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

By Eric Boehlert

Published January 25, 2002 8:30PM (EST)

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I will not rehash the facts at issue in "The Prime-time Smearing of Sami Al-Arian." Let Eric Boehlert and Creative Loafing's John Sugg spin all they may -- critical readers of this piece will see the bottom line. The Tampa Tribune has long stood by its reporting. And I, as a longtime editor of reporter Michael Fechter (from 1992 to 1997), stand by his exceptional investigative work.

I take great offense at Eric Boehlert's personal attack on Fechter. He writes that Fechter "seemed an odd choice" to examine the troubling issues first raised by Steve Emerson in 1995. Why odd? He was the beat reporter for the University of South Florida, where Al-Arian worked at the time. What's more, Fechter, from the standpoint of journalistic skills, was the natural choice -- he's an insanely smart and persistent digger who can keep his eye on the ball even while being pummeled by the likes of Boehlert and Sugg.

As has been so often the case in this story, those accusing Fechter of bias and ethical lapses should look in the mirror first. It would appear Sugg has once again shopped around his take on the Al-Arian saga and found a taker in Boehlert. Did these two exchange notes and phone calls as professional courtesies? Of course. But was this disclosed to Salon readers? No.

-- Carole Tarrant, managing editor, the (Fargo, N.D.) Forum

Eric Boehlert replies:

Carole Tarrant may want to go back and reread my piece. I wrote that Michael Fechter was "an odd choice" to write about the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1994, in which Fechter erroneously suggested it was likely the work of Muslim terrorists, and I stated the obvious reasons why; at the time he was a county reporter with no previous experience covering terrorism, politics or immigration for the Tampa Tribune.

As for John Sugg, Tarrant sees conspiratorial ties where there are none. Sugg did not "shop around his take on Al-Arian" and find me as a taker. I called Sugg at the suggestion of a professor at the University of South Florida. It's called reporting. Nothing more, nothing less.

-- Eric Boehlert

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