Steven Emerson and the NPR blacklist
by Jeff Jacoby
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NO LONGER is Steven Emerson a prophet without honor in his own land. For years he warned of the threat Americans faced from radical Islamist terrorism, and for years his reward was to be snubbed, shunned, and slandered as an "Islamophobe" and a bigot. But on Sept. 11, his dire forebodings came horribly true and his phone has been ringing off the hook ever since.
The staff at The Investigative Project in Washington -- Emerson's intelligence and data-gathering center on militant Islamic activities, the world's largest -- has logged hundreds of calls from journalists seeking information about extremist groups or insight into the latest developments in the war against terrorism. From the New York Post to the Chicago Tribune to The Los Angeles Times, newspapers nationwide have quoted him. So have foreign papers, such as Toronto's Globe and Mail and The Jerusalem Post.
Television has come calling, too. CBS's "48 Hours" aired a story on Emerson's success in exposing radical Islamic operatives in the United States. He has been interviewed by German, French, and British television. NBC hired him as a terrorism analyst, and has featured him on "Today," "Dateline NBC," and Chris Matthews's "Hardball."
And as if that weren't enough, Emerson has just published a new book. American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us (Free Press) is the indispensable guide to American Muslim extremists and their ties to international terrorism, and its extraordinary timeliness will only increase the attention its author is drawing.
Emerson wasn't exactly unknown before Sept. 11. In 1994, he produced "Jihad in America," a shocking documentary that won a sheaf of prestigious awards. He testified before Congress at least a dozen times. His essays were published on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Clearly, though, there has been a quantum leap of media interest in his work. Emerson is now routinely described as the nation's foremost expert on Islamist terrorism, and no serious news organization would think of ignoring his views. Except National Public Radio.
NPR blacklisted Emerson in 1998, bowing to a pressure campaign by Muslim extremists who falsely libeled him as an anti-Muslim bigot. It was an outrageous charge: Not only is it simply untrue, but Emerson always emphasizes that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding. Nevertheless, NPR officials -- including its national news editor -- explicitly vowed to keep him off the air. "You have my promise he won't be used again," producer Ellen Silva wrote to Ali Abunimah of the American Arab Action Network. "It is NPR policy."
After I exposed this disgraceful blacklist in a column, NPR's vice president flatly denied it. "There never was and never will be a policy of banning or blacklisting at NPR," wrote Jeffrey Dvorkin. "Mr. Emerson is not 'banned' and in fact we anticipate that he will be on NPR again at an appropriate time." That was 3-1/2 years ago. Emerson's voice has not been heard on NPR since.
Asked this week about the continuing refusal to speak to Emerson, spokesman Bruce Drake would only repeat that NPR "does not have a policy of blacklisting anybody."
That a network subsidized with tax dollars refuses to let its listeners hear from someone of Emerson's caliber and expertise is appalling. That it does so in deference to an ugly smear campaign is shameful. But the real scandal is what the blacklisting of Emerson is a symptom of: NPR's unwillingness to report accurately on the danger posed by Islamist fanaticism.
"NPR has consistently suppressed news stories about militant Islamic groups in the United States operating under false cover," says Emerson, who examined the network's coverage after it declared him persona non grata. "It has allowed radical Muslim 'leaders' to have their say, while ignoring the same leaders' statements and activities in support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad." He documented the charge in a detailed 1999 analysis for the Journal of Counterterrorism. Other critics have reached a similar conclusion.
Fortunately, Emerson is now being heard loud and clear -- despite NPR. "Since Sept. 11, 2001, everything has changed -- and yet nothing has changed," he warns. "The only difference is that there are 3,500 more people dead. We are still vulnerable. We have only a short time to prevent the next chapter from unfolding. This is the most important battle of our time."
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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