked, “Hi, Ron Aphrodisiac, Shim-Sham News. Tell me Scott, why is it that Sen. Hillary Clinton sounds like she’s been on a glue-sniffing expedition? How does the President feel about Mrs. Clinton’s royal suck-titude?”

Needless to say, my career was over.

But, I learned a lot of things as I returned from my satirical, “didn’t-actually-happen” trip to Washington D.C. I learned that as long as you have the right connections, you don’t need things such as “credentials” or “facts” or “integrity” in order to be a journalist.

Best of all, I learned that even if things do go wrong, hardly anyone, save for a few bloggers and print journalists, will write about it. Ah, to be a journalist in the days of Bush. Is there anything more grand?

Opinions editor Jonathan Graef is a senior from Glenview, Ill. He majors in English and political science.

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