Tampa Tribune Reporter Leaves to Work for Former Source
Michael Fechter, the Tampa Tribune reporter who broke the story of the University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian's questionable ties to Islamic extremists, has left the newspaper.
But the real story is who he's leaving to work for: Steve Emerson (left), the anti-terrorism crusader who has been accused by some activists of being anti-Muslim, and whose documentary "Jihad in America," inspired much of Fechter's original reporting.
Fechter, a Tribune employee for nearly 20 years, will help Emerson establish a web site tracking islamic extremists. He already had stopped reporting on Al-Arian after telling his editors last year of his romantic involvement with one of three lead federal prosecutors trying the case, Cherie Krigsman, according to Creative Loafing newspaper.
Fechter insisted to Creative Loafing then that his romance with the prosecutor began after Al-Arian's trial ended. The Creative Loafing article also said the reporter told his editors of the relationship months before he told his wife, who he has since divorced.
This isn't the first time the Tribune has had to announce a reporter is leaving their employ to work for one side of a controversial story covered by the newspaper. In 2003, Tribune reporter Deborah Alberto wrote numerous stories about concerns that the Coronet Industries phosphate plant in Plant City may have polluted a nearby neighborhood.
By fall 2003, she had left the newspaper to work for three out-of-state law firms suing Coronet on behalf of area residents, including Masry & Vititoe, the California firm that employs environmentalist celebrity Erin Brockovich. A month before her departure, the Tribune had also acknowledged that the husband of the newspaper's then-managing editor Donna Reed (pictured, right) had been laid off the year before from an executive position at the company. The newspaper insisted neither occurrence affected their coverage.
But the subjects of Fechter's and Alberto's work, predictably, disagree. And in an industry where the appearance of conflict is supposed to count nearly as much as the reality, these departures now raise questions in uncomfotable ways.