Roger L. Simon

What's a Journalist - A Personal Tale

I admit I haven’t been following the Gannon/Guckert Affair as closely as I should and if the Bush Administration had some sort of mini-plant in the White House Press Room, I certainly don’t approve. But I have a confession to make. I was one too. Well, sort of.

The year was 1987 — the time of the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit in Washington — and I had a pretty good gig with Universal Studios. I was hired to write a movie for Whoopi Goldberg in which she was to play a member of the White House press corps (don’t ask – it was never made anyway!). So I went off to DC on an expense account right in the middle of the summit. A friend at CNN called Marlin Fitzwater (Reagan’s press secretary) and asked him if I could hang out at the WH Press Room for atmosphere. He said sure, c’mon over, without seemingly giving it a second thought.

Now keep in mind my politics in those days were somewhere to the left of Michael Moore’s, except I was somewhat more knowledgeable and honest (I hope). But this didn’t bother Marlin. He was a good, old boy who liked his bourbon and branch (I shared some with him). I hung out in the Press Room for the better part of a week, watching the usual suspects (Helen Thomas, etc.) pepper him with questions. Could I (like this Gannon character) have asked a few myself? Who knows, but I wouldn’t doubt it. The whole thing in those days was pretty laissez-faire. They even took me along with them on the press plane (known as the “zoo plane”) when the entire crew followed Ronald R. down to Florida where he delivered a speech in some high school (I think it was Talahassee) and then came back a few hours later. Most of the real jockeying seemed to be about who had the best seats in the press room and, more importantly, on the plane. You won’t be surprised to hear that the network correspondents were up front.

Now I’ll repeat, I don’t approve Gannon whoever-he-is pulling off some shell game about “who’s a journalist” with or without White House cooperation. But when I read Mr. Sid’s heavy-breathing about this matter, you’ll have to excuse me for laughing.

UPDATE: I’m out of the satire game (for the moment), but I have a suggestion for two blogosphere greats in this regard. How about Gannon/Guckert goes on Larry King to discuss “the art of the softball”? Speaking of which, has anyone looked into Larry’s background? He’s been throwing softballs for at least four (or is it seven?) administrations. Who’s been paying him? I know – CNN. But there could be more…

MORE: Hindrocket has the serious side of this story, such as it is.

YET: Rick Ballard has helped jog my faulty memory (well, it’s been 17 plus years). The city where I traveled on the zoo plane was Jacksonville, not Talahassee (see list of Reagan’s speeches here). The summit began on Dec. 8. During the intervening week, I remember it snowed heavily in Washington. I met several journalists then to interview them for background. Only one did I have an unpleasant time with (and he with me, i would imagine) — ironically the TV journalist I now most admire… Brit Hume.