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February 26, 2005
Independence Day

Ari Fleischer on Talon News: "It looked like a conservative news organization...If I thought that they were part of the party, I would not have [resumed] calling on them."

Jimmy Moore, one of Jeff Gannon's most industrious colleagues at Talon, is also the Communications Director of the Spartanburg GOP.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:16 AM
February 24, 2005
All Roads Lead to Gannon

While Jeff Gannon appeared on The Today Show today, he probably didn't bother TIVOing it. Outraged at Katie Couric's treatment of Ann Coulter in 2002, Gannon made the following vow on his website, Theconservativeguy.com: "Iím not going to watch the Today Show ever again."

Meanwhile, after Gannon stuck up for Ann in such gallant fashion, how does Ann treat her loyal fan? Here's an excerpt from her latest column: "The heretofore-unknown Jeff Gannon of the heretofore-unknown 'Talon News' service was caught red-handed asking friendly questions at a White House press briefing....he writes for a Web site that no one has ever heard of..."

Obviously Coulter doesn't follow the media that closely. Drudge linked to at least one Gannon story, Rush Limbaugh cited Talon News on his radio show, and as Media Matters has documented, Sean Hannity mentioned Gannon by name on his show at least three times, had him on as a guest, and described him as "a terrific Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent for Talon News."

Finally, while it would be asking far too much for a photo of Hannity getting gannonized, here's a photo of Gannon getting hannitized!




Posted by Greg Beato at 11:47 AM
February 23, 2005
Sock Puppet Gannon

The Nashua Advocate reports that people knew Gannon was using an assumed identity as far back as 2003. The entire story is enlightening, but if you're a Mary Rosh fan, pay special note to the behavior described in this passage:

"According to Dan Pfeiffer, former spokesman for Tom Daschle--the U.S. Senate Minority Leader until his defeat in the 2004 general election--Jeff Gannon's use of assumed identities was information available to the media as far back as the summer of 2003. It was then, more than a year and a half ago, that Pfeiffer received an e-mail from someone claiming to be a citizen of South Dakota, wanting to know the Daschle campaign's reaction to a story by "Jeff Gannon." The concerned "citizen of South Dakota" turned out to be Gannon himself, as the Daschle campaign quickly uncovered by tracking the e-mail account from which the query had been sent, 'jdg17@aol.com.'"

So it turns out that writing for the American Enterprise Institute isn't the only thing that Jim "Jeff Gannon" Guckert and John "Mary Rosh" Lott have in common.

Now, check out this transcript from a South Dakota talk radio show called "Argus on the Air" that aired on radio station KELO June 18th, 2003. Note the caller's name. Note the very Gannon-like syntax of the non-question question. Note that on June 18th, the only "national news" reporting on the Daschle/Kranz story was coming from Gannon himself. Note also that "Argus on the Air" streams it show on the Web, and that Gannon used to capture the stream and post it on his website Jeffgannon.com.

OK, now read this excerpt:

Welcome back to Argus on Air here at KELO AM News Talk 1320. My name is Greg Belfrage, and every Wednesday afternoon Randall Beck, the executive editor of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, is here. Itís starting this week for a full hour. I appreciate that. Again, this portion of the program brought to you by Flying J Country Market Restaurant, one block west of J&L Harley on Highway 38. Enjoy the lunch buffet Monday through Saturday, 11:00 until 4:00, just $7.59. And, uh, we'll get to your phone calls. We've already got lines stacked up here. Letís start to get to your calls. Good afternoon, Jim, you're on Argus on Air with Randall Beck of the Argus Leader.

Jim: Thank you, Greg. I wanted to ask Randall about some of these reports on national news lately. I generally like Beck's position on transparency and disclosure, but it seems that the Argus has not been disclosing the past political affiliations of its main political reporter, Dave Kranz, who always writes very slanted, pro-Democratic stories, and I think itís time for Beck to come clean and explain to the people and to the readers of the Argus where Kranz's sympathies really lie and how they may affect the reporting of the Argus. Itís time for some answers, Mr. Beck, and I think you should stop dodging these questions and answer them openly.

Beck: Is that a question or a comment?

Jim: Are you going to fully disclose Mr. Kranz's background, or are you going to keep stonewalling. I mean, you wonít even answer the questions from these reporters in Washington. What have you got to hide? I thought you were for transparency.

A couple days later, Gannon writes an article for Talon News about the show. Here's an excerpt:

The first caller to the program confronted Beck about the stories that have appeared in the national news and on South Dakota-based web sites that alleged bias and a cover-up of the Kranz-Daschle link. The Argus Leader editor took no other calls as he spoke for nearly 20 minutes defending his publication's reporting and lashing out at its critics.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:39 AM
February 22, 2005
Another Link

In this Editor & Publisher article, Gannon-Guckert states that he "traded information back and forth" with the blog Daschlevthune.com. "But having some special relationship, I would not characterize it as that," Gannon-Guckert guckert-gannoned. "We were pursuing the same story."

But as Oliver Willis points out, that wasn't the extent of the relationship.

Daschlevthune.com was run by a South Dakota history professor named Jon Lauck. But Lauck isn't just a history professor. He's also an attorney, and according to his profile at the Republican National Lawyers Association, he was the "chairman of the Lawyers for Thune Committee and deeply involved the nation's most-watched Senate race."

So deeply involved, in fact, that according to CBSNews.com, "in June and October the Thune campaign paid Lauck $27,000...Lauck had also worked on Thuneís 2002 congressional race."

But if you've been following Gannongate at all, you already know that. What Oliver Willis pointed out is that both Lauck and Gannon-Guckert played roles in a lawsuit involving the website ProBush.com.

On May 27, 2003, a former Senator from South Dakota named John Arbourezk filed a lawsuit against ProBush.com, because ProBush.com had included him on a "Traitor List."

On July 30, 2003, the attorneys representing ProBush.com filed a brief responding to the original complaint. Jon Lauck was one of the two attorneys who signed the brief.

On July 31, 2003, Gannon-Guckert wrote an article about the lawsuit for Talon News.

On August 4th, Gannon-Guckert posted this message to Free Republic. In part, it reads: "The Free Speech Foundation, a Washington, DC-based First Amendment watchdog group announced Thursday that it would assist a Pennsylvania website owner hit with a libel lawsuit."

According to these minutes from a Standing Committee of Correspondents meeting that took place on February 27th, 2004, Gannon-Guckert was the Executive Director of the Free Speech Foundation. This document also suggested that Gannon-Guckert was being paid something in this capacity.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:43 PM
"It didn't look right..."

Editor & Publisher features a new piece on the man called Bulldog today. In it, Guckert/Gannon offers an explanation for his sudden interest in the South Dakota senatorial race between Democratic incumbent Tom Daschle and Republican challenger John Thune. "But Guckert said no one in the Republican Party or Thune's campaign directed him to cover the campaigns. 'I looked at the Senate races, and that was going to be the most interesting,' Guckert said. 'When I looked at the background, I started looking at the Argus Leader, and it didn't look right.'"

Right...

On June 3rd, 2003, Neal Tapio, former treasurer of the Minnehaha County Republicans and a temporary Republican candidate for Senator in the South Dakota race, issues a press release that criticizes the Argus Leader's coverage of Daschle. On June 5th, 2003, Guckert/Gannon writes his first piece about Daschle. It specifically mentions Tapio's press release, and it focuses exclusively on the Argus Leader's coverage of Daschle.

It's also the first time Gannon has written a piece where Daschle is the focus. (In a few earlier pieces on other subjects, he included quotes from Daschle.)

(Read the previous entry for much more on Gannon's Daschle reporting.)

Posted by Greg Beato at 02:16 PM
February 20, 2005
Daisy Chain

Sure, Gannongate has given us the amusing spectacle of bedrock conservatives showing tender empathy for a gay escort named Bulldog. But while such can't-we-all-just-get-along? compassion is certainly welcome in this era of mean-spirited political polarization, is that all Gannongate will yield?

Well, as a case study in the future of online campaigning, the Gannon saga is certainly worth some close scrutiny.

I bring this up because I noticed a comment at Americablog.org from someone wondering why leftie bloggers are so worked up about Gannon. "What was the practical impact of Talon News? Insidiously spreading the Rovian agenda with devastating effect? I'd never even heard of them before a couple weeks ago, and neither had most of America outside their partisan subscriber base."

Throughout the coverage of Gannongate, Gannon has often been characterized as an incompetent charlatan, a faux-reporter who didn't really accomplish that much outside of annoying his fellow White House correspondents with his unusually pro-Bush questions.

Ask Tom Daschle, though, and he'll probably tell you that Gannon was actually quite effective in spreading the Rovian agenda with somewhat devastating effect, via his many negative stories about Daschle in general, and especially about Daschle's friendly relationship with the main political reporter at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Daschle ended up losing a very close election -- and the negative publicity that Gannon helped generate has been credited as a partial reason for Daschle's loss.

Joe Conason has written about this for Salon, but for anyone interested in the dynamics of the blogosphere, I think it's worthy of a closer look. To see how the the Sioux Falls Argus Leader story played out, step by step, just follow the links...

Initially, a South Dakota blogger named Jason van Beek started criticizing the work of a Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Dave Kranz, whom van Beek believed wrote too favorably about Daschle.

On May 17, 2003, van Beek posted the following: "A reader has provided some additional information on David Kranz, the dean of South Dakota political reporters. It turns out that Kranz attended South Dakota State University from 1964-1968, and Tom Daschle attended SDSU from 1965-1969, where both were active in Young Democrats...It's time for full disclosure from the Argus Leader, in the interests of objective journalism...CORRECTION: My sources tell me David Kranz MAY have been involved in Young Democrats while a student at SDSU in the 60's. It's not an absolute certainty that he was. If he was, that is something that should be disclosed. If he wasn't, I apologize for the mistake."

Speaking of disclosure, who was van Beek's anonymous tipster? The fact that Daschle and Kranz went to the same school around the same time isn't exactly highly volatile information, so why didn't van Beek's source want his/her identity known?

Also, while Van Beek's site made it clear that he was a law student at the University of South Dakota, he didn't say much else about his background or affiliations. On at least one occasion, he referenced his experience as an intern for the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, but there's no About page on his website, so information about that and his various other affiliations weren't readily accessible to the casual reader. As it turned out, he was also a member of the Federalist Society and the Law School Republicans.

Which is fine -- there aren't any rules that disqualify Law School Republicans from being bloggers. But is disclosure only important for reporters?

On May 20, 2003, Neal Tapio, a former treasurer of the Minnehaha County Young Republicans, announced that he had "formed an exploratory committee anticipating a possible bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate."

Long before May 20th, though, Van Beek knew of Tapio's plans. On May 10th, he wrote, "Word on the street here in South Dakota is that a US Senate campaign exploratory committee is being formed. Someone has decided to challenge Tom Daschle's increasingly tenuous hold on his Senate seat." The following day, he wrote, "For all of you readers wondering who is announcing an exploratory committee for a US Senate run against Tom Daschle, it can now be reported that the person is Sioux Falls businessman Neal Tapio."

So apparently Tapio and van Beek had a pretty close working relationship -- was Tapio also the source of the information about Kranz' and Daschle's college connection?

Ironically, the May 20th Sioux Falls Argus Leader article about Tapio's announcement was written by none other than Dave Kranz. It also included this retrospectively interesting passage: "Steve Sibson of Mitchell attended the announcement Monday. 'I like to see new candidates with different approaches,' Sibson said. 'I will support him as much as I can in areas where we agree.'"

May 20th was a busy day for Sibson. In addition to attending the Tapio announcement, he also started a blog, Sibby Online.

Who is Sibson? His blog doesn't have an About page either. According to this Argus Leader article, he's an accountant who "who founded his blog as an extension of his letter-writing to area newspapers."

In one recent post on his blog, he mentioned that he learned about the "problem of bias at the Argus Leader...first hand in the 2002 Senate Race between John Thune and Tim Johnson."

Previously, in the comments section of the Rapid City Journal, he posted this entry. In part, it reads: "In the spirit of 'full disclosure', I am Steve Sibson of Sibby Online. I am voting for John Thune. Nobody pays me for my blog... I witnessed the failure of the Argus Leader to implement [its] bogus campaign coverage pledge firsthand."

Sibson didn't like the way that Kranz had covered Tim Johnson's stance on gun control during the 2002 Senate race between Johnson (who ended up winning the race) and John Thune (whom Sibson supported). "Between August 2002 and the election, I wrote three letters to the Argus Leader that were not printed," Sibson explained in his comment at the Rapid City Journal. "One included details of Tim Johnsonís anti-gun voting records. This is why I blog."

On May 29th, 2003, Sibson posted an excerpt from an article Kranz wrote in 1976 for a South Dakota newspaper called the Mitchell Daily Republic. The excerpt includes the following passage: "Daschle is formerly of Aberdeen and his wife is the daughter of PUC commissioner Mrs. Norma Klinkel. We went to college with Daschle at South Dakota State University and worked together on a mock political convention."

In response, Jason van Beek quickly linked to Sibson's post. Then, the Minnehaha County Young Republicans took the story a step further with this post, which included excerpts from an article Kranz had written for his college newspaper in 1968. "In 1968, after helping to organize the Democratic mock convention and bring in Democratic speakers, Kranz then wrote about the convention for the South Dakota Collegian," the Young Republicans charged. "Interestingly, KRANZ DIDN'T MENTION THAT HE HELPED ORGANIZE THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION ON WHICH HE WAS REPORTING."

Who else besides Tapio is associated with the Minnehaha County Young Republicans? That's difficult to say, because they don't list their names on their website. In fact, they don't even identify themselves as the "Minnehaha County Young Republicans" on their website -- they simply describe themelves as "born and raised South Dakota residents who are working class people who care about their South Dakotan neighbors and families."

Tapio was the group's treasurer at one point, but apparently stepped down when he announced his potential senate candidacy. Others who reportedly belonged to the group are Rob Regier and Paul Erickson, two Republican activists known for their anti-Daschle campaining.

According to article Kranz wrote for the Argus Leader, "Erickson says he served as an unpaid volunteer with the 2002 Victory office that was financed by the state Republican Party and assisted campaigns for Thune and other GOP candidates. He also organized the College Republicans who worked for Thune and other Republicans." Kranz also wrote that Erickson "has spoken of his ties to Karl Rove, President Bush's top adviser."

Erickson, who once booked John Wayne Babbitt and his reattached penis on a "Love Hurts" tour, is also acquainted with Club for Growth president Stephen Moore. In this Rapid City Journal article, Moore describes Erickson as a "good friend."

It's good to be friends with Moore. According to Slate's Timothy Noah, "Since its inception in 1999, the Club for Growth has maintained a reputation for ruthlessness unmatched by other political action committees and soft-money 527 advocacy groups."

In any case, on June 3rd, Neal Tapio issued a press release. "Disturbing reports have recently surfaced about the relationship between Argus Leader reporter David Kranz and Senator Tom Daschle. In the interest of journalistic ethics and integrity, it is time for the Argus Leader to give a full accounting of this relationship. These events raise serious doubts about Kranzís ability to objectively report on Senator Tom Daschle."

Tapio never actually planned to run for office; his candidacy was simply a clever way to get around campaign finance laws. "Tapio will run a campaign, all right," the Rapid City Journal reported. "But election is not his primary goal. Under the new campaign-finance laws, candidates can directly criticize other candidates, whereas it's quite difficult for other individuals and groups to legally level the same direct criticism. Tapio and his fellow Minnehaha County Young Republicans quickly found a solution to that problem. Make somebody a candidate under the law and begin criticizing."

Now, it's finally time for Jeff Gannon to make an appearance...

On June 5th, working off Tapio's June 3rd press release, Gannon produced his first of many articles criticizing Kranz's coverage of Daschle. Because Talon News has removed all Gannon's articles from its archives, the story no longer appears there. However, it does appear on an archived page of Sdakotagop.com, a website created by the Minnehaha County Young Republicans.

While Tapio's press release is dated June 3rd, he didn't post it to his website until June 28th. Still, he apparently emailed or faxed it out to various publications/reporters. On June 7th, the Mitchell Daily Republic ran a storyabout it too.

So far, though, it looks like the D.C.-based Gannon, who was mostly writing about White House press conferences and international stories at the time, was the first person to jump on Tapio's press release.

In fact, on his personal website, "Jeff Gannon's Washington," Gannon wrote the following: "In May 2003, at the height of the New York Times scandal that exposed star reporter Jayson Blair as a fraud and led to the ouster of editor Howell Raines, I began to investigate charges that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has a close, long-term relationship with the political reporter of his state's largest newspaper, Gannet's Sioux Falls Argus Leader."

So perhaps Tapio was sending Gannon information even before he drafted and sent out the June 3rd press release. (It's also possible that Gannon could have learned about the story from Van Beek's and Sibson's blogs, but in his article, he refers only to Tapio's press release. In addition, Sibson didn't provide evidence of Daschle's "long-term relationship" with Kranz until May 29th.)

To kick off his initial June 5th article, Gannon employed his trademark stenographic approach: "Sioux Falls businessman Neal Tapio issued a press release Tuesday in which he demanded the Argus Leader reveal to readers the relationship that its top political reporter has with the three-term Senator."

But he also moved the story forward with this passage: "Talon News contacted the Argus Leader Executive Editor Randell Beck for a response to Tapio's allegations. Beck refused to permit Kranz to be interviewed saying, 'He works for me and I'm not going to allow Dave to get into a pissing match with a guy who makes this stuff up.'"

Up until Gannon's piece, neither Van Beek nor Sibson had written about Tapio's press release, probably because it was old news to them. But the fact that Talon News was writing about Tapio's press release was new news, and Randall Beck's apparent refusal to allow Kranz to be interviewed was the kind of thing that makes a blogger's day. Just hours after Gannon's story was published, Jason Van Beek linked to it. So did another South Dakota blog High Plains Observer.

Gannon wrote additional articles on the June 9th and June 10th, keeping the story in play and giving the South Dakota bloggers something to link to. And this is when the story began to really break wide. On June 10th, Andrew Sullivan cited the story, exclaiming: "FIRST THE NYT: Now the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Bloggers subject their state paper to close scrutiny."

Sullivan simply linked to the main page of High Plains Observer, so it's impossible to know which specific post he linked to there. Based on the timing and the NYT reference, it was probably this June 9th post, which refers to a new Gannon story: "See Jeff Gannon's report: "Now another newspaper [besides the NY Times] is beginning to draw attention."

Over a period of about two weeks, Gannon wrote seven stories about the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's coverage of Daschle. Before Gannon's first piece, the story was pretty much a local phenomenon. By his seventh, which was published on June 20th, it had become a national one.

It was on June 20th, in fact, that Bill Hobbs caught wind of the Daschle/Kranz story and linked to Jason Van Beek's site. Within hours, Glenn Reynolds linked to Hobbs' post.

"I SAID EARLIER that local blogs would have a lot of impact," Reynolds enthused. "Bill Hobbs points to one that's fact-checking newspaper bias in South Dakota at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Hobbs writes: 'The reports, written by University of South Dakota law student Jason Van Beek, are blog-journalism at its finest.' Judging by the reaction from the journalists he's covering, I think he's having an impact already. I think we'll see a lot more local-blogging. In part that's because local newspapers, almost always monopolists and often with too-comfortable relations with local politicos, are ripe targets."

Of course, this summary fails to acknowledge Gannon's prodigious contribution to the amplification of the story, and it makes no mention of the role that local politico Neal Tapio and the apparently well-connected Minnehaha County Young Republicans played either.

As the story progressed over time, Gannon's role in it expanded. In his first week on the anti-Daschle beat, he mostly just repackaged what the bloggers and Neal Tapio had already published. But his coverage of Daschle would continue throughout 2003 and 2004. He often broke new stories about Daschle, which the grassroots South Dakota bloggers would then feature on their sites.

For example, in August 2003, Stephen Moore and the Club for Growth began airing ads criticizing Daschle for owning a $1.9 million home in Washington, DC. On August 13th, 2003, Gannon took the story further, breaking the news that Daschle was receiving a homestead credit on the house. "Even though every owner-occupied property is eligible for the tax credit, it was enacted to protect lower income homeowners from sharp increases in property taxes due to skyrocketing property values in Washington," Gannon wrote, before quoting both Moore and Tapio extensively...

Along with breaking new stories, Gannon also managed to attract substantial attention. In November 2003, he wrote an article entitled "GOP Head Says Daschle 'More Beatable' in 2004."

According to Gannon, "The article was featured on the Drudge Report on the Tuesday it was published. That day, nearly 8 million readers visited Matt Drudge's site."

Meanwhile, in July 2004, Jason Van Beek quietly went on the payroll of John Thune, the Republican candidate who ended up running against and defeating Tom Daschle. And now Van Beek is a full-time Thune staffer.

But how much stealth coordination, if any, was happening in June 2003?

Some people have speculated that Talon News, or more specifically, its parent site, GOPUSA.com, a portal of Republican activism founded by a Houston Young Republican named Bobby Eberle, actually initiated the anti-Daschle coverage amongst the South Dakota bloggers. I think that's unlikely, however. If Gannon and/or Talon had had the story about Daschle's connections to Kranz first, why would he have had to filter it through the bloggers? He simply could have published it, and the South Dakota bloggers would have linked to it, and then other larger bloggers would have linked to the South Dakota bloggers.

Even so, as Gannon penned story after story criticizing Tom Daschle's cozy relationship with the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, didn't anyone wonder about the cozy relationship between Republican operative Tapio and the grassroots bloggers Van Beek and Sibson? Or the cozy relationship between Republican operative Tapio, conservative but allegedly independent news organization Talon News, and other partisan entities like the Club for Growth?

Indeed, would bloggers like Sullivan, Reynolds, and Hobbs have championed this story as "blog-journalism at its finest" had they been more cognizant of the roles that Gannon and Tapio played in bringing it to their attention?

Of course they would have! Fighting implicit bias with explicit bias is what journalism is all about these days...

And, let's face it, the man they called the Bulldog was actually pretty good at it. In the relatively brief time he plied his trade for Talon News, he definitely had an impact.

Posted by Greg Beato at 05:51 PM