(CBS) Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points
Karl Rove took a victory lap at an SRO lunch at the Conservative
Political Action Committee meeting at the Ronald Reagan building in
Washington on Thursday. After a glowing introduction by Wayne LaPierre
of the National Rifle Association, Rove proclaimed "conservatism as the
dominant political creed in America," but warned Republicans not to get
complacent or grow "tired and timid." He recalled the dark days when
the Democrats were dominant and cautioned that that could happen again
if they let down their guard. The new White House deputy chief of staff
also called on conservatives to "seize the mantle of idealism."
Tired and timid are two adjectives never applied to Rove. The
architect of the Bush victories in 2000 and 2004 came through the ranks
of college Republicans with the late Lee Atwater, and their admitted
and alleged dirty tricks are the legends many young political
operatives dream of pulling off. So when Jeff Gannon, White House
"reporter" for Talon "News," was unmasked last week, the leap to a
possible Rove connection was unavoidable. Gannon says that he met Rove
only once, at a White House Christmas party, and Gannon is kind of
small potatoes for Rove at this point in his career.
But Rove's dominance of White House and Republican politics,
Gannon's aggressively partisan work and the ease with which he got day
passes for the White House press room the past two years make it hard
to believe that he wasn't at least implicitly sanctioned by the "boy
genius." Rove, who rarely gave on-the-record interviews to the MSM
(mainstream media), had time to talk to GOPUSA, which owns Talon.
GOPUSA and Talon are both owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican
and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Bruce Eberle
who says that Bobby is from the "Texas branch of the Eberle clan."
Bobby Eberle told The New York Times that he created Talon to build a
news service with a conservative slant and "if someone were to see
'GOPUSA,' there's an instant built-in bias there." No kidding.
Some of the real reporters in the White House pressroom were
apparently annoyed at Gannon's presence and his softball, partisan
questions, but considered him only a minor irritant. One told me he
thought of Gannon as a balance for the opinionated liberal questions of
Hearst's Helen Thomas. But what Gannon was up to was not just writing
opinion columns or using a different technique to get information. He
was a player in Republican campaigns and his work in the South Dakota
Senate race illustrates the role he played. It is also a classic
example of how political operatives are using the brave new world of
the Internet and the blogosphere. Gannon and Talon News appear to be
mini-Drudge reports; a "news" source which partisans use to put out
negative information, get the attention of the bloggers, talk radio and
then the MSM in a way that mere press releases are unable to achieve.
One of Gannon's first projects was an attempt to discredit the
South Dakota Argus Leader, South Dakota's major paper, and its longtime
political writer, David Kranz. According to the National Journal, which
reported on this last November, Gannon wrote a series of articles in
the summer of 2003 alleging that Kranz, who went to college with
Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, was not only sympathetic to him but was an
actual part of the Daschle campaign. These articles then got a huge
amount of play on the blogs of John Lauck and Jason Van Beek, and were
picked up by other conservative sites and talk radio. The paper was
bombarded with messages about its bias and acknowledges that these had
an impact on its coverage.
Daschle opponent John Thune's campaign manager was Dick Wadham, an
old political crony of Karl Rove's; the kind of pal Rove could ask to
hire his first cousin, John Wood, a few years back. Wadham put the
bloggers on the campaign payroll and the symbiotic relationship between
the campaign, the bloggers and "reporter" Gannon continued. On
September 29, Gannon broke the story that Daschle had claimed a special
tax exemption for a house in Washington and the bloggers jumped all
over it. According to a November 17 posting on South Dakota Politics –
a site that Van Beek, who has become a staffer for now-Sen. Thune, has
bequeathed to Lauck – "Jeff Gannon, whose reportage had a dramatic
impact on the Daschle v. Thune race (his story about Sen. Daschle
signing a legal document claiming to be a D.C. resident was published
nearly the same day Thune began to run an ad showing Daschle saying,
"I'm a D.C. resident) has written an analysis of the debacle."
Daschle aides told Roll Call, "This guy (Gannon) became the dumping
ground for opposition research." The connections are so strong that
there is an FEC challenge which could be a test case on the limits of
the use of the Internet in federal campaigns.
Gannon also had Thune on his radio show "Jeff Gannon's Washington,"
and the White House correspondent for Talon became touted as the
"resident D.C. expert on South Dakota politics" by the bloggers. Thune
and Wadham (who has been hired by aspiring White House Republican Sen.
George Allen) have become go-to guys on the use of blogs in campaigns.
Thune was cited in The New York Times as introducing "Senators to the
meaning of 'blogging,' explaining the basics of self-published online
political commentary and arguing that it can affect public opinion."
This week Democrats, who have serious case of Rove envy, went a
little nuts and started sending around information and graphic pictures
of Gannon and his porn Web sites. But it is the more routine part of
Gannon's life that deserves serious scrutiny. Planting or even just
sanctioning a political operative in the WH press room is a dangerous
precedent and Karl Rove's hope to become a respected policymaker will
be hampered if the dirty tricks from his political past are more
apparent than his desire to spread liberty around the globe.