Fechter leaves Tampa Trib, joins Emerson

Coats said the newspaper has not plans to re-examine Fechter's work, which has been criticized as a part of a "prime-time smearing" of Al-Arian by Salon.com.

"I don't feel there is anything in the stories that needs to be re-examined," Coats said. "It's not as if Fechter had a pipeline directly to our presses;" his work was supervised and edited extensively to ensure it accuracy.

Much of Fechter's groundbreaking investigations came before Coats arrived as editor, but she lauded his journalistic abilities. "The experiences I have had with Michael's stories have all shown me a reporter who his conservative and very careful in his investigative work."

It is the second time that Fechter's professional and personal life has wandered publicly over to the side of those criticizing and prosecuting Al-Arian. Earlier this year, Creative Loafing revealed that Fechter was dating one of the prosecutors in Al-Arian's trial, Cherie Krigsman.

Fechter leaves a long legacy of work at the Trib, including breaking the story about Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher's messy divorce, publishing long-missing court documents that detailed his extramarital affair and other unsavory accusations. The June 2006 article pretty much sunk any chances that Gallagher had as he tried to remodel himself as a conservative Republican candidate. He ended up losing to Charlie Crist in the primary.

It is not clear exactly what Fechter will do for Emerson. Emerson started the Al-Arian ball rolling with the airing of his 1994 PBS special, "Jihad in America," which suggested that Al-Arian was a major player in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Emerson's work on terrorism is controversial; CL's John Sugg has written numerous stories questioning Emerson's techniques and objectivity. Emerson sued Creative Loafing (then Weekly Planet) and Sugg for defamation in 1999 but dropped the case four years later — right after Al-Arian was indicted.

For years, the family of imprisoned former USF professor Sami Al-Arian insisted that their nemesis and most dogged chronicler, Tampa Tribune investigative reporter Michael Fechter, was doing the bidding of anti-Arab forces.

Today, they got some more ammo for their argument in the news that Fechter has resigned from the paper to take a job working for Al-Arian critic Steven Emerson.

"It just proves what we've known and asserted all along," said Laila Al-Arian, Sami's daughter. "I can say we're not surprised by it."

Trib editor Janet Coats confirmed Fechter's resignation and said his last day is today. He could not be reached for comment.

Other longtime critics of Fechter's work were abuzz with the news. One, Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, "The Tampa Tribune should revisit his work and act accordingly." He characterized Fechter's reporting on Al-Arian as unobjective and slanted. "Fechter was not serving journalism but was serving the interests of an anti-Muslim agenda."

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