Jeff Gannon, the former White House reporter whose naked pictures have appeared on a number of gay escort sites, says that he has "regrets" about his past but that White House officials knew nothing about his salacious activities.
"I've made mistakes in my past," he said yesterday. "Does my past mean I can't have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?"
Gannon chastised his critics, breaking a silence that began last week when liberal bloggers disclosed his real name, James Dale Guckert, and a Web page, which he paid for, featuring X-rated photos of himself. "Why would they be looking into a person's sexual history? Is that what we're going to do to reporters now? Is there some kind of litmus test for reporters? Is it right to hold someone's sexuality against them?"
As for his critics, Gannon said: "People have said some of my writing expressed a hostile point of view" toward gays. "These people are willing to abandon their principles on the basis of trying to make me out to be a hypocrite. These are the same groups that cherish free speech and privacy."
John Aravosis, a gay activist who posted the pictures of Gannon on his Americablog.org, said the issue is not Gannon's right to be a journalist but his "White House access. . . . The White House wouldn't let him in the door right now, knowing of his background."
Aravosis said Gannon is guilty of "what I call family-values hypocrisy. Basically, he's asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us."
Gannon resigned earlier this month as a reporter for two conservative Web sites, Talon News and GOPUSA, both owned by a Texas Republican activist. Gannon became a target after asking President Bush a question that slammed Senate Democrats and contained false information about Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
In the interview, Gannon did not dispute evidence that he has advertised himself as a $200-an-hour gay escort but would not specifically address such questions.
Dismissing speculation that he had a permanent White House press pass, which requires a full-blown FBI background check that usually takes months, Gannon said he could not get one because he was required to first get a pass from the Senate press gallery, which did not consider him to be working for a legitimate news organization. Instead, he said he was admitted on a day-to-day basis after supplying his real name, date of birth and Social Security number. He said he did not use a pseudonym to hide his past but because his real last name is hard to spell and pronounce.
Gannon said he began covering the White House in February 2003, at least a month before Talon News was created. He said he was then working for GOPUSA. Talon was launched as "a marketing consideration to separate the news division from something that could be viewed as partisan," he said.
Suggestions that White House officials coddled him or gave him special access are "absolutely, completely, totally untrue," Gannon said, adding that he was often among the last to be called on at press briefings and sometimes could not ask a question at all. "I have no friendships with anyone there. . . . The White House, as far as I know, was never aware of the questions about my past."
Asked how recently he was putting his photo on escort sites, Gannon said that "so much of this stuff" was "years in the past. . . . Anything that goes on the Internet is there forever," he said. "Every day I learn about another site where there are allegedly pictures of me."
Gannon says he was questioned by the FBI in the Valerie Plame leak investigation after referring to a classified CIA document when he interviewed the outed CIA operative's husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson.
But he said yesterday: "I didn't have the document. I never saw the document. It was written about in the Wall Street Journal a week before. I had no special access to classified information."
Aravosis and other critics cite several examples of what they view as Gannon's anti-gay writing. Gannon wrote last year that John Kerry "might someday be known as 'the first gay president,' citing his "100 percent rating from the homosexual advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign" for backing a "pro-gay agenda." Gannon said he was just reporting the facts and playing off suggestions that Bill Clinton was the first black president.
In reporting on comments by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) that legalizing gay marriage could lead to judicial approval of bestiality, Gannon made an issue of the fact that the Associated Press reporter who interviewed Santorum was married to a top Kerry aide and described the comments of gay activists as "predictable responses." Gannon said he was not taking a stand on the issue.
Other allegations, meanwhile, keep surfacing.
Aravosis wrote yesterday on his blog that an unnamed television producer says Gannon told him the Iraq war was going to begin four hours before Bush announced it.
Gannon chuckled at that, saying many reporters sensed an attack was imminent because the White House kept delaying the routine announcement that no more news would be made that day. "You could feel it in the air," he said.
Despite the battering he has taken, Gannon hasn't abandoned plans to work in journalism and hopes to generate sympathy by speaking out.
"People criticize me for being a Christian and having some of these questionable things in my past," he said. "I believe in a God of forgiveness."