17:18 - 28 March, 2005
"Yes, sir?" says the President of the United States.
"Jeff Gannon," four rows from the commander in chief, two years from his first White House press briefing and less than three years from his office job at an auto body repair shop, is one half-minute from blowing it.
Gannon, AKA James Dale Guckert, is about to ask the question that will strip the mask off who and what he is, crash fictitious "news outlet" Talon News and kick start demands in Congress for investigations into national security, White House access and definitions of media that are implied by his very presence in that room.
Before he asks that question ... Did we just say ... an auto body repair shop?
Meteoric doesn't begin to describe such a rise.
Nothing in his professional resume would lead one to predict he'd be rubbing elbows with the cream of the American press corps, with unprecedented exceptions made for press pass qualifications, so that he could - on what must be the longest "day pass" ever - help the president out in a pinch or give predictable oral op/eds disguised as questions at hundreds of press briefings.
Nothing would predict that an avidly partisan website, GOPUSA, run by a couple of well-connected Texas Republicans, would go to the lengths of creating an entire "news" agency - Talon News - simply to justify Guckert's non-qualified presence at briefings.
Let's take a look at that resume.
Landscaping. A public teacher's certificate. Office jobs. Two decades of kicking around the liquor distribution business in Pennsylvania and Delaware, and then ... leaving a friend's auto body shop in January 2002, to resurface in November of the same year as "Jeff Gannon," the "Conservative Guy," in a short, unpromising commentary on an obscure web site. And less than three months later, he would sit in the White House, Row D, center orchestra. Nice seat.
Some of the stretches of Guckert's life are still quite sketchy - the late 1980's and early 1990's, for one; and the pivotal period of giving notice at Karmak in December 2001 and popping up during the ensuing year as a publicly fictional "conservative guy," for another. And where his now well-known moonlighting career as a pornography webmaster and advertised escort on the internet intersects with his official resume leads to more suggestive questions than concrete answers.
Part of the oddity of Guckert's life is not only that his official resume in no way prepared him for the White House, but that he created not just one, but two, diametrically opposed personas in the past few years - "Jeff Gannon," the conservative guy who fell in line with the "Gods, guns and gays" Rovian talking points and spread them like a virus throughout cyberspace, and "Bulldog" (or "Jeff" or "Lou"), gay escort and pornography webmaster.
A detailed timeline of what is known at this point of Guckert's varied careers is appended to this piece. The lion's share of this is based on public records and interviews with former employers. A much smaller portion is based on two anonymous sources - one who knew him during college and immediately thereafter, and one who encountered Guckert when he served as alumni advisor to his old college fraternity.
Let the narrative of the two lives begin, so far as our triple verification process will take us.
A 1975 graduate of Conneaut Lake High School in Pennsylvania, Guckert attended West Chester University, graduating in 1980 and obtaining an Instructional Level I teaching certificate for Social Studies from the state of Pennsylvania. Whether he actually used his certificate to teach is unclear; a later employer recalls Guckert referring to teaching in the Wilmington, Delaware, area, possibly at high school level, but we have not yet been able to verify this.
During college, he was a member and officer of Tau Kappa Epsilon, MA #248, a Mu Alpha TKE. His fraternity affiliation was important enough to him that two decades later, he played a role in revitalizing West Chester University's TKE chapter, and his continued connection with the group is well-documented in its
According to one anonymous source, Guckert did indeed fulfill student teaching requirements during his time at West Chester, and in the summer after graduation, he went to work for Herb Plankinton, a landscape architect from a prominent and well-connected family in the Mendenhall, Pennsylvania, area. (Plankinton died in 1992.) It was during this period that Randy McFarland, future owner of Karmak, says that he met Guckert, when the two worked as landscape laborers for Plankinton and struck up the friendship that lasted until Guckert left Karmak for Washington, D.C., in 2002.
McFarland recalls that throughout the mid- to late 1980's, Guckert and he worked on various landscaping jobs together in Delaware.
In addition to these outdoor odd jobs, Guckert began to work for various liquor distributors in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Because the distribution industry is rife with subsidiaries, split-offs and reformations, it's not entirely clear where one entity leaves off and another begins, and we hope to clarify with further research. What know for certain that Guckert listed himself in a 1984 TKE directory as operations manager for NKS Distributors in New Castle, Delaware, and that Brenda Hall of Century Wine & Spirits (formerly NKS ... see the confusion?) confirmed that he worked there "long ago." It appears from various public records that he worked for NKS or one of its subsidiaries at least through 1987 and quite possibly beyond.
Whoever his official employer at the time, Guckert began having trouble paying his taxes. For the four years from 1991 to 1994, he failed to pay personal income tax in the state of Delaware, for a total of nearly $9,500 in unpaid taxes. With fines and penalties making his total owed bill a whopping $20,742.40, Delaware filed a lien against him in October 1996.
Documented bad luck continued to dog Guckert. In June of 1997, he was in a car accident that resulted two years later in the filing of a personal injury lawsuit that named him as a defendant along with liquor distributor Diamond State Distributors. While we await the slow process of getting the archived documentation from Delaware, we can verify the basic outlines of the lawsuit through a courthouse source who read the docket information to us over the phone: two plaintiffs, one of whom settled early. and another who, after failed mediation resulted in official lawsuit filing, settled during trial.
And yes, it's still unclear whether Diamond State is part of another company (NKS denies any relationship) or one in which possibly Guckert was a "partner."
What is certain is that he was hired as office manager in late 1997 by yet another liquor distributor, Viva Vino of Eddystone, Pennsylvania. Founder Levino Razzi said that Guckert explained he was unemployed because a business in which he was a partner had been sold. Razzi commented that he was never sure whether Guckert was really part owner of the business in question; he wasn't even certain that it had really been sold, rather than just shutting down.
Razzi's uncertainty about Guckert's situation prior to his arrival at Viva Vino is an example of a recurring theme with those who knew Guckert. As with many of Guckert's explanations - evidenced by his biography on conservativeguy.com - information seems specific until you start looking hard for verifiable details, and often only after people try to remember specifics about the man do they realize how vague he was about the details of his life.
Whatever the real story of how Guckert came to be unemployed, Razzi was never anything but pleased with the decision to hire him; he characterizes Guckert as an exemplary employee. When contacted last week, Razzi seemed genuinely shocked by the revelations surfacing about Guckert's internet double life, finding it completely at odds with the man he thought he knew. He even remarked that Guckert more than once brought a woman to the occasional office party. He was always polite, efficient, well-spoken and he never hit on anyone in the office, according to Razzi.
During his two-year tenure at Viva Vino, Guckert reconnected with TKE, his fraternity at West Chester. The Mu Alpha chapter lost its charter in 1989, but in 1996 it gained status as a colony, becoming a fully chartered chapter in 1998, at which point former TKE Mu Alpha members stepped in. Alumni meeting newsletters and official minutes show Guckert taking leading roles in revitalizing the group, helping the chapter set up a website and even - at the same time the tax lien hung over his head - donating hundreds of dollars to the group while serving as alumni advisor to current undergraduates. At one point, Guckert served as mentor to the TKE equivalent of a chaplain, a position he'd also held as an undergrad.
A former TKE member who wishes to remain anonymous was a student at the time and knew Guckert during this advisory period, which ended only with Guckert's departure for the nation's capital. His recollections of Guckert follow:
He would typically be around for Sunday meetings, as well as "pop in" the frat house a few times per week to check up on us and just kind of "hang out." Generally he was a good guy to have around in those days, but once he left for DC he never really came back except for homecoming every fall, and last year  he didn't make it up at all.
He rarely talked about what he studied in school, though he did say it was education once or twice before, maybe Phys Ed if memory serves. I don't think that he ever mentioned actually using his degree either. He only ever said that he served in the Marines, and the "semper fi" bumper sticker and license plate frame was a tip-off as well. I guess we always assumed that it was after college that he enlisted, but again, he rarely talked about that aspect of his life either.
As I have been sitting here for the past month or so watching the story unfold, I have begun to realize that much of JD's life has been hidden from the people he claimed to be closest to. In talking with other alumni who are familiar with him, all of this as come to a big shock to them as well. No one ever expected any of this, especially the "internet life" that he apparently led. I think I started to see something wasn't quite right when I saw him, on several occasions, in the White House Press Room asking questions under what I knew to be a fake name. The real shocker came with the Joe Wilson question where he committed (in my opinion) outright treason by revealing Valerie Plame. I'm not sure what, if anything, you can make of the info I have, but I hope something does come of it. Personally, I am just glad that an outlet other than CNN, FOX, et al is around to bring this story to the surface.
Interesting, yes, that bolded portion of our source's email correspondence? While we continue to pursue this lead, keep in mind that Guckert has a pretty well-documented history of vague and exaggerated (and often only implied) claims in several arenas, from journalism credentials to ... well, personal attributes.
Back on the job front, Guckert gave notice at Viva Vino in March 1999, and Razzi said it came with the explanation that he was tired of office work and wanted a change - odd in light of the fact that Guckert promptly became Karmak's office manager, but diplomatically understandable given that Randy and Amy McFarland, longtime friends, asked for help getting their new auto body repair venture off the ground. (Razzi says he and his former employee continued something of an informal business arrangement "for about a year or so," as Guckert continued to service accounts that had been "his" at Viva Vino.)
And so began Guckert's final official career position before showing up as "Jeff Gannon" at the White House.
When the McFarlands decided to launch Karmak in April 1999, they felt themselves fortunate to be able to bring in an old and trusted friend to manage the office. They say he more than fulfilled their expectations of him, overseeing the accounting and scheduling aspects of the fledgling business. During the two-and-a-half years that he worked with the couple, they report, Guckert's personal life and politics were never discussed. They say they Guckert didn't tell them of his future employment or plans when he gave notice in December 2001, and say that they have had no contact with him since he left Karmak for Washington, D.C., in January 2002.
Guckert's Bedrock Corporation, founded in April 1997, is something of a mysterious entity on several levels. It fits into Guckert's life arc in the period right before the Diamond State Distributor car accident and about half a year before he arrived at Vina Vivo. (Much of this becomes clearer on the appended timeline.)
Bedrock appears in several locations on the internet and in several different manifestations: as a court reporting service, a factoring agent, a secretarial agency and a resume-writing service. Yet we've been unable to obtain evidence - any evidence at all - that Bedrock ever actually provided these services. Calls made to practicing court reporters in the Wilmington area turn up no one familiar with Guckert or Bedrock, and no one can verify any sort of factoring activity undertaken by it. (For those unfamiliar with factoring, a layman's explanation: a factoring agent purchases a company's accounts receivables at discount in order to collect at full price, pocketing the difference as profit.)
The corporation appears to have remained dormant until August 1999, when Guckert began paying a web designer through Bedrock to create internet escort sites, as documented at Americablog last month. Ironically, the corporation also is the official domain registrant for Guckert's primary right-wing political web sites. So the conservativeguy.com (created October 2000) and jeffgannon.com (created June 2002) slept in the same web bed as hotmilitarystuds.com.
Additionally, there's the tangential mystery of Bedrock's official registered agent/incorporator, one "Regina Cephas," who, according to an article in the Augusta Chronicle, was sued by the Salt Lake Olympics Committee for cybersquatting on Olympic domain names and - hold on to your hats here - turned out to be a fictitious individual in her own right, another pseudonym in this tangle.
There's so much left to be explored, it makes our collective ePluribus Media head hurt. This is but one example.
So in December 2001, Guckert shows up for work at Karmak one day with the announcement that he's moving to Washington, D.C., to pursue his interest in politics. No job is mentioned that awaits him, according to the McFarlands. No plans are discussed.
He moves and creates so little trace of himself - at least as J.D. Guckert; there's more than enough of "Jeff Gannon" all over the internet - that even now, three years later, no residential address turns up for him in D.C.
Logic would dictate that some crucial encounter or intersection of interests converged in the latter half of 2001 that spurred Guckert's career-changing (and name-changing) move, but at this point, we may only speculate. So we move on to the little that we do know about the crucial year of 2002, before he emerged from his chrysalis to become a White House correspondent for GOPUSA.
Keeping in mind that from 1999 up until a month ago, Guckert was actively advertising himself as a gay escort, it's possible that a portion of his life in 2002 was spent ... well ... escorting - especially given the fact that not one other visible trace of employment during this period can be located.
But what about his "Jeff Gannon" life? What was happening there?
In January, he registered theconservativeguy.com and in March he established an attached Paypal account. In June, jeffgannon.com was registered, and a month later, at a rally promoting the Pledge of Allegiance, he claimed on conservativeguy.com to have been filmed reciting the pledge (exciting stuff, that). Then nothing until November, when things began to pick up.
November 12 was a busy day. "Jeff Gannon" published the earliest commentary we have yet to find, a flat, short, not exactly promising piece at the penis size. Then eight days later, another "Jeff Gannon" piece appeared, this one onopinionseditorials.com. A "Conservative Guy"article was run on the intellectualconservative.com website on Dec. 18, 2002, and then five days later, Jeff Gannon aired his firstwebcast on theconservativeguy.com.
Two weeks later, in January 2003, Jeff Gannon showed up at his first State Department press conference, and a month later - wearing a GOPUSA identification tag around his neck - he can be spotted sitting in the briefing room at the White House, live and in color thanks to [CSPAN 31:53 on CSPAN RealVideo archive]. On March 29, 2003, Talon News registers its domain name and on April 1, it goes live.
Fast forward through hundreds of day passes and scores of partisan "Gannon" queries to the fateful day of the infamous question. You know, the one where he strafes the Democratic leadership and President Bush succumbs to a snicker. First, a long preamble, jumbled in with a made-up stolen quote from Rush Limbaugh, and then the final, jarring phrase that brought a firestorm of scrutiny down upon him, his "news" agency and White House vetting standards:
"Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"
Mr. "Gannon," take a deep breath. You're about to get "googled."
We dig some more. We try and come up with the "close encounter" from 2001 that led to change of residency and name. We try and find his D.C. address. We try and find out if/when he attended the Leadership Institute. We interview anyone and everyone who knew him at any point in the past thirty years.
One of the challenges of investigating a key player in an issue such as this, is that it is easy to lose sight of the individual at the heart of it. The thrill of the chase - of turning up information that was clearly meant to be hidden, of teasing out the detail that begins to make sense of a surfeit of leads - can dull empathy for the real, breathing human being on the receiving end. As remedy, we'd also like to focus in the future on who Guckert is as a person, on Guckert as a friend, colleague, relative (and if he'd grant us an interview or answer our questions, how he sees himself).
Admittedly, few of us could withstand this, such targeted scrutiny, and come up clean. To handle such an onslaught with grace or dignity would be a trial to anyone.
But there's no disregarding that he's also a symbol, a symbol that represents some things gone seriously awry in this country in the past few years. He also is a process, as a person who was plucked from relative obscurity to sit in the White House, to blur the ever more smudged line between partisan propraganda and true fact-gathering and reporting. Getting the carefully crafted message out has become more important than making sure the message is true or complete.
We are a country that's been stretched to the breaking point with lies. With omission of facts. With government-funded fake news reports. With paid pundits. With people who are not who or what they say they are. With motives that are rarely straightforward and with end runs around legal processes, whether they be Florida judicial decisions or the Geneva Conventions.
James Dale Guckert is part of something much bigger than perhaps even he imagined. Getting to the bottom of who he really is, how he got preferential treatment and why in particular he was chosen is vital, we believe, to begin the shearing of the wool that's been pulled over the eyes of our democracy.
June 1975: Graduates from Conneaut Lake High School.
1975-June 1980: Attends West Chester College (now West Chester University) and joins TKE fraternity. He is given #248 on the chapter member scroll.
August 1, 1980: Is awarded Instruction I teaching certficate in social studies by PA (PA Department of Education).
1980-mid-1980's: Works for landscape architect Herb Plankinton, meets Randy McFarland, future owner of Karmak.
1984: Lists "N.K.S. Distributors" as his employer in the TKE alumni directory.
1986-1987: Plays for a bar's team in the City of Brotherly Love Softball League (Philadelphia Gay News)
1991-1994: Earns income, fails to pay Delaware state income taxes.
October 18, 1996: Tax judgment filed for failure to pay Delaware state income tax over a multi-year period.
April 10, 1997:Bedrock Corp. incorporates in Delaware.
June 26, 1997: Car accident occurs that will result in lawsuit two years later, with Guckert and Diamond State Distributors listed as defendants. (Case No. 99C-06-215).
Late 1997: Viva Vino Imports hires Guckert as office manager.
March 1999: Gives notice at Viva Vino, continues working with old accounts there for a year or so.
April 1999: Starts working for Karmak as office manager.
August 31, 1999: First invoice for porn site. Name used is "Jeff." (Warning: link not work safe.)
September 27, 1999: GOPUSA.com registered (whois)
November 10, 1999: Guckert listed as "new" on a Philadelpha escort service, using the pseudonym"Lou".
February 23, 2000: Guckert's underwear photo uploaded to personal page at AOL.
March 30, 2000: Last of invoices for porn site design. (Warning: link not work-safe.)
May 11, 2000: Guckert's militaryescortsm4m.com domain registered (whois).
August 9, 2001: BEDROCKcorp@aol.com PayPal account created. Two verified buyers since then. (PayPal).
August 25, 2001: Date on customer review with nude photo. (Warning: Link not work-safe.)
October 31, 2001: usmcpt.com first recorded as live. One photo is named
December 2001: Guckert gives notice at Karmak, says he's moving to Washington, D.C., to pursue political interests.
January 2002: Quitting Karmak, Mr. Guckert goes to Washington.
January 25, 2002: theconservativeguy.com domain registered (whois).
March 11, 2002: Paypal account for conservativeguy.com created (Paypal).
May 11, 2002: studfiles.com profile last modified.
May 11, 2002: workingboys.net profile last modified. (WARNING: link not work-safe.)
June 17, 2002: jeffgannon.com domain registered (whois).
July 16, 2002: Posts page about attending Pledge of Allegiance rally.
July 19, 2002: firstname.lastname@example.org paypal account registered (paypal).
November 12, 2002: Customer testimonial posted describing $200/hour rate and penis size.
November 12, 2002: Opinion piece by "Jeff Gannon" published in the Conservative Monitor.
November 20, 2002: "Jeff Gannon" article posted to opinioneditorials.com.
December 18, 2002: Article published under moniker "The Conservative Guy."
December 18, 2002: First posts to Boot To the Skull as "Jeff Gannon" but uses "theconservativeguy" as a file name. Note that this link will give you a page from the wrong date half the time.)
December 23, 2002: Guckert makes first webcast.
January 13, 2003: Guckert attends State Dept. briefing.
Jan 15, 2003: Byline "Jeff Gannon" first appears on gopusa.com web site (site since scrubbed).
February 2003: Guckert on CSPAN in White House.
February 2003-January 2005: Lots of documented over-the-top biased questions; hundreds of crappy "Talon News" articles posted.
January 26, 2005: The Question. The beginning of the end.