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Egg-on-the-Face Segment: O'Reilly Unable to Explain Away Al-Arian Acquittal

Reported by Marie Therese - December 8, 2005

The prosecution of Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian has been a cause celebre at FOX News, pushed most heavily by Bill O'Reilly who has frequently taken credit for exposing Al-Arian's alleged treason. [cf. O'Reilly's first interview with Al-Arian]

Since the trial got underway in June 2005, O'Reilly has repeatedly excoriated the St. Petersburg Times because, in his opinion, they are "in the tank for this guy ... [he] was protected by that paper. ... they've been sympathetic to him from day one."

O'Reilly's long-time partner in his campaign against Al-Arian has been Steve Emerson, a self-described expert on domestic terrorism, who stated on June 5, 2005 during a segment of At Large with Geraldo Rivera:

"It was clear he [Al-Arian] was more than a fellow traveler. He was actually one of the leaders of the Palestine Islamic Jihad. He was receiving communiques informing him of suicide bombings. He was actually managing the go - the organization's financing, even arranging loans from Iran. He was also involved in writing the constitution and the charter of the Palestine Islamic Jihad. He WAS the Palestine Islamic Jihad terrorist group."

During that same segment, Al-Arian's attorney, William Moffitt, was supposed to comment by phone but Steve Emerson would not allow him a chance to speak, because he was fixated on making it appear that Moffitt was being paid by nefarious, shadowy people who hate America.

After months of testimony the defense did not call any witnesses, believing correctly that the government had not made its case.

O'Reilly and Emerson got a big black eye when the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty on the most serious of the charges. They were unable to reach a verdict on the lesser charges. It is still unclear whether or not the prosecution will re-try the case.

This was a test case for the Patriot Act and it would seem that an ordinary American jury has decided that there was not enough evidence in the morass of circumstantial evidence and emotional testimony to justify sending a man to jail for years.

One of Bill O'Reilly's guests last night was Stephen Flatow, who lost his 20-year-old daughter to a Palestinian suicide bomber ten years ago. Since then, Flatow has been actively working to convict Al-Arian of complicity in his daughter's death. He was called as one of many witnesses for the prosecution who testified during the recently concluded trial. Last night it was clear from his demeanor that Mr. Flatow is angry about the verdict and still in great pain over the loss of his daughter.

Despite his grief, I felt that Mr. Flatow went too far when he accused the left of being "very twisted"

Here's my transcript of that portion of the interview.

O'REILLY: Do you believe that the government botched the case by making it too long and too complicated?

[COMMENT: Apparently that is exactly what confounded the jurors. cf. Case too complex to get a conviction]

FLATOW: I don't think they - they botched the case. I think it was a difficult prosecution to begin with. You have to remember that most of the evidence was already ten years old. I was upset that in the previous Clinton administration nothing had been done against Al-Arian in the five years after they seized his information and they just had a rough - a rough case to try.

O'REILLY: OK. Now, in the Talking Points Memo I pointed out this so-called journalist for Rolling Stone*, you know - and he's not alone. If you go to the far-left websites you see almost a celebration that Al-Arian was acquitted. Now the mainstream press has stayed away from that - even the St. Petersburg Times, which initially was sympathetic to him, called him a "hater" today. I think the mainstream press is afraid. But the fringe far-left is, I think, rooting for the terrorists. Do you get that impression?

[COMMENT: I can't seem to find the word "hater" in either of the December 7th online articles on this topic from the SPT website. If anyone else finds it, please let me know.]

FLATOW: I'm never surprised as to who comes out on the side of terrorists. Look, we have major American church organizations - they're in the Middle East right now coddling Hezbollah, trying to coddle the Iraqis who are wiling to kill themselves to kill Americans or to kill other Iraqis. There's just something very twisted on the left side of the spectrum and I can't put my finger on it.

O'REILLY: Have you ever engaged these people in conversation because you have lost a daughter? I mean, this girl was 20 years old, innocent, wrong place, wrong time and she's dead. And, as you said, there are people who make excuses for this kind of suicide bombing all day long and they're not only Muslims. I mean there are Americans who make excuses for this kind of stuff. Have you ever engaged them in conversation? Told them exactly ...

FLATOW: We've tried. We've tried. As far as you can get, however, is: We condemn terrorism. But will they condemn Hamas? Will they condemn Islamic Jihad? Will they condemn Hezbollah? No, they will not go that far. And in my book if you can't go that far, then there's nothing else to talk about.

O'REILLY: Sami Al-Arian. He may be watching right now. What do you want to say to him?

FLATOW: Sami, we're gonna get you. We're thinking right now of bringing a civil suit against you. We're looking at applicable American law that will allow us to do that and I don't want you to have a peaceful night's sleep.

O'REILLY: So you really believe that this guy is an evil guy?

FLATOW: He didn't pull the plunger but he allowed others to do so. [End of excerpt.]


* Eric Boehlert, whose article is linked above - see paragraph six, the word "verdict"

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