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22 May 1998

Our current howler: Character analyst, heal thyself!

Synopsis: Georgie Anne Geyer is an expert on Bill Clinton's character. She might want to work on her own.

Character key for presidential act
Georgie Anne Geyer, The Washington Times, 5/21/98

Our vaunted analysts were heading out for a weekend at the nation's far-flung graduation events-saluting the youngsters who had studied long and hard to master their complex disciplines. But, even as the halls of DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters rang out with their lusty shouts of departure, a team of analysts from our China bureau rushed in with a startling report.

They had flagged this Georgie Anne Geyer op-ed piece, concerning the recent China flap. And, though we ourselves were hurrying off to salute some new scholars, we thought we'd stop to report to you on the contents of Geyer's column.

Geyer starts with a rumination on the meaning of character in the aftermath of the death of Frank Sinatra. Refreshingly, Geyer presents some thoughts from philosophy of art, a discipline not sampled nearly often enough on the nation's op-ed pages:

GEYER: Is it important that a truly great artist be a man or woman of character?...I believe character is relatively non-essential for artists, except as it affects the public acceptance of their work.

Interesting. But of course, any time the word "character" comes up with this press corps, Bill Clinton knows he'd better start checking his wallet. And sure enough, Geyer quickly switched her gears, and began musing on his character, too!

GEYER: Having said that, isn't it disturbing that similar questions are again arising about the character of the president? Even more revelations came this week about Bill Clinton's give-and-take with the Chinese government and military.

The problem is, Geyer herself seems to be working more from revelation than from anything resembling established fact. Because the truth is, her nugget paragraph is about as full of groaners as a cheap three-dollar porn movie:

GEYER: These newest stories started with the recent congressional testimony of Chinese-American hustler Johnny Chung. First, he told how he had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Chinese military intelligence front to the White House. Then we learn that small act of generosity was rewarded by the president's acquiescing in giving China's military highest-level technology that would enable them to blind our spy satellites to their nuclear explosions.

In a rational world, Geyer's ignorance of even the simplest facts of this case would be little short of astounding. First, she believes that recent accounts of Chung's allegations come from some sort of congressional testimony. Chung, of course, refused to testify to Congress; the recent accounts of his allegations were leaked from a Justice Department probe. According to Geyer, Chung says he "funneled hundreds of thousands of the White House." In fact, Chung allegedly says he was given $300,000 by a Chinese source, of which he says he gave only $80,000 to the White House (to the DNC). This simple fact has been on the record since this story broke on May 15. Building on these factual howlers, Geyer turns next to pure speculation; she says "we (have) learn(ed)" that Clinton gave China military technology in return for this donation. But there is no evidence on the record that Clinton even knew the source of Chung's donation; the notion that we have "learned" of some sort of quid pro quo is a figment of Geyer's quite substantial imagination.

Geyer later goes on to tell us why India recently conducted nuclear testing, and to tell us that "big American the country out to any country, any leader, any military that has someone to carry the cash into the Oval Office." Amazing, isn't it-that someone who can enter the minds of corporate leaders and foreign politicians hasn't yet managed to find the time to read week-old copies of the New York Times? That a journalist would make sweeping judgments in a serious case where she doesn't seem to know the simplest facts?

It's interesting that Geyer's article is built around the issue of character, because while she philosophizes about the role of character in entertainment, and while she closes her piece with the standard slanders about President Clinton's "stunning lack of character," it never seems to occur to Geyer to think about the role of character in her own line of work! In particular, what does it reveal about Geyer's character that she draws sweeping, denunciatory, highly speculative conclusions in a matter where she appears to be ignorant of the most basic facts? What does it say about the character of editors who read columns like Geyer's-and then printthem!

People of character? We'd have thought they would want to be very well-informed indeed before making the judgments Geyer makes in her column-would be embarrassed to make sweeping judgments in a serious matter they didn't seem to have followed very closely at all.

As we headed off to a distant campus, we found ourselves wondering, almost aloud: would college students get credit for senior theses if they seemed unclear on the simplest facts? We doubt it. But then, they're not a part of what we dolove to call: "Life in this celebrity press corps."

NOTE: Upon our return, we vow to review the recent China missile writing, to see if Geyer's column is some sort of strange outlier. Could there be other articles like Geyer's floating around-articles whose authors seem confused about even the most basic facts?