The "60 Minutes" scenario, according to a breathless source on the respected TV news magazine, is that maybe 10 million chickens are recruited each year to become, um, martyrs for al-Qaeda. The loopy-sounding theory (although stated as fact) is that chickens disappear from a poultry farm's ledger books, and quicker than you can say "secret seasonings," the proceeds are funneled to terrorist groups.
The venerable news program touts as its hallmark an abundance of diligent research. But not apparently on the chicken/terrorism story. No proof in any form is offered that even one chicken was "laundered," much less that, as the network's source alleges, millions were.
Lawsuits filed this month in Atlanta and Washington claim much was amiss with CBS's fact-checking -- mainly that the network didn't check facts before it claimed several Muslim groups based in Herndon, Va., had terrorist ties.
For a start, the litigation contends, correspondent Bob Simon never bothered to ask Mar-Jac Poultry of Gainesville -- whose investors include some individuals connected to the Virginia groups -- about its squadrons of alleged terrorist-tinged fowls.
Instead, Simon relied on a woman called "Anonymous" who, in her lurid book dubbed Terrorist Hunter, boasts: "Mata Hari had nothing on me."
With the media flagellating itself over credibility problems following the Jayson Blair meltdown at The New York Times, the use of anonymous sources is risky territory. Readers and viewers suspect that accounts from such sources are often embellished.
So, you'd think "60 Minutes" would be a tad wary of a woman who perceives herself as a femme fatale -- and who unabashedly boasts that she's an invaluable asset to right-thinking federal agents and a bane to bumbling G-men.
In the "60 Minutes" report, Anonymous -- later identified as a self-appointed spy named Rita Katz -- points to a chart that purportedly shows the flow of dollars from the Virginia outfits to Osama bin Laden. Mar-Jac Poultry, a pillar of Gainesville business since 1948, is named on the chart.
"Chicken is one of the things that no one can really track down," Katz says to CBS' Simon. "If you say in one year that you lost 10 million chickens, no one can prove it. They just died. You can't trace money with chickens."
The organizations were searched by customs agents last year. But, Katz claims to be the international super spy (0.007?) who donned a burkha and penetrated Muslim groups -- the Virginia raids were her handiwork. (No charges have been filed, and Mar-Jac's lawyers say they've been told their client isn't a target.)
"CBS News aided and abetted a disguised and anonymous character assassin's hit-and-run tactics," says Nancy Luque, a Washington lawyer for the Muslim groups. Luque is demanding $80 million for her clients in Washington. Her Atlanta colleague, former federal prosecutor Wilmer "Buddy" Parker, seeks an unspecified amount that's certain to be in the millions.
Despite the penchant of CBS' Simon for ambush interviews -- with the implied admission of guilt by those who won't talk -- he wouldn't respond to my written questions. A CBS spokesman assumed the litigation posture, claiming the network had committed no sin.
Katz, meanwhile, wouldn't answer specific questions about her evidence and where she gets her funding. She did huff: "The more aggressive your attack on us, the more everyone will realize what an excellent job we are doing."
Now you know how I felt, Ms. Katz. I just finished with a lawsuit with your mentor -- which I won.
Beginning in the early 1990s, there was a concerted effort by some supporters of Israel's right-wing Likud Party to silence Palestinian voices and undermine the peace process in the Middle East.
Leading the pack was self-styled terrorism expert Steven Emerson. Katz was his "research director" until sometime last year when the two split.
Emerson has one word for Arabs and Muslims -- "terrorist." He made so many gaffes -- most memorable, his 1995 attempt on CBS to link the Oklahoma City bombing to Muslims -- he's 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."
As The Nation reported in 1995: "Intellectual terrorism seems to be a part of Emerson's standard repertoire. So is his penchant for papering his critics with threatening lawyers' letters."
I was one of those papered.
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