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Journalists as Polemicists: A Case Study



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Juan Cole, the historian turned self-parody at the University of Michigan, continues to beat the drums about the Gaza flotilla. But let’s consider Cole’s sources: Cole writes, for example, “Paul McGeough, one of our great war reporters and investigative journalists, has constructed one of the first rounded accounts of the boarding of the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandos and the way it turned into a game of shooting fish in a barrel.”

I met McGeough, among other journalists, in Australia. He emulates Robert Fisk, but does a rather bad job of it, and is a laughingstock among his colleagues. McGeough was on one of the Gaza boats. Let’s fact-check him:

McGeough: “The Israeli attack was timed for dawn prayers”
Reality: The raid began 15 minutes after prayers concluded (according to the Turkish Islamist newspaper Zaman).

McGeough: “Pacing the Mavi Marmara at a steady eight knots and just 150 metres to its port side, photographer Kate Geraghty and I were aboard the 25-metre Challenger I…
Reality: From 450 feet away in the dark, we saw nothing and our description is worthless, but we will continue to relate the tales of others as if we are giving our own first-person account.

McGeough: “They [i.e. Israeli soldiers] hunted like hyenas…”
Reality: Bias anyone?

McGeough: In the Columbia Journalism Review, McGeough wrote: “Hamas has not stood by its charter for the best part of the last ten years. Hamas has recognized the Oslo peace process.…It has de facto recognized the two-state solution by seeking to be elected as the government of the Palestinian Authority.”
Reality: This is untrue

McGeough: “In 1967, the Israelis could have negotiated with King Hussein of Jordan in the aftermath of the Six-Day War; they chose not to. Because they choose not to, Yasser Arafat and the Fatah movement and the PLO all got a huge head of steam [built] up. And because they weren’t negotiated with in a way that gave Palestinians an identifiable outcome, they fell by the way.”
Reality: Jordan, as part of the Arab League, voted in September that year against peace, negotiations or recognition of Israel. Anwar Sadat invited Yasser Arafat to the Camp David talks, but Arafat refused.

McGeough: In 2009, McGeough published Kill Khalid, a book about the 1997 Israeli assassination attempt on Hamas head Khalid Mishaal.
Reality: The first 126 pages make no mention of Hamas terrorist attacks, and the topic is only covered in passing subsequently.

McGeough: McGeough called his deportation from Israel “a total disrespect of the fundamentals of democracy, of the fundamentals of the rights of journalists under the Geneva Conventions.”
Reality: Nowhere in the Geneva Conventions are journalists granted immunity from a blockade, and in deporting McGeough Israel acted entirely in accordance with international law, which calls for the repatriation of blockade-runners.

Uncritical approach to sourcing is a main reason why Yale and Duke Universities found Cole’s work lacking when Cole was seeking to move on from Michigan. And there is a reason why many serious newspapers won’t go near McGeough.



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