Greetings From Scranton
by Steve Corbett
I hope somebody told Joe Biden to expect me.
Even though White House press office staff still hasn’t answered my emailed questions for the president, it looks like gatekeepers agree I’m a legitimate member of the press and will clear me for a visit.
That doesn’t mean I’m coming hat in hand to grovel.
In my latest journalism incarnation as Gonzo Today‘s White House correspondent, I’m still carrying a journalistic chip on my shoulder as big as the toothy ear-to-ear grin Biden flashes whenever he’s playing the role of that scrappy kid from Scranton.
Too many people in our Scranton hometown sucker for Biden’s regular guy routine.
And I voted for the man.
I’m not only annoyed with Biden and his White House press office, I’m troubled by the White House press corps too. Too many public service lapdogs and media watchdogs are prone to pee in fear on the Oval Office rug.
The presidential staff is afraid of Biden and the press is afraid of the staff. When it comes to free speech and the First Amendment I’m not afraid of anybody, a bold boast, I know, but the search for truth long ago set me free.
My ire skyrocketed in May when I read how some White House reporters obeyed press office dictates that require veto power over administration interview quotes. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki then claimed in June nobody at the White House knew Justice Department prosecutors and a federal judge waving a gag order forced top New York Times’ executives to keep government secrets. The feds ordered America’s newspaper of record to keep quiet about a plan Biden’s hand-picked Attorney General Merrick Garland oversaw to hide an American government attack on the American press from the American people.
I almost peed on the rug when I heard that one.
When you gotta go you gotta go.
That’s why I need official clearance to attend some future Biden press conferences, events and appearances. Even as the lowliest White House correspondent in the Washington press corps pecking order, I’m duty-bound to grill my homie commander-in-chief about matters others are too timid to pursue.
Most White House correspondents cower at the thought of losing access. I dread losing aggressive journalism advocates willing to fight control freak public servants who live on the public payroll while obstructing the free flow of information.
If Biden’s executive flunkeys dismiss my questions, this same pack of bureaucratic bootlickers will dismiss yours. Nobody really matters to these party-line cyborgs except like-minded corporate, media and government kiss-ups who bow to their whims. Unless the White House press corps overwhelmingly resists, the political swamp gets deeper, murkier and more polluted. The heart of democracy becomes a toxic government quagmire where journalism goes to die.
The White House blew me off for months, ignoring legitimate emailed questions and treating me like just another local yokel Scranton blogger. But after being appointed Gonzo Today’s eyes, ears and mouth on Capitol Hill, I stepped up with the zeal of one righteous Thomas Paine-in-the-ass, pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword outlaw and fired off an email to Amanda Finney, Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s chief of staff.
Finney got back to me in two hours.
She said she’d be happy to help. She informed me how to get advance notice of press conferences, briefings and appearances. She reminded me to let her know when I’m coming so they’d be expecting me at the gate.
As I wrote to Finney, “As a Scranton, PA, resident I still write about President Joe Biden’s continuing connection to his birthplace. As Gonzo Today’s White House Correspondent I expect to cover future visits President Biden makes to his birthplace, providing a ‘Scranton spin’ to matters of international importance the way the president often does.”
Gonzo Power forever!
How’s everything, Joey? It’s me, Corbett from Scranton!
Like Biden, I worked hard to get to Pennsylvania Avenue, nurturing my penchant to question authority during 30 plus years as a full-time mainstream lightning rod print and broadcast journalist.
In 2005, when most members of the international press timidly asked Michael Jackson how he felt each day when he left his child molestation trial in Santa Maria, CA, where I worked as a local newspaper columnist as well as a daily commentator for Sky News in Europe, I stared hard into Jackson’s glazed ebony eyes and asked, “Have you given any serious thought to going to prison, Michael?”
As a wobbly Jackson looked faint, a veteran L.A. reporter turned to me and said, “He won’t talk with us if you keep asking questions like that.”
“He’s not talking to us, anyway,” I said.
A few years earlier I accosted the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter on the street, stuck a tape recorder under his nose and asked if the political powerbroker would apologize to Anita Hill for insulting her in 1991 after she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Specter stood mute so I asked again and again until he slinked off in silence and well-deserved shame.
When I returned to the newsroom and shared my scoop with the editor, she went apoplectic. She said she didn’t want me accosting public officials, lamenting that powerful public servants would steer clear of meeting with the editorial board if they had to first make it past the paper’s unleashed junkyard columnist.
I asked Barack Obama in a 2007 radio interview if he was still smoking cigarettes and why some members of his mostly white campaign team believed he had transcended race. A snippy Obama said their worship was out of his hands. I spoke face-to-face with John McCain about freedom and talked with Sarah Palin about abortion.
I met and interviewed Bill Clinton. I talked with Hillary Rodham Clinton a couple of times on the air and in person, getting close enough to drink beer and eat steamed clams with her epic brothers, Huey and the late great Tony Rodham, at the family Lake Winola cottage.
Even CNN smart ass Jim Acosta didn’t do that.
Now I want to ask Biden if he’ll stop attending an all-male dinner at a sexist St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Scranton where he appeared three times as the featured speaker. Will Biden denounce the lads if they refuse to change their bigoted policy that bans Vice President Kamala Harris as well as Scranton’s first female mayor from next year’s live and in-person cocktail party and dinner?
I’ve also emailed the White House and asked whether Biden ever smoked dope and if we can get high together in the spirit of legalized cannabis as an economic, cultural and criminal justice milestone.
Maybe now I can ask him myself.
So why did Biden’s press staff ignore my questions and treat me worse than the Bidens’ German shepherd that last March pooped in the hallway outside the Diplomatic Reception Room just off the South Lawn?
Politicians and their handlers don’t want relentless journalists asking awkward questions or drawing harsh conclusions. Political influencers want to control the narrative. Bureaucratic company men and women always fear truth that threatens to loosen their grip on power. So do too many privileged over-achiever journalists who come to prestigious Washington jobs with an apple for the teacher rather than a cudgel loaded with hard questions on behalf of the American people.
I’ll never forget where I came from.
I still have the press pass the U.S. Secret Service issued me in 1984 when I served as the free-wheeling editor of The City News, a ragtag free tabloid in Pennsylvania’s capital where we raged against the machine and threw monkey wrenches into whatever governmental gears we could find.
I’ve paid my dues.
Not many journalists have been arrested and unjustly charged with a felony for doing journalism in America. I have the 1991 Scripps Howard national journalism award for my service to a free press to prove it.
I’m even a card-carrying member for the past 40 years or so of one of America’s oldest press clubs, the Pen & Pencil Club in Philly.
I’ll fight for the First Amendment as long as I’m able.
At 70, I can still punch.
Afflict the comfortable. Comfort the afflicted. If you’re a journalist at any level of experience and mock those words as trite, you’re in the wrong business and are better suited to draft press releases on behalf of any variety of banal business or political hacks.
Back in the early 80s a deputy press secretary for the late Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh gave me the most honest explanation I ever heard from a PR yes-man who sold out as a journalist to eventually become a wealthy international corporate flak-catcher with a beach house in the Hamptons.
“If every time we bend over you’re going to stick it up our ass, why provide you with the Vaseline?”
Because we the people pay for the grease, that’s why.
Tell the president I’m coming.
I promise not to pee on the rug.