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T Is for Treason

Ever since it turned out that so-called "White House reporter JEFF GANNON" was really a Republican activist named JAMES DALE GUCKERT, and that he was the one lobbing softball questions as the scandal over the missing WMDs in Iraq blew up, Nüz has dreamed of infiltrating said press corps--only we'd do it to play extreme hardball, of course.

So, imagine our surprise when we learned that Aptos resident, constitutional law professor and Democratic activist PAUL SANFORD beat us to that particular finish line this July.

As it happens, Sanford's arrival on the D.C. circuit came two years after "Gannon" started floating out Bushista talking points--including the poisonous notion that CIA operative VALERIE PLAME's name was common knowledge, and therefore outing her was not a crime.

All of which made it all the more sublimely symmetrical that Sanford managed to circle neatly back to the Plame affair with his very first question, nicely fingering KARL ROVE along the way--as he wondered aloud if the whole mess added up to, well, treason.

Or to quote Sanford directly from the July 25, 2005, White House press conference transcript: "There has been a lot of speculation concerning the meaning of the underlying statute and the grand jury investigation concerning Mr. Rove. The question is, have the legal counsel to the White House or White House staff reviewed the statute in sufficient specificity to determine whether a violation of that statute would, in effect, constitute treason?"

According to notes on the blogosphere, this was the first time since the Plame leak two years earlier that the T-word got dropped. And according to Sanford, this unexpected bombing led a flustered press secretary SCOTT MCCLELLAND to shut down the conference after rebuffing his query with the typical White House wafflespeak, namely, "I think, in terms of decisions regarding the investigation, those are matters for those overseeing the investigation to decide."

Reached by phone last week, Sanford said, "I was inside asking hard questions the corporate media was afraid to ask. I've worked my whole life for this. I got there by determination, believing myself to be qualified."

Acknowledging that he's been a lawyer and a Democratic activist, Sanford, 49, said his career is in transition--and he now wants to become "a fair-minded, national reporter."

"Yes, I did give a couple of thousand dollars to a prominent politician to run in the next election. And $5,000 to support Measure X. But there'll be no more checks and endorsements after that," he promised. "The Rove thing is as big as New Orleans, and so is the war on Iraq. This is a profound time of social and political change. People of means need to step up and participate. It's OK to have a noble cause. And I want to raise the level of debate in America, using AM radio and the Internet."

Access by Air

Which brings us to the question of how Sanford got into the White House in the first place. According to Sanford, a liberal blogger named ERIC BREWER, whom Sanford met while going through security on the way to a White House press briefing, "made an honest mistake" when he represented Sanford as having been accredited as a reporter for AIR AMERICA.

Sanford notes that Brewer's mistake then got picked up and printed by the Washington Post--a journalistic faux pas that triggered calls from Air America's lead counsel BILL SCHNAPP.

Reached by cell phone, Schnapp said, "It never got to a point where I had to get a copy of the White House registration form to see who this guy had said he was with. Our relationship is with KOMY, the Air America affiliate, and Sanford swore up and down that he didn't use the Air America name."

Readers may recall that earlier this summer, Watsonville-based Central Coast radio station KOMY-AM (1340), which is a sister station to the Santa Cruz right-leaning KSCO, converted to a liberal talk radio format featuring programming from the liberal Air America broadcast network. The new lineup included AL FRANKEN, RANDI RHODES, ALAN COLMES--and Sanford, thanks to him purchasing 15 hours of airtime each week.

All of which didn't stop KSCO's MICHAEL ZWERLING from sending Sanford a registered letter canceling his contract, after Schnapp called Zwerling wanting to know who in heck Sanford was.

According to Zwerling, this was the point where he picked up the phone and called the White House press office to ask if anyone had used KOMY as a way to get a press credential.

"They said yes," claims Zwerling, "and I hit the ceiling. Sanford has nothing to do with us. He's nothing more than a potential advertiser. If our call letters were used without my permission, that's fraudulent. But I remember thinking, 'Geez, can anyone walk off the street and say I'm with such and such and get a press credential'? It's disturbing. Scary, actually. No one checked with us to see who he was."

Sanford, however, insists the White House did check up on him and that neither Air America nor Zwerling heard from anyone at that point, precisely because he did not misrepresent himself in that way.

"I never filled in an application form," says Sanford. "I just called the White House and told them I'm with the ELECTION RADIO NETWORK and that we were interested in having a reporter come into the White House to cover the daily briefing and report political news back to our affiliates."

At which point, Sanford was asked for his name and Social Security Number--and was left waiting for about 48 hours while they checked him out.

"I never misrepresented anything in the context of the radio initiative, but Zwerling told me he called the White House and told them I was a fraud, which may have cost me my seat in the White House press room," says Sanford, whose legal mind was not impressed by the registered letter from Zwerling canceling his radio contract that was waiting for him upon his return from four heady days in D.C.

"There's speculation that Mr. Zwerling has exposure," says Sanford on being canceled. "There's a four-year statute of limitations on a breach of a written contract."

As for whether he'll be denied White House access in the future, that, says Sanford, "remains to be seen."

Cheering for Peace

In life, there are choices to be made. As far as things to do this weekend, on the one hand, there's the PEACE RALLY on Sept. 24 in San Francisco, which promises cozy crowds of antiwar activists and GEORGE BUSH–haters dressing up and chanting about injustice and peace.

On the other hand, there's the 2005 UNITED SPIRIT ASSOCIATION CHEER AND DANCE COMPETITION right here in town at the Boardwalk, which, Sept. 24–25 from 9am to 5pm, will feature over 1,000 cheer-leaders from all over Northern California.

We know what you're thinking: Since it's easier to walk to the beach than drive to San Francisco, you're going to the cheerleading competition. But to be fair, we should note that INTERNATIONAL ANSWER will sponsor a bus trip to the city, which you can find out about by calling the RESOURCE CENTER FOR NONVIOLENCE (831.423.1626), which is selling $20 tickets for a bus that leaves at 9am on Saturday. Plus, another busload of peaceniks is being organized by PUSSIES FOR PEACE, who can be reached through [email protected], or check in with the buses and carpools leaving from the County Building on Ocean Street at 9am. The choice is yours ...

About Last Night

After years of struggling to keep the event afloat, organizers of FIRST NIGHT SANTA CRUZ have finally called it quits, citing a lack of funding and community involvement as the primary reasons. Predictable responses from organizers and city officials abound, but the news elicited a different sort of response from local underground community activist RICO THUNDER, who also helps organize the GUERRILLA DRIVE-IN events.

"When I heard that First Night had finally collapsed in on itself in a corpulent pile," says Thunder, "I thought, of course. Exactly."

Having just returned from BURNING MAN to "a shitload of overwhelming information about Katrina and New Orleans," Thunder was thoroughly disgusted with the federal government in particular, but also government in general.

"Our government cannot and will not keep us safe, happy and free," says Thunder. "I came back feeling like, What the fuck? These are the people we depend on to tell us what we can and can't do? Are we crazy? Our institutions can barely manage their own affairs."

Thunder insists he doesn't hate government officials, but he thinks they're "largely irrelevant in our lives.

"WE make this country. And WE make this city. And WE make our communities. Us. Not a bunch of elected yahoos. We are what make our communities connected and vital and full of life."

"This is our town, our celebration, our night," continues Thunder, "the last night of the year. And the last night that we'd make the mistake of depending on anyone else for our safety, our freedom, our entertainment, our education."

Now, Thunder and various members of the community are organizing LAST NIGHT SANTA CRUZ to fill the void--and they're inviting you and everyone you know to help.

Organizers are describing it as "a New Year's Eve parade of freaks, clowns, gamelan, politics, fire, samba drums, punks, pirates, art, bikes, hippies, art cars, zombies, marching bands, moms, dads, kids and music."

Already, various members of the community are chiming in on chat boards promising participation and support.

"I just think it's a great idea," says one supporter, "to show that you don't need a committee and multiple meetings and an approved budget to have fun on New Year's Eve--just get dressed up and take over. Sounds great to me."

For more information, visit www.lastnightdiy.org.

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From the September 21-28, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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