This week saw the publication of the results of a survey of around 112,000 Americans - predominantly high school students, but also some principals and teachers. The survey was designed to gauge the sample's views on the First Amendment, which guarantees certain freedoms in America, namely, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion and Freedom of the Press. The results were at first surprising, and then, after a moment's refection, not surprising at all.
Apparently one third of those surveyed believe that the press in the United States should be further restricted. 36% believe that newspapers should actually secure 'government approval' before publishing anything. Wow. Makes you think. At a presidential press conference on January 26th of this year, George Bush was asked to give his opinion on payments made by his administration to certain right-wing political pundits in the media. The question came on the back of USA Today revelations earlier that month that this man:
and this woman:
had both received payments ($241,000 and $21,000 respectively) from various Government departments (the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services respectively) in return for the high-profile hyping of current government initiatives. As it transpired, they were not alone.
The President responded to the question as follows: 'There needs to be a nice, independent relationship between the White House and the press.' Brilliant. Then - as if the whole thing were scripted by some strait-jacketed liberal hack frothing at the mouth with conspiracy theories - the President quickly turned his attention to Jeff Gannon, a journalist who is not actually a real journalist at all but - get this - someone actually paid by the government to diffuse potentially explosive exchanges at press conferences! Ha! You really *couldn't* make it up. You wouldn't dare. Richard Littlejohn was right all along. But what if it was revealed that Richard Littlejohn's bilge was spewed directly from the wallet-flaps of Conservative Central Office? Or more realistically, the BNP? Would you be disgusted? Spitting mad? Please say yes.
As an aside, you can watch the press conference in question here.
Unfortunately, the whole conference, including the contribution of Jeff Gannon, does not appear to have been included. What a shame. What an unfortunate oversight. But it's worth watching anyway - as are all of the President of the Free World's performances - especially if you're the kind of person who enjoys pushing lighted cocktail sticks under your own fingernails and living in fear. Bush himself, a freakshow amalgam of misplaced superciliousness and cerebral torpidity, is fascinating to observe. His clunking oafishness and facial tickery when he ducks a question about torture is breathtaking, and whoever told him to smirk whenever he says he understands someone made a very bad mistake. It's a smirk that screams out 'shoot me'.
As a further aside, in response to one question about the US social security system just over halfway through the press conference, there is the following exchange with a pressman called Carl:
BUSH: Here's the problem. As dictated by just *math*, there is a, the system will be in the red in 13 years and by 2042 the system will be broke. That's because people are living longer and the number of people paying into the social security trust is dwindling. And, so therefore, if you have a child... How old is your child, Carl?
CARL: 14 years old.
BUSH: Yeah, 14, well. If she were err...
BUSH: He, excuse me. Should've done a background check. [Smattering of laughter] She will, when she gets ready to errr... when she's 50 the system will be broke if my math is correct.
The man is a fucking gastropod.
Anyway, Jeff Gannon. He isn't a journalist. Most of what he published for 'fiercely independent' right-wing magazine and think tank The American Enterprise was nicked wholesale from official government documents. He isn't even called Jeff Gannon. He's called James Dale Guckert and he's a male prostitute. Funny old world. For two years, Guckert had been granted daily credentials by the FBI to infiltrate press conferences and lick the President's balls. No, not literally. But who knows what went on in the Oval Office afterwards? Oh, and why on earth is Ken Livingstone all over the front pages when corruption of this magnitude barely gets a mention?
Here's Guckert's website. Not one of his rim-shot sites. His journalism site:
'The voice goes silent' indeed.
In yesterday's Guardian, former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal summed up the whole sorry mess:
'Thus a phony journalist, planted by a Republican organisation, used by the White House press secretary to interrupt questions from the press corps, protected from FBI vetting by the press office, disseminating smears about its critics and opponents, some of them gay-baiting, was unmasked not only as a hireling and fraud but as a gay prostitute, with enormous potential for blackmail.'
You have to laugh. But remember, our survey said, 36% of American high school students believe newspapers should seek 'government approval' before going to press. Silly fuckers. It's already happening.