Syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer is a sorry reminder that when shoddy journalists are given a pass by lax editors, they go on and on producing error-filled commentary. Geyer writes often, even obsessively, about Israel and its supporters, and her columns are frequently marred by factual gaffes, distortion and at times reckless reliance on bogus sources.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has attracted particular outbursts of witless criticism. In caricature-like accusations, Geyer blames Sharon not only for the absence of peace in the Middle East, but also for being a war-monger, along with other “zealots” and “crazies” driving the American president to move against Iraq. She rails against Sharon for supposedly “every day” committing “some new horror, all in the name of the America that provides all of his busy bulldozers, tanks and planes,” and she laments that Bush likes the Israeli leader despite his alleged “shadowy past.”
Geyer's recklessness in repeating anything against Sharon, however ludicrous and extreme, has at times gotten her in some trouble.
In May, a column appearing in the Chicago Tribune and numerous other newspapers averred that, demonstrating unbridled arrogance, Sharon had declared in a cabinet meeting: “I control America.” Challenged by readers — not editors — to provide a source for the outlandish claim which had not appeared in any mainstream media, Geyer first cited a press release by the pro-Hamas Islamic Association of Palestine (a “release” that had been circulating on anti-Semitic Web sites). Then, urged to provide something more credible, she insisted that “foreign diplomats in Israel” had told her “they'd read it in Ha'aretz.” But she could not produce the Ha'aretz story.
Geyer had bought into a hoax. Sharon never said such a thing, and the columnist had no evidence whatsoever that he had. Pressed hard on this obvious malfeasance, Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Geyer's columns, could only bring itself to issue a misleading “editor's note.” The note did not repudiate the false, incendiary assertion but merely expressed “regret¿ at “not having attributed the quote more specifically” — as though the statement might actually have been made.
Moreover, the same column that cited the bogus Sharon statement contained another phony claim — that “pro-Israeli ads” on television assert “Arabs are all dogs.” Asked for a source, here too, Geyer could not identify even one such ad. In fact, there were “pro-Israel ads” airing at this time presenting Israel as a democracy and as a willing partner for peace, but none offered the slightest suggestion that “Arabs are all dogs.” Yet her editors refused to correct this deception, accepting her explanation that readers would understand she only intended to convey her “interpretation” of the supposed ads.
The travesty of true accountability entailed in this process obviously encourages continuing slipshod commentary. An October 31 column by Geyer (“Israel-Palestine Conflict Is Key to All Else”) is again full of unsupported statements, alleging directly and indirectly that Israel is thwarting any chance for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Geyer declares that “polls and surveys constantly show that the Israeli people and the Palestinian people want peace.” She cites specific data about Israeli sentiment underscoring public willingness to hold peace talks and make compromises. But she omits Palestinian polls of Palestinian attitudes. Why? These opinion surveys indicate that 64.3% of the Palestinian public favor continued suicide bombing against Israeli civilians (Jerusalem Media and Communication Center September 21- 25, 2002). Geyer's column is a slam at Israel for blocking achievement of a peaceful two-state solution. If Palestinians by a wide margin favor mass murder of Israeli non-combatants, even this partisan writer has a logical problem scapegoating Sharon and Israeli “settlers” as the sole cause of the conflict. So she simply omits the data and reverses their message.
An excerpt from Geyer's book, The New 100 Years War, may convey some of the problems in her grasp of Middle East complexities. She writes of a meeting in the 1970s that she and a colleague had with arch-terrorist Abu Nidal. The colleague responds to a gruff statement by Nidal with a reference, evidently a wry one, to Issam Sartawi, well-known as a moderate Palestinian (later to be assassinated by Palestinians). But Geyer took the comment to mean Nidal's actual name was Issam Sartawi and went on to refer to him as such later in the book. Such an astonishing blunder is of a piece with the foolishness Geyer has continued to proffer for decades.
UP Syndicate editor Lee Salem and editors in the newspapers that run her columns, including the Chicago Tribune, Columbus Dispatch, San Diego Union-Tribune, Sarasota Herald-Tribune and others, have a responsibility to reject misrepresentations, ignorance and bias of the type purveyed by Geyer and to reserve their op-ed pages for serious columnists.
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on November 19, 2002