Letters

ORBITING THE 'PLANET'

Cynthia Cotts's Press Clips column headlined "Holy Libel Suit" [July 24] misstates key points in Steven Emerson's lawsuit against the Tampa, Florida, newspaper the Weekly Planet, its senior editor John Sugg, and former Associated Press reporter Richard Cole. It also ignores evidence cited below, which your columnist told me was in her possession.

In our suit we bring government confirmation of Mr. Emerson's Senate testimony that he was the subject of a death threat and demonstrate the falsity of Mr. Cole's allegation that Mr. Emerson authored a document claiming it was from the FBI. While the law offers journalists protection from disclosing their sources, the AP seeks to suppress our deposition of its former editor by claiming an "editorial privilege," thus depriving the public of the truth—which will prove this allegation false.

Ms. Cotts is incorrect in stating that we seek to depose Mr. Cole's former editor to question him on his memo to the AP president. Though Ms. Cotts quoted a phrase from this memo stating that "some of Emerson's information 'did not check out,' " the full memo, now part of the court record, demonstrates that the AP in fact used information from Mr. Emerson, but chose, for reasons not explained in the memo, not to pursue much of the information that he gave them. We seek primarily to ascertain whether Mr. Cole did in fact report his claimed suspicion to his editor, since he and his former AP associates wrote to Mr. Emerson throughout their working relationship asking him for additional material and guidance.

Ms. Cotts states that "Emerson has never produced more details to prove that he was targeted by a hit squad." However, a letter written to the Weekly Planetin 1998 by the Justice Department's public affairs director states, "We have checked with the FBI and determined that the FBI did in fact receive information concerning a threat in 1995 and that they so advised Mr. Emerson of the danger to his life." Furthermore, the former section chief of the FBI's Domestic Terrorism/Counterterrorism Planning Section wrote in 1999 : "I confirmed to Mr. Sugg that a couple of years ago Mr. Emerson had been the subject of a death threat by a foreign terrorist group."

Mr. Emerson's journalistic record belies the unattributed quote that he has been "bounced from the mainstream." He has been cited in the media about 100 times since January 2000. This year he was credited by The New York Times as the expert "who first pointed out the errors" in translated documents submitted as evidence in the World Trade Center bombing trial and by the Canadian National Post for revealing that the millennium bombing defendant's target was the Los Angeles airport. Last year, The Dallas Morning News reported that a federal investigation into accusations that the Holy Land Foundation was providing "financial support for the militant Hamas movement" was disclosed by the State Department in its denial of Mr. Emerson's Freedom of Information request.

Richard Horowitz
Attorney at Law
Manhattan

Cynthia Cotts replies: Horowitz is nitpicking in order to spin the story in his client's favor. For example, Emerson may still be used as a source by other journalists—but Horowitz doesn't dispute the statement, printed in my column, that the only publication in which Emerson's byline has appeared recently isThe Wall Street Journal. Given that Emerson used to write for many popular publications, it appears that he has indeed been "bounced from the mainstream." As to the credibility of Emerson's testimony that he was the subject of a death threat: I was aware that Emerson has produced government sources to confirm theexistence of a confidential report to that effect. But these sources have added nothing to the credibility of the original report. And as I wrote, Emerson has "never produced moredetails" to support the report, such as clues to the identity of would-be assassins, the nature of their presence in U.S., or the source of the death threat allegedly issued against him (emphasis added).


BOLL WEEVIL MALATHION BLUES

Thank you for Erik Baard's article "Beach Blanket Nightmare" [July 24], about malathion poisoning. We live on a farm in west Texas and produce cotton. Since 1998 the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Program has used massive quantities of malathion in an effort to eliminate the boll weevil (a cotton parasite). Many cotton producers in Texas participate in this program. The TBWEP sprays all their cotton acreage. They spray all cotton fields with aerial crop dusters, no matter how close the fields are to schools and homes. People are complaining of malathion-related illnesses. The TBWEP says that malathion is perfectly safe and cannot harm humans. This spraying is causing great harm to people and the environment; people are being poisoned, and a few influential individuals are profiting from this misery. Farmers and taxpayers have paid out tens of millions of dollars per year for a program that is not even needed.

Colonel Rodney D. Hale
Anton, Texas


THE RECOVERY WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

It was heart-wrenching to read Geoffrey Gray's "Gil Scott-Heron's Rap" [July 24], about the poet/musician's alleged battle with drug addiction and subsequently the law. I feel like shouting, "Say it ain't so, Gil" at his next concert. It's really frustrating because his music has been a major positive influence in my life. When I read the complete interview on the Net, I laughed at his wit. I also began to hope that maybe he didn't have a problem, because what kind of "crack house" has a phone, a doorman, and a playful cat? Yet behind his sense of humor and normal, if not cozy, living arrangements, he still sounds like he's in denial. It pains me to think that he is, as his song says, "a junkie trying to kick it, quit it, but have you ever tried? Just watch me die."

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