Florida Reporter’s New Job Raises Questions About Past Articles

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By: E&P Staff

Michael Fechter, a reporter the Tampa Tribune, quit his job Monday to do writing and editing work focusing on Islamic extremeists for Steven Emerson, director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, according to the newspaper. Now critics are claiming that Fechter’s work at the paper was tainted by his relationship to Emerson and his project.

Fechter has for a decade claimed in his writing for the newspaper that Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor, was linked to the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad. He never named Emerson as a source of the information, but Emerson used the information from Fechter’s articles in his own writing about the subject.

“We always had suspicions that Fechter was virtually an agent for Emerson, ” Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was quoted as saying. “Now we know that their relationship was close enough for Emerson to hire Fechter and for Fechter to take the job. So much for objective reporting.”

Fechter was quoted as denying that he was influenced by Emerson. “My work on Al-Arian was 99 percent driven by documents, not Emerson, ” he is quoted as saying by the paper. “The documents showed Al-Arian had links to a terrorist group and lied about it. Maybe there was no violent, criminal activity there, but the connection was real.”

Al-Arian was acquitted in 2006 of eight counts of links to terrorism, while a jury remained deadlocked on nine others. The professor pleaded guilty to a charge of providing nonviolent aid to Islamic Jihad’s associates.

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