The wiretaps on Sami Al-Arian's telephones in Tampa picked up not just his terrorist chatter but everyone he spoke with, including reporters. For years, the local press divided on him, with the Tampa Tribune critical of him and the St. Petersburg Times very gentle on him.
Actually, we now learn, not just gentle but complicit. Fox News' O'Reilly Factor last night played back two parts of a conversation between Al-Arian and Jim Harper, a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times that took place on Nov. 2, 1995. (The transcript of the show is available online, as is a streaming video; but, relying on the original FBI transcript, I have made changes to the transcript and added to what was played back on television.) In the first clip, Harper brings to Al-Arian some useful news:
JIM HARPER: You probably read … in the Tribune that a former state senator thinks you ought to be fired and so on and so forth.
SAMI AL-ARIAN: Is that what she said?
AL-ARIAN: Who's she?
AL-ARIAN: Who is she?
HARPER: She's just—she doesn't hold any office now but she's I think considered a leader in the local Jewish community.
AL-ARIAN: Oh, she's Jewish, huh?
HARPER: Yes, Helen Gordon Davis.
In the second, Harper advises Al-Arian how to deal with the rival Tampa Tribune:
HARPER: I think you should confront the Tribune directly.
HARPER: And ah, ah I think that every error that they make I think that you should at the least, ah, write them a letter.
HARPER: And point it out.
HARPER: Ah you know, even if you're not gonna do any other action. You know, file any suits or anything …
HARPER: Ah, just so, just on general principles … but also to preserve your legal rights, in case you do decide you want to file, you know. Suppose they do something else?
HARPER: Later on.
HARPER: That's not the truth. You can show that you have a record of making complaints …
HARPER: And you'll have a record of how they responded.
HARPER: And ah.
AL-ARIAN: Good point.
HARPER: You know, I mean, actually … I'm giving you advice as a journalist. … That's how you build a record against somebody that's treating you unfairly.
HARPER: I'll give you that advice 'cause I don't [laughs] plan to treat you unfairly.
The conversation ends on a touching note.
HARPER: Well, I feel like you and I are getting to know each other pretty well.
AL-ARIAN: Yes. Well, ah … I don't regret that.
HARPER: I don't either.
AL-ARIAN: Very well, thank you.
HARPER: I don't either. Thank you for calling me.
AL-ARIAN: Very well.
AL-ARIAN: Bye bye.
O'Reilly reports that Harper no longer works at the St. Petersburg Times and no one there will say what has become of him – "He just kind of vanished." Steven Emerson, discussing this topic with O'Reilly, points out that Harper "not only bought into Al-Arian's denials that he was a terrorist, but he actually started coaching him. … This was a wholesale bias that was deliberately perpetrated by the St. Petersburg Times for years."
Comment: It would surprise me to learn that Jim Harper and the St. Petersburg Times are the only media guilty of siding with accused terrorists. More than a few other reporters and newspapers come to mind. (Hint: Look for the reporters who win awards from pro-terrorist organizations.) Sadly, their conversations may not make it to prime-time television. (August 23, 2005)
Sep. 1, 2005 update: A reader points out that Harper has not vanished:
This reference to the obscurity of Jim Harper's present whereabouts is rather curious in light of an article in the St. Petersburgh Times on August 12, 2005, "Al-Arian's talks with reporter examined." It quotes him: "that night [Oct. 30, 1995] when I called Sami, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that there really was something to what the stories said." The same article goes on to say that Harper is "now a writer in Tampa."
Jan. 21, 2011 update: I suspected above that other MSM reporters to likewise but lacked proof. Here's one small instance, an exchange between a Washington Examiner staff writer and the outreach director at Dar al-Hijrah mosque near Washington, D.C.
From: Leah Fabel <email@example.com>
Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director at Dar al-Hijrah mosque near Washington, D.C.
Date: Fri, Jan 21, 2011
Subject: Hello—and a question
To: Imam Johari <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Imam Johari,
Not sure you remember me — I featured you last year in a page I do at the Examiner, called Credo. I hope you're well, and that all is prospering at Dar al-Hijrah.
I cover Fairfax County now (in addition to doing the Credo pages), and I'm interested in looking into Muslim concerns in the community. I'd love to meet with you and get your take on recent concerns in the Dar al-Hijrah community, and/or community happenings.
Let me know — thanks very much,
Washington Examiner Staff Writer
1015 15th St. NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005
Fabel's reference is to "Credo: Imam Johari Abdul-Malik," published on Aug. 15, 2010. Abdul-Malik replied to her later in the day:
Let's get schedule a meeting. Maybe in two weeks.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik,
Comment: "I'm interested in looking into Muslim concerns in the community" is code for "Tell me what bothers you." The reporter, in other words, is looking for a Muslims-as-victims angle to write up.