"The Prime-time Smearing of Sami Al-Arian"

By Eric Boehlert

Published January 23, 2002 8:30PM (EST)

Read the story

The innocence or guilt of Dr. Al-Arian is kind of beside the issue.

What happened last September is that Bill O'Reilly on national television trampled all over the fellow like a bull elephant in rut (the transcript is available from Fox on the Web), and in December, six days before Christmas, the president of the University of South Florida successfully pleaded for the scientist's prompt dismissal basically on the ground that she didn't know how to handle the eruption of public anger that the O'Reilly interview provoked. Her remarkable address to the university trustees also is on the Web at usf.edu.

Self-admittedly incompetent president, craven, apparently ignorant and certainly recently appointed trustees ... a formula that made a bad USF decision almost certain.

The September O'Reilly transcript is a remarkable read ... this chubby journalist seems to think he's an FBI agent, and it's his job to dog Dr. Al-Arian's footsteps. A later transcript, also on the Fox Web site, has him expressing bewilderment that the September crucifixion on Fox could result in Al-Arian's dismissal.

The transcript doesn't tell whether anybody brought on camera a bowl of water in which O'Reilly could wash his hands as he spoke.

-- Paul Lynch

I found your piece on the journalistic sloppiness and bias in reporting and commenting on the case of Professor Al-Arian at the University of South Florida most interesting. Unfortunately, I believe that such sloppy and biased reporting is common in the news media. That Salon would select an instance involving a defender of a cause championed by the liberal media (the plight of the Palestinian people) is of course to be expected. Despite the biased and incompetent behavior of some reporters, the fact that Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, the former head of WISE, became the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, should raise a red flag to any objective party. This occurrence speaks volumes regarding the likely attitudes of those charged with running a supposedly objective academic institute. Whatever the true facts of the case are, I have to believe that now that Professor Al-Arian has been discharged, the University of South Florida will have a much better chance of benefiting from the presence of an objective and unbiased institute that is devoted to the study of Islam. Certainly it is a subject that the American people need to understand better.

-- John P. Kelly, MD

I wish I knew what to do with the disgust that an article like "The Prime-time Smearing of Sami Al-Arian" by Eric Boehlert has given me. It is hard for an average person to judge what news is believable. We put our trust and our faith in writers and editors to tell us the truth. The whole truth. As a liberal, I find myself in disagreement with conservative Fox News quite often, however, I would have never guessed the depth of their betrayal of the American people. That is what it is, after all, a betrayal of their viewers. I am as disturbed by the other media outlets that have destroyed Al-Arian's career, and life as well. I hope he is able to recover damages from these people who have dared to make such inflammatory and libelous comments without evidence. I would also hope that any jury would award staggering punitive damages.

-- Mark Rushing

Before the writer critiques the media's reportage of the "unfortunate" professor, he should be sure to get his facts right, so that he does not write misleadingly, whether he intends to or not. The writer defends the professor's raising funds for Hamas by writing: "Hamas, whose members have staged numerous terrorist attacks against Israel, has a political wing that distributes money to Palestinian widows and orphans of men killed in the conflict with Israel. It can certainly be argued that money raised for Hamas, regardless of its intentions, could end up supporting its terrorist activities. But it was only in 1996, after anti-terrorism legislation was passed, that it became a crime to send money to foreign groups classified by the State Department as terrorist organizations, such as Hamas." Does Boehlert really think one can distinguish between the dollars the professor raised for Hamas' suicide attacks and the dollars Hamas uses to support Palestinian widows and orphans of those suicide bombers? Hasn't he read how Hamas doles out charity in order to foster more terrorist activities from Palestinians? This article, with its apologia, is as irresponsible as the media outlets the writer intends to criticize.

-- Laura Hodes

In "The Prime-time Smearing of Sami Al-Arian," Eric Boehlert does an excellent job of revealing the storm of racist bias against people of Middle Eastern origin in the U.S. media.

As the bipolar flag-wavers in the talk show world lecture us about what "our founding fathers" fought for, I am recalling what the framers really stood shoulder-to-shoulder against. They were against the kind of denial of rights to which Professor Sami Al-Arian and his family have been subjected by the University of South Florida, by the media and by the U.S. "Justice" Department.

Freedom of speech includes speech about Israel!

-- Claiborne M. Clark

"Tampa Tribune columnist Daniel Ruth helped by painting a picture of an unrepentant professor still spouting hate when he recently wrote that Al-Arian made highly inflammatory, anti-Israel comments at a rally in 1998. Ruth was off by a decade: Al-Arian made the remarks, which he now says he regrets having made, as a 30-year-old in 1988, the year the intifada began."

This notorious fact that Al-Arian is (was?) given to vile ranting has been carefully hidden deep in Eric Boehlert's article. Whatever the inanity of firing Al-Arian now, there is another, deeply troubling question that goes unexplored: Why in the world did USF hire and then tenure a man who spouts hatred against any group? Is that considered a sign of intelligence and integrity in a faculty member there?

-- Michael Clark

Thank you for your balanced piece on Al-Arian. It was a neatly packaged bit of reporting that brought all the known facts to the fore, and showed how some questionable judgment has been turned into support of terrorism by a rabid media.

Especially interesting was to see the way the media food chain (from Bubba to "Dateline" to O'Reilly) are all guilty of essentially the same fear-mongering and unsubstantiated pillory. Thank you for putting it in perspective.

-- Al Rosenbaum

It would seem that the news media has launched a terrorist campaign of its own against an innocent man. Perhaps they should target the protesters of the Vietnam war next. What is equally disturbing is the university's flimsy defense, implying that most of the e-mail received was from "intelligent people." Inflammatory rhetoric by organizations such as Fox News appeals to the lowest common denominator of society, and an institute of higher learning should have recognized that in a heartbeat. There is a wave of subversion taking place in America against freedom of speech, and when universities start to play into the hands of sensationalism posing as journalism, it is time to worry.

-- Barron McConnachie

I find Eric Boehlert's writing ability to be superb, as I found his article to be equally informative. But the article left me with two questions: Whose side is this guy on and will he talk with Bubba live, on the air? I think I already know the answer to both of these questions, as anyone would that read his article. Move away from your left-wing beliefs, Eric, and talk with Bubba on the radio.

-- Dalton Johnson

Eric Boehlert's article on the mainstream media's lynching of Sami Al-Arian was brilliant, focused, clear and informative -- a feat that the "heavies" of the media world bungled horribly.

I thank Mr. Boehlert and Salon.com for bringing such a well-informed and well-researched article into existence. If only we could count on major news organizations to do the same.

-- Brad Paul

Since when does a professor have to be guilty of a felony before being fired from a university? Al-Arian may not have had direct links to terrorists, but he made hateful and incendiary speeches about Jews and Israelis. He has yet to distance himself from such comments, despite being afforded an opportunity to do so on O'Reilly's program. Professors making similar statements targeted at other minorities would be gone before the day was out, and rightly so. As such, I'm puzzled as to why Al-Arian's "plight" deserves multiple feature-length columns on your site. Arab-Americans have certainly faced heightened discrimination since Sept. 11; please focus on those cases -- his does not qualify.

-- Gabor Halasz

Eric Boehlert is one of the few journalists left in the U.S. who approaches any issue regarding the Middle East with professionalism and integrity. His story regarding the prime-time smearing of Sami Al-Arian demonstrates his willingness to investigate stories that others are too cowardly or self-satisfied in their ignorance to pursue. I have consistently cited Boehlert's stories in courses I have taught at my university and urged my students to read Salon.com as a result of Mr. Boehlert's reporting. Indeed, without Mr. Boehlert, I would never have discovered Salon.com or read it. I trust that you appreciate Mr. Boehlert's skill as a reporter and the fact that you are lucky enough to have someone who does not abandon minimal journalistic ethics and standards when it comes to the Middle East. Too many reporters and editors in the U.S. do.

-- Deborah A. Gordon

Kudos to Salon and Eric Boehlert for exposing the devious role played by Steven Emerson and his associates in their smear campaign against a tenured professor. Emerson has long been tied to Yigal Carmon and others representing the most extreme right wing in Israel. While entitled to their views, they are not entitled to undermine freedom of speech or launch media lynchings that undermine the rights and freedoms of all Americans. Internet publications like Salon.com with their impartial and critical reporting have emerged as a new salutary force defending our constitutional rights and expectations of fairness and accuracy in the media.

-- Mujeeb R. Khan

I believe it is appalling to have this gentleman judged in such an unjustified manner.

If we cannot have conversations of diverse views on our campuses then we are clearly headed down the same path as the Taliban.

I do not know this gentleman, but he has clearly been targeted for lack of any real and threatening persona. He is entitled to his personal views as long as they are not followed by violence. We need to hear all views in this country in order to make rational decisions.

Please fight this unjust firing and allow our students to begin to learn to think for themselves again by hearing diverse views within our Universities.

I am appalled by this story and the one that appeared earlier.

-- Connie J. Devine

By Salon Staff

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