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Time for Bush to define 'independent press'

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The cafes and restaurants here were atwitter again last weekend. Finally, after years of talking about things like terrorism and deficits and Social Security reform, the capital's chatterers had a story they could discuss without reading a briefing paper.

Thank you, Jeff Gannon or James Guckert or whatever your name really is. It seems like old times again inside the Beltway.

In case you haven't heard the story, it goes something like this: Somehow, a "reporter" (his, not my, description of his work) calling himself Jeff Gannon, who worked for a conservative website called Talon News, got into the White House briefing room on a regular basis. He then would lob softball questions at the press secretary and even, on at least one occasion, the president.

Not interesting enough? OK, it turns out he was using an alias. His real name is James Guckert. And it turns out there are compromising photos of Mr. Guckert on some homoerotic websites.

Some on the left are angry because, they argue, if this had happened in a Democratic administration, hearings would already be scheduled on Capitol Hill. And some on the right call those on the left hypocrites for attacking a man for his lifestyle choices. In other words, yet another story is reduced to a discussion of the naughty bits. But there are bigger issues here. Democrats are almost certainly right that if this all happened in, say, the late 1990s, the Hill would be full of would-be executioners. But does that make that course of action any more right? And Republicans are right that there's too much glee in the Democrats' "How could this happen?" talk. But what exactly do you expect?

Guckert's life before becoming "Washington bureau chief" of Talon News is his own business. What exactly he did as a reporter is not.

The Guckert fiasco first surfaced because of a Jan. 26 press conference where President Bush called on Gannon/Guckert, who asked the president how he could work with Senate Democrats when they "seem to have divorced themselves from reality." Bush, like any good politician, stepped into that fat one and answered by giving a short outline of his many policy plans.

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