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Self-styled “terrorism expert” Steven Emerson has filed for dismissal of a multi-million-dollar defamation suit against a Florida newspaper and its senior editor. The “notice of voluntary dismissal” (Case No. 00-03739) filed in the Circuit Court in and for Hillsborough County, Fla., states: “Plaintiff Steven Emersonherewith serves notice of his dismissal of this action, without prejudice, against defendants John Sugg and The Weekly Planet, Inc.”
“This lawsuit did not have any merit, and I believe it was filed in bad faith to deter us and others from telling the truth about Emerson. I think that ‘pseudo-journalist’ is a perfect description for Steven Emerson,” said Sugg, currently senior editor of Creative Loafing in Atlanta, Ga. Sugg added: “We reported the truth. In four years of litigation, Emerson has been unwilling or unable to come up with any evidence that what we reported was false. Now that we were close to forcing him to back up his claims, he has run away.”
Emerson’s lawsuit alleged that Sugg, then senior editor of Florida’s Weekly Planet newspaper, “maliciously and repeatedly published false and defamatory utterances” in an “ongoing campaign to undermine Emerson’s credibility and damage his professional and personal reputation.” Emerson sought one million dollars in actual damages and ten million dollars in punitive damages on each of three causes of action.
The complaint centered on allegations reported by Sugg that two Associated Press reporters said Emerson gave them a document on terrorism supposedly from FBI files: “One reporter thought he’d seen the material before, and in checking found a paper Emerson had supplied earlier containing his own unsupported allegations. The two documents were almost identical, except that Emerson’s authorship was deleted from the one purported to be from the FBI. ‘It was really his work,’ one reporter says. ‘He sold it to us trying to make it look like a really interesting FBI document.'” (Weekly Planet, May 1998) In that same article, Sugg quoted AP reporter Richard Cole saying: “‘We were not really clear on the origin of his [Emerson’s] material.’ Because of that, Cole recalls, much of Emerson’s information was sliced from the series.” (Cole was the lead writer of a 1997 AP series on terrorism.)
The lawsuit also disputed allegations that Emerson gave false information to a Senate subcommittee during testimony in 1998. In an article headlined “Ties to Spies?” Sugg wrote: “In a missive submitted to a U.S. Senate subcommittee in February, Emerson stated that a federal lawman and other authorities in 1995 told him ‘radical Islamic fundamentalists had been assigned to carry out an assassination of me. An actual hit team had been dispatched…’ Emerson claimed the authorities said he could probably ‘get permission to enter the Witness Security Program’ “After I sent Emerson’s document to the Justice Department’s Terrorism and Violent Crimes Section, this on-the-record response was made by spokesman John Russell on May 5.
“‘You pushed the right button asking about your friend Steve Emerson,’ Russell said. ‘We’ve never given any thought to putting him in the witness protection program.’ Is there any truth to the allegation of an assassination team? ‘No, none at all,’ Russell responded.”
In documents filed with the court, Emerson said he was “notified by U.S. government officials in 1995 of a death threat against him.”
Emerson is best known for his controversial 1994 PBS production “Jihad in America.” Muslims say he has a long history of defamatory and inaccurate attacks on the Islamic community in this country.