Feb 2 1999

Extra!’s Report on Steven Emerson:

Setting the Record Straight

The Journal of Counterterrorism and Security International–a publication that features the work of freelance journalist Steven Emerson–released a press release responding to the magazine Extra!, which ran an article critical of Emerson’s reporting. The press release features the same kind of inaccurate and reckless charges that Extra! said were characteristic of Emerson’s work.

Extra! is the magazine of the media watch group FAIR. The article, which appears in the magazine’s January/February 1999 issue, was written by John Sugg, senior editor of the Tampa newspaper The Weekly Planet.

The Journal‘s press release asserts that it has “uncovered evidence that Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) together with Tampa Weekly Planet editor John Sugg and a radical Islamic group called the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have collectively fabricated evidence in manufacturing a conspiracy against investigative journalist and terrorism expert Steven Emerson.”

In fact, CAIR independently issued a press release on the Extra! article after it appeared. The group had no role in the article’s assignment, writing or editing. What the Journal refers to as a conspiracy, most people would call a writer producing an article for a magazine.

The press release describes FAIR as “an ultra-left wing group that has defended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, supported Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorists, and even promoted a known anti-Semite.” Here the Journal seems to share Emerson’s chronic inability to differentiate between criticism of U.S. policies and endorsement of the targets of those policies. FAIR, of course, has never defended the actions of Saddam Hussein or supported terrorism of any kind. As for the “known anti-Semite,” FAIR (whose founder and executive director is Jeff Cohen) has no idea whom the Journal is talking about.

The press release stated that Sugg “falsely attributed quotes to people who never spoke to him”–making reference to Michael Wildes, an attorney for a Pakistani immigrant whose dubious claims Emerson reportedly helped promote. In fact, Sugg’s phone records show that he interviewed Wildes for 17.3 minutes on October 31, 1998. Wildes’ comments were recorded in contemporaneous notes made by Sugg.

The press release accuses Sugg of having “twisted the comments of the sources he claims to have interviewed”–then cites sources who were quoted accurately and in context. For example, the Journal refers to “former Senate Terrorism Subcommittee staffer Jim Savage who Sugg reported as being critical of Emerson.” In fact, the story accurately quoted Savage as defending Emerson.

The release also cites a retired FBI official, Bob Blitzer, who does not challenge either speaking to Sugg or the accuracy of the quote attributed to him. While he endorses Emerson in the Journal‘s release, in his interview with Sugg he was dismissive of Emerson’s information.

The press release dwells at length on a controversy over documents that Emerson provided to the Associated Press. The Journal complains:

Mr. Sugg wrote that “[AP executive editor] Bill Ahearn does not dispute that the incident happened but refuses to comment or to release documents because the episode was deemed an ‘internal matter.'” But in fact, Mr. Ahearn declined to make any comment to Mr. Sugg, which Mr. Sugg represented as confirming Mr. Sugg’s allegations.

Actually, Extra!‘s statement was straightforward and accurate: The AP editor had no comment on an incident that he considered an internal matter.

The Journal‘s press release accused Sugg’s Weekly Planet of failing to report that Emerson had received a death threat–a story Sugg reported on June 25, 1998. It also cites two minor errors–one from The Weekly Planet, one originally from Extra!–that appeared years ago and have long since been corrected. FAIR hopes that the Journal will demonstrate editorial responsibility by retracting its own errors.