Steven Emerson’s Disturbing Track Record

In his latest anti-CAIR attack, Steven Emerson once again unleashes one of his trademark tirades designed to stifle free and open debate ( The New Republic Online, 03/28/2008). This time, his wrath is focused against The New York Times. Its crime? Offering two sides of the story in its recent coverage of the “mounting criticism” against the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, CAIR.

Emerson conveniently fails to disclose to his readers that the relentless source of this “mounting criticism” is non-other than Emerson himself and his merry band of collaborators. But like all professional propagandists, Emerson aspires to be detective, prosecutor, judge, and jury.

It should come as no surprise that Emerson bears a severe aversion to common standards of professional journalism like those displayed by Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times. After all, Emerson is not a professional journalist but an agenda-driven demagogue on a mission. Masquerading as an Islam/terrorism expert, his apparent lifelong goal is to banish Muslim Americans from American civil life. He recently went after the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC); now it is CAIR. Going many years back, his track record is fraught with well-documented anti-Muslim bias.

Unlike neutral journalists, he is not remotely concerned with facts; rather, he prefers proselytizing his narrow agenda wherever and whenever it is feasible to do so. His modus operandi is not to inform, but to brainwash.

Free speech and open debate provide the most serious obstacles to professional propagandists. It is then no wonder then that Emerson balks at the notion that there are two sides to a story; the only noteworthy side, in his view, is his own.

For the Emersons of this world, suspicion raised against Muslims and their organizations is synonymous with a guilty conviction; demonstrating actual wrongdoing is unnecessary overhead. “More than one [government official in Washington] described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association,” reports MacFarquhar in the said New York Times piece to the obvious chagrin of Emerson who, dismayed with the message, turns his wrath on the messenger.

“Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares,” said Michael Rolince, a retired F.B.I. counterterrorism official. ( The New York Times, March 14, 2007)

In Emerson’s prejudiced world view, anti-Muslim smear campaigns should not be up for scrutiny, they should simply be furthered along by mainstream newspapers like the compliant propaganda outlets he wishes them to be. (I presume Emerson highly approves of The Washington Times)

It is an unfortunate consequence of post 9/11 life in America, where fear-mongering is a reality, that notorious career Islamophobes, such as this individual, are subjected to little scrutiny and virtually no credibility tests – even as mainstream Muslim leaders with established track records are readily second-guessed.

The irony is that while many of the Muslim organizations that evoke the wrath of henchmen like Emerson offer total transparency, the henchmen themselves flourish in relative obscurity, refusing to publicize their sources of funding and the nature of their operations.

Emerson may counter in typical fashion that CAIR is deflecting accusations by raising concerns about their sources. Not true: CAIR has directly addressed the preposterous accusations in an extensive response document available online at; Emerson will have to try harder to duck the credibility question which is quite a relevant question for concerned Americans to be asking:

Can Steven Emerson and his ilk be trusted as credible sources of information on Islam and Muslims? Who is Steven Emerson?

A self-anointed “terrorism expert” whose rhetoric is characterized by charged terminology and a dislike for open debate, Emerson harbors a longstanding track record of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry.

In March of 1995, Emerson told The Jewish Monthly, "nearly all (emphasis added) of the Islamic organizations in the United States that define themselves as religiously or culturally Muslim in character have, today, been totally captured or dominated by radical fundamentalist elements…"

Ironically, it took Emerson no more than a few days to demonstrate to the world why his credibility and integrity as an “observer of trends” should never be taken for granted –” especially when they relate to Muslims.

In April of 1995, Emerson confidently asserted on a live broadcast of CBS News that the Oklahoma City bombing –” then breaking news –” showed "a Middle Eastern trait" because it was carried out "with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible."

"Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East," Emerson explained with an enthusiasm bordering on elation.

While Emerson preoccupied himself with indulging his knack for conjecture, real detectives worked calmly and professionally to reveal that, contrary to Emerson’s “expert perceptions”, Timothy McVeigh and company were behind the bombings. Emerson’s incompetence was duly exposed; CBS decided not to renew his contract and blacklisted him for five years.

Then again, Emerson’s aversion to facts and affinity for bias are not breaking news.

A New York Times review of Emerson’s 1991 book Terrorist said the book was "marred by factual errors . . . and by a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias."

His 1994 controversial film Jihad in America caused veteran reporter Robert Friedman to accuse Emerson of “creating mass hysteria against American Arabs” ( The Nation, 5/15/95).

John F. Sugg, then of the Tampa Bay Weekly Planet, revealed in a 1999 article that Emerson’s priority is "not so much news as it is an unrelenting attack against Arabs and Muslims."

"He’s made his life’s work discrediting Arab American and Muslim groups,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told The Washington Post in 2001.

Smear campaigns are not unusual for Steven Emerson; they seem to be his way of expressing disgruntlement with an opposing view.

“He has been run out of many respectable newsrooms. His response was the smear job. When The Washington Post shunned him, he branded the paper ‘pro-Hamas.’ When the Miami Herald strafed Emerson’s shoddy claims, he wrote the city’s Jewish leaders claiming the paper’s reporter ‘was nothing short of racist,’ Sugg wrote ( Alternet, 06/12/2003).

So what explains Emerson’s anti-Muslim and anti-Arab spin?

The Wall Street Journal provided us with one answer 16 years ago: "Mr. Emerson’s prime role is to whitewash Israeli governments and revile their critics," wrote Alexander Cockburn.

For whom does Emerson work? Does he represent the interests of Americans, or the interests of a foreign state at the expense of our nation’s own community relations?

Emerson, who has close ties to the Israeli Mossad according to The Jerusalem Post (9/17/1994), has yet to disclose key facts regarding his activities, including his source of funding. While he criticizes Muslim-American organizations that disclose their operating and financial details, Emerson shrouds his own in guarded secrecy.

Vince Cannistraro, a former Chief of Operations and Analysis at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center said of Emerson’s closest associates Steve Pomerantz, Oliver Revell and Yigal Carmon: "They’re Israeli-funded. How do I know that? Because they tried to recruit me."

Of Emerson himself, Cannistraro says, "word has got around on what he (Emerson) is, that he’s a paid polemicist, not a journalist" ( Weekly Planet, May 1998); he characterizes him as "dishonest" and "Joseph McCarthy-like" ( The Forward, 1/26/96).

Journalist Jane Hunter calls Emerson’s brand of journalism “nimble in its treatment of facts, often credulous of intelligence sources, and almost invariably supportive of the Israeli government" ( EXTRA! , October/November 1992).

It seems that in his latest attempt at fueling anti-Muslim hysteria, Emerson is banking on America’s short term memory. I am sorry to disappoint him.


"Muslim activist takes on his group’s critics
by Noreen Ahmed-Ullah
Chicago Tribune, March 25, 2007

– "One Muslim advocacy group’s not-so-secret terrorist ties"
by Steven Emerson
The New Republic, March 28, 2007

"Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S."
by Neil MacFarquhar
The New York Times, March 14, 2007

"A Hezbollah apologist wins an award for tolerance."
by Steven Emerson
The New Republic, August 31, 2006

"MPAC Exposes Steve Emerson’s Self-Serving Distortions"
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), January 28, 2004

"COUNTERPRODUCTIVE COUNTERTERRORISM: How Anti-Islamic Rhetoric is Impeding America’s Homeland Security
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), December 2004

"Steven Emerson’s Crusade"
by John F. Sugg
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) – Extra! January/February 1999

"Why is a journalist pushing questionable stories from behind the scenes?"
by John F. Sugg

"Tonight on 60 Minutes: Terrorist Chicken Laundering"
by John Sugg
Creative Loafing (Atlanta), June 12, 2003

"Who is Steven Emerson?"
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)