The Jeff Gannon story is still bouncing around the Internet, and now there are pictures.
The kind you shouldn't open up in the office.
The X-rated twist has made for a lot of clandestine clicking in a town where Deep Throat conjures images not of a porn star but of a man in a parking garage. But it has also deepened the debate over blogging and the tactics used to drive a conservative reporter from his job as White House correspondent for two Web sites owned by a Republican activist.
In most Beltway melodramas, the resignation ends the story. The problem for Gannon, whose real name is James Dale Guckert, is that he told The Washington Post and CNN's Wolf Blitzer last week that he never launched the Web sites whose provocative names he had registered, such as hotmilitarystud.com. But a Web designer in California said yesterday that he had designed a gay escort site for Gannon and had posted naked pictures of Gannon at the client's request.
The latest developments were first reported by John Aravosis, a liberal political consultant and gay activist who has a Web site called americablog.org. "What struck me initially was the hypocrisy angle," Aravosis said. He said he was offended by what he called Gannon's "antigay" writing.
Gannon became a target of liberal bloggers after he asked President Bush at a news conference last month a loaded and inaccurate question about how he could deal with Senate Democrats "who seem to have divorced themselves from reality." They pointed to articles such as one last year in which Gannon wrote that John Kerry "might someday be known as 'the first gay president' " because he "has enjoyed a 100 percent rating from the homosexual advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), since 1995 in recognition of his support for the pro-gay agenda." Saying his family was being harassed, the reporter quit last week after online critics began digging into his background.
Gannon, who worked for Talon News and GOPUSA, denied any antigay writing last week, but did not return calls for comment yesterday and has told other journalists he will not comment on the racy Web sites. The contretemps sparked questions about why the White House had regularly cleared him for briefings, especially since he had been denied a press pass on Capitol Hill, where reporters control the credentialing process.
Ana Marie Cox, who has been joking about the Gannon photos on her satirical site, wonkette.com, said they are creating a buzz because "obviously pictures of naked people are titillating." But, she added, "bloggers are wrong to bring that into the mix of things of why he shouldn't be a White House correspondent. Aren't we bloggers in favor of a lower bar of access, not a higher one?
"I'd like to be able to go to the White House briefing room, and I haven't even posed naked -- just been asked."
Paul Leddy, the Web designer, said Gannon contacted him in an America Online chat room in 1999 and wound up paying him $200, plus $50 in monthly maintenance, into the following year to create a gay escort site. He said the checks came from Bedrock Corp., which Gannon has confirmed that he worked for at the time. Leddy, who has helped design a variety of Web sites, including porn sites, provided Microsoft Word files of several of his invoices to Bedrock, a Delaware-based company. At first, Leddy said, Gannon sent him nude pictures with the heads cropped out, or asked him not to post the faces. He said he had no doubt, after seeing Gannon in the news recently, that the explicit pictures were of the same man. Leddy said Gannon's postings later moved to another gay escort site, which Aravosis says remained active until March 2003, or shortly before Gannon began covering the White House.
In one of the Web sites found by Aravosis, a man who Leddy said is Gannon was offering his escort services for $200 an hour, or $1,200 a weekend. Another describes him as "military, muscular, masculine and discrete [sic]" and provides an America Online e-mail address that matches the initials on a logo used by Gannon on several of the sites, including the one Leddy said he designed. Bedrock, Gannon's company, is listed as the owner of JeffGannon.com, as well as three sites with such names as hotmilitarystud.com. Aravosis posted the pictures with strategically placed gray boxes, although he provided links to the unexpurgated versions.
Gannon is also embroiled in the Valerie Plame story. In 2003 he interviewed Plame's husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, after unnamed administration officials leaked her role as a CIA operative to columnist Robert Novak. According to his Talon News story, Gannon asked Wilson about "an internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel [detailing] a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) this week questioned how Gannon got access to the documents and asked the special prosecutor investigating the Plame leak to include Gannon in his probe.
To top things off, the Wilmington News-Journal, citing court records, reported Saturday that Gannon -- or Guckert actually -- failed to pay Delaware more than $20,700 in personal income tax from 1991 through 1994.
More than anything, though, it is Gannon's personal online activities that has kept the story churning. Cliff Kincaid, editor of the Accuracy in Media report, wrote on the conservative group's Web site: "The Gannon 'scandal' would be laughable, were it not for the fact that Gannon's personal privacy has been invaded and his mother, in her 70s, had to endure harassing telephone calls from those on the political left trying to dig up dirt. The campaign against Gannon demonstrates the paranoid mentality and mean-spirited nature of the political left."
But Aravosis said: "If you were just looking at this as a matter of his hypocrisy, the story's over now that he's gone. The larger issue is how did someone like this get access to the White House."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the trade publication Editor & Publisher that he didn't know Gannon was using a pseudonym until recent weeks and that he was cleared into the White House on a daily basis using his real name. "People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors," McClellan said. He said he has discussed the Gannon matter only "briefly" with the president.