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John Sugg: An Honest Tampa Tribune? (5/4)

May 4, 2005
Weekly Planet

Al-Arian's attorneys say that would be a good idea
By John Sugg

Link: Click here

Tampa Tribune news boss Janet Weaver had to eat crow last week: A reporter had fantasized part of a story on towing companies. The scribe's head is now spiked as a warning to other Tribfolk.

Weaver, in a front page mea culpa, declared that her newspaper longs "to be truthful, to be fair, to be credible." Passing off fiction as fact is certainly untruthful. Carrying water for, say, a foreign government and its disinformation agents -- while claiming objectivity -- is likewise dishonest. So is not reporting all of the truth or distorting the truth.

Weaver and her predecessors have never told readers about reporter Michael Fechter's journalistically unholy alliance with another nation's spooks and professional liars -- including, as I've disclosed, that Israeli officials were broadcasting specifics of Fechter's reporting weeks before publication.

Nor did Weaver address the Trib's most enduring example of distortion, Fechter's coverage of Sami Al-Arian. If she had, she would have had to explain a motion filed for the Trib on April 20 by attorney Gregg Thomas. The newspaper has somehow overlooked reporting on its own legal foray.

The motion seeks access to juror questionnaires in the Al-Arian case. "The public perception of these defendants, indeed of entire ethnicities and religions, reflected in these responses, is of immense public importance," Thomas intoned.

Al-Arian's defense filed a motion for a change of venue on Friday. It argues that the media -- the Trib and Fechter most egregiously -- have poisoned public perceptions of Arabs, Muslims and Al-Arian, who along with three codefendants, is slated for trial later this month.

The prosecution would love nothing better than to seat a jury from among the 500 prospects mailed questionnaires. Despite response after response reflecting extraordinary prejudice against Arabs and Muslims, and an equally extraordinary ignorance of facts, the government will argue that jurors can be fair.

The change-of-venue motion states: "[T]he Tampa Tribune, has saturated the community to the extent it is impossible to sit a fair impartial jury in this case. At the forefront of the publicity is the notion that somehow the community ... was unsafe because of the presence of Sami Al-Arian."

Certainly, the content of the questionnaires is relevant to any coverage of the trial. But the Trib's coverage is itself likely to be brought up in court. Al-Arian's defense attorneys have asserted to me that Thomas' motion to gain access to the questionnaires was more about gaining intelligence for the paper's own damage control than about acquiring background for a news report.

"The Trib has a long history of trying to get Dr. Al-Arian," defense attorney Linda Moreno told me -- at a recent dinner where the Trib editor overseeing Al-Arian coverage was present. That editor, Tampa newcomer Howard Altman, wasn't amused that Moreno had invited me to join the dinner. He asked that his comments remain off the record, and I'll honor that. Moreno made no such request.

Moreno told me that when she asked Altman about his feelings on the Middle East, he responded that he was disturbed that "my people are occupiers." That objectivity is commendable, and Altman has a record for fairness (although I couldn't find anything significant by him on the Arab-Israeli dispute). However, with the Trib already accused of a stridently pro-Israeli bias, it's easy to understand Moreno's concern over Altman's personal identification with one side. Could one even imagine -- at the Trib or any major American news organization -- turning over supervision of Middle East coverage to a journalist who proclaimed that Palestinians were "my people"? (Altman, in a later conversation at the dinner, did not dispute Moreno's characterization of his remarks; his exact response was believable, passionate and eloquent, but off the record.)

According to Moreno, Altman asked to speak with her because the newspaper wanted to secure an interview with Al-Arian; the newspaper is planning a series on Al-Arian to be written by Fechter. But the interview ain't gonna happen. The defense won't talk to Fechter. And Al-Arian's team is wise to the Trib's disingenuous tactic of fielding other reporters to act as Fechter's go-between.

As The Miami Herald's senior writer, Martin Merzer, noted seven years ago, Fechter has routinely ignored "innocent" interpretations of events and consistently suggested "extremely dark forces were on the prowl in Tampa." When a federal immigration judge five years ago ruled that the feds had no case, and the government decided to drop the Al-Arian persecution (and released his brother-in-law, held for four years on "secret evidence"), Israel cranked up "intelligence" funneled through Fechter, and that led to the current case. Fechter also, according to producers for Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, slipped a highly one-sided account of Al-Arian to the network. That led to an O'Reilly ambush of Al-Arian, who had been enticed to the show to talk about Arab attitudes.

Fechter and his mentor, Israeli disinfo operative Steve Emerson (whose lies, deceptions, associates and funding have never been explored by the Trib), are glaringly obvious on where they side in the dispute.

The prosecutors, too. They want to eliminate all mention from the trial that Palestinians might have a grievance -- such as during 2004 Palestinian children were murdered at a rate 22 times greater than Israeli children, although media coverage, according to one study, rendered three times more space to the Israeli deaths.

Or: Israel recently honored nine of its agents who, in what is dubbed the Lavon Affair, in 1954 committed terrorist acts against American and British targets in Egypt - with the intent of blaming the atrocities on Arabs. By comparison, Al-Arian and the groups he is charged with supporting have never targeted American interests. You won't read about the Lavon Affair "honors" in the Trib (or the St. Petersburg Times for that matter).

I have long detailed Fechter's journalistic jihad. Just one example: When a Middle East newspaper retracted an entire story in the late '90s that had claimed one of Al-Arian's associates belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fechter went on citing the story as proof of the membership. When I asked Fechter why he quoted a story whose authors had admitted it was false, he said that they hadn't specified exactly which portions were untrue.

The venue motion refers to the origin of Fechter's reporting, his account right after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that maladroitly tried to link the incident to Al-Arian. The Trib has never corrected that awful falsehood.

Janet Weaver disputes the Al-Arian defense team notion that the paper sought the jury questionnaires for "damage control."

"We don't have any damage control we need to do," she said on Monday. But Weaver would not comment on questions about why the Trib's April 20 motion had not yet been reported, or on the Trib's past and future coverage of Al-Arian.

She should hire an independent ombudsman, or, even better, an Arab journalist to balance Fechter's coverage. But that's not likely to happen -- leaving Weaver with a big job restoring credibility to her newspaper.

For more on John Sugg's coverage of the Al-Arian case, see:
Group Senior Editor John Sugg can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Documents & Releases

Statement of Chairs of American Muslim Task-Force on Civil Rights and Elections  (AMT) and  Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Howard Zinn Statement on Professor Al-Arian



March 2000

December 2005alarian.jpg

January 2009

To be patriotic is to be able to question government policy in times of crisis.
To be patriotic is to stand up for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in times of uncertainty and insecurity.
To be patriotic is to  speak up against the powerful in defense of the weak and the voiceless.
To be patriotic is to be willing to pay the price to preserve our freedoms, dignity, and rights.
To be patriotic is to
challenge the abuses of the PATRIOT Act.
From a speech by Dr. Al-Arian


UFF Summary: Al-Arian and USF


Announcement of Book: The Al-Arian Reader

A new compilation of all relevant articles to be released soon by the National Liberty Fund

Selected Poems
by Sami Al-Arian

We Shall Rise

To Maya Angelou
Like the dream of the slave
You rise
And with the scream of the brave
I shall rise
In honoring the memory of your ancestors
You rise
With my stateless brothers and sisters
I shall rise
Like dust in the sunlight
You rise
And as ashes in a fiery night
I shall rise
You offend
Because of your existence
And I
For my resistance
You upset them
Recalling their past
And I
By holding steadfast
They may trod you in dirt
May cause me all the hurt
Inflict upon you excruciating pain
While they shut me up and detain
By they won't see you broken
Neither would my faith be forsaken
As you've never bowed your head
And never lowered your eyes
I'll continue to raise my fist
And hide my mother's cries
They may shoot you with their words
Cut me up with their swords
They may insult you with their eyes
Denigrate me with their lies
Trying to kill you with their hate
Bury me alive to seal my fate
But they'd certainly
Be shamed and fail
As the free chant and sing
On their march to prevail
So keep your head held high
As I follow you and try
And keep your beautiful smile
As I walk my first mile
They'll pressure and blame
Throw us in prison to control and tame
They'll exile and defame
Lynch us all or shoot and maim
Burn crosses with no shame
Target our children in a dirty game
By why is that a surprise?
Despite their evil and terror
Their falsehood and lies
You shall rise
And I shall rise
You're the black ocean
Leaping and wide
I'm the Mediterranean
With a stormy tide
Staying together
Side by side
It's no surprise
We shall rise
Surely shall rise
We together shall rise
No Longer Afraid
For us to feel "secure"
What price is being paid?
If living in freedom
Why are we afraid?
Fear is everywhere
All around
Perhaps irrational
But without any bound
You can see it on our faces
Sense it in our eyes
You can hear it in our whispers
Feel it in our cries
More>>No Longer Afraid
The Bird and The Vulture
The bird was chirping
In a house on a tree
But the vulture was angry
Because it was free
When the bird is singing
The vulture ain't safe
More>>The Bird and The Vulture
The Smile of Freedom
He looked like
A body-builder
Tall, tough, and full
All muscles and no fat
His mind was simple
Suited to follow orders
No questions asked
Acting mean and mechanical
Like any bureaucrat
More>>The Smile ...
In the Name of Freedom
In the name of freedom
We shall rule the world
To spread democracy
And set you free
In the name of freedom
We’ll descend on you
To make you civilized
Modern and orderly
More>>In the Name ...
The Accused: Franz Kafka Meets George Orwell in 21st Century America
Act I: The Mother of all Evidence
Act II- Weapons of Mass Deception
Act III: Silencing of the Lambs
Act IV: Attacks of the Wolves
Act V: Occupied Territory
Act VI: Police State
Act VII: Official Obituary
Act VIII: A Close Encounter of the Scariest Kind
Act IX: The Inquisition
Act X- Conspiracy Theory
Act XI- Secret Trials
Act XII- Silent Pain and Teary Eyes
Act XIII- True Patriot Acts
Do Not Sign
Rights are not for sale
History is not kind
On those who sell their people out,
Betray their cause,
Surrender their land
To tow the line
Do not sign
More>>Do Not Sign
Rachel Corrie: Daughter of Palestine
The most gentle
Amongst all honorable
Had a spirit
As dazzling as
The garden of
More>>Daughter of Palestine
Ole Jerusalem
O Ole Jerusalem
I feel your pain
I hear your cries
The light thunder
In the darkness
And the heavy rain
I see the steady bleeding
Of your wound
With its mark and stain
More>>Ole Jerusalem
Patrick Henry
A revolutionary
At heart
A patriot
From the start
Loved by his country
To the core
Defended freedom
Even more
Hated arrogance
In shape and tone
Fought tyranny
With every bone
He was the conscience
Of his people
Striking fear in the enemy
And made it feeble
More>> Patrick Henry
An overwhelming feeling
Of bitterness
Of hatred and rage
Trapped in a cage
Disappointment and anger
Continuing to linger
Wounding of dignity
Violating your virginity
More>> Injustice
Political Riddles
He sees the world as black and white
His solution to every quandary is fight with might
The economy will not stimulate
Because he can’t articulate
While jobs are gone
He says, “bring ‘em on.”
Who is he?
He likes to be called the General
The head of an agency that’s federal
If you spit on the sidewalk
He’ll send the Incredible Hulk
He hates to cite truth or fact
Because he’s busy promoting his unpatriotic act
He frequents TV cameras with a smash
The first part of his last name sounds like trash
Who is he?
He is the ideal dutiful poodle they say
From an empire where the sun did not set one day
He adores his cowboy friend and considers him a fan
And insists: I’m nobody’s yes-man
When the cowboy says no, I say no
Who is he?
More>>Political Riddles