In an article in Sunday's Tennessean newspaper of Nashville, Tenn., reporter Bob Smietana made a series of unsupported claims about the nature of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and our work.
There's a price that comes with erroneous reporting and we're seeing it register already. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a news release calling for an IRS investigation into our status as a non-profit organization. We believe we can withstand any scrutiny.
This isn't a surprise. Groups have been stung repeatedly by our ability to pierce their fog of deception and show their ties to radical Islam, including support for Hamas and other terrorist groups. That's especially true for CAIR. We broke the news that the FBI cut off contact with them because of court evidence tying the organization and its founders to a Hamas-support network. It's in CAIR's interest to deflect attention from that fact and the disclosures which led to it. Trying to discredit the IPT is a sure way to do that.
We won't let them silence us or make us go away. We also realize when you specialize in the work we do, you make enemies. We've earned them the hard way, through diligent research that relies on public documents and what the elements of radical Islam have said publicly. They have hated us for it for years and have found a naïve reporter willing to buy their line.
At issue in the Tennessean story is the relationship between the IPT Foundation, a tax-exempt charity, and SAE Productions, a for-profit company run by IPT Executive Director Steven Emerson. The foundation accepts private donations and contracts with SAE to manage operations. The Tennessean article pays only lip service to the legitimate security issues that dictated this structure and that the IRS has reviewed and approved it.
The article says the foundation's "tax-exempt status is facing questions," implying that someone other than the Tennessean and the paper's hand-picked analysts are raising those questions. This is presented as something that is already happening outside the realm of the newspaper and its talking heads. There is no indication the discussion goes any further.
We provided the newspaper with our 1023 application for tax-exempt status and with our 2008 tax return, most commonly called a form 990. The documents show that we told the IRS we were contracting out our management with a group that did not have tax-exempt status. That was approved. As for the for-profit nature of SAE Productions, the IRS is aware of that as well. That has not been questioned. We say IPTF contracts out with SAE Productions, which files tax returns with the IRS. All of that has been disclosed.
Our application was submitted with the assistance of attorneys and accountants, including one with 20 years of experience with the IRS in exempt organizations.
Smietana appears to have misunderstood one of the questions the IRS asked about our application. He writes:
In a letter dated Dec. 8, 2006, the IRS asked if there would be any ties between the subcontractor and the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation. On Dec. 29, 2006, Emerson wrote back: "There are and will be no financial/business transactions between officers, board members or relatives of the aforementioned and applicant organization."
That miscasts the IRS's question which can be seen on page 32 of the documents provided to the newspaper. The IRS asked whether there will be "any financial/business transactions between officers, board members, or relatives" of the foundation and its contractor. There is none. The IPT Foundation pays SAE Productions for management, which includes our rent, research expenses, salaries and benefits for our employees.
It may be confusing and it may be unusual, but there is nothing inappropriate about it.
"Charities certainly can pay for profit organizations for providing work for them as long as it's at fair market value and furtherance of the organization's exempt purposes," said Edward Coleman. Coleman spent 20 years working with the Internal Revenue Service working on exempt organizations, including five years as director of the Exempt Organizations Division at the IRS national office. He was among the accountants and lawyers who advised the IPT Foundation in its application for tax-exempt charitable status.
The article also ignores what we told Smietana about the expansion of our board of directors in 2009, and that the structuring of the relationship between the foundation and SAE Productions was done to provide a layer of security for our employees. Emerson has been the subject of death threats because of his work, and our organization as a whole has also been threatened. All of this was approved by our outside legal and accounting experts.
Beyond the tax-exempt issue, Smietana's article smears Emerson as "a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances."
The 2,147-word article offers no examples of Emerson or the IPT spreading hate and it ignores evidence to the contrary. It is patently false.
The article also says IPT is "telling donors they're in imminent danger from Muslims." Again, there is no source for this claim or any example cited. IPT's clearly stated role is to identify potential terrorist threats, particularly those coming from people who hide their true leanings. Our track record is clear: From members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad working at a university think tank in Florida to Hamas supporters using a charity to support terrorism, IPT has been ahead of the curve. Many of the subjects of our work are either in prison or have been deported. That speaks to our track record.
Our record is the reason we've earned accolades from lawmakers from both parties, such as Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., another congressional terrorism expert. Our researchers and experts have shared their expertise with Congress as recently as last month.
There is a difference between Islam and Islamism – between people's practice of a faith and attempts to mix that faith with a radical political agenda. The IPT exists to combat Islamism and the often violent extremism carried out in its name.
We routinely feature Muslim voices who are waging a war of ideas against the Islamists, from Zuhdi Jasser at the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, to journalist Asra Nomani's fight for gender equity within her faith and emerging voices like Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a former radical who now combats extremist ideology. These are three very distinct voices with diverse backgrounds and points of view. And that's the point. There is no one voice of Muslims in America, and to accept someone or some group as playing that part is a form of soft bigotry. Other examples of our advocacy for anti-Islamist Muslims just in 2010 can be seen here, here and here.
Where is the "spreading hate and fear about Islam" of which Smietana accuses us?
Smietana also uses loaded terms, such as "self-styled" to refer to Emerson and others. Steve Emerson has reported on these issues for more than 25 years, and his work and that of IPT has been recognized by national journalism organizations. His 1994 documentary Jihad in America received a George Polk Award for best documentary. Investigative Reporters and Editors honored it with its Tom Renner Award.
If the tag "self-styled" applies to anyone who reports on or studies any topic, wouldn't that also refer to virtually every employee of the Tennessean? Are all its court reporters lawyers? Do its police reporters have degrees in criminal justice?
The article was part of a package involving controversy about a proposed mosque expansion in Murfreesboro. It has taken our limited role in that story and blown it way out of proportion. Use the search function on the right corner of our site and you'll see we've never written a word about the Murfreesboro mosque project.
We received a question from someone in Tennessee about officials at the mosque. We found that one board member had pro-Hamas writing on his MySpace page. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the federal government since 1995. The implication, it seems, is that we should have chosen to withhold this information about a mosque board member from the public. That's an odd position for a newspaper to take. No one disputes the accuracy of what we found, but somehow, releasing it is evidence of IPT's sowing hate.
We're proud of our investigative work, in this case and in others. If reporters at the Tennessean had done their jobs better, maybe they would have found this information on their own.
The article says the Department of Homeland Security told mosque officials that they found nothing to worry about, but there is no primary source to corroborate the officials' claims.
Our work is not cheap. The overwhelming majority of our articles are self-generated. Scroll through the list and you'll see consistent investigative reporting, an extensive reliance on Freedom of Information Act requests, coverage of trials throughout the country and reports on radical events.
We believe this is information the public has a right to know. We'll continue to pursue it.
We have continued to pay the price of investigating and combating the threat of radical Islam in the United States, from death threats to being blacklisted to fabricated character assassinations from media apologists for radical Islamic groups. We will not be intimidated and that, with your support, we will continue to expose the danger to our free society posed by radical Muslim groups and the people in the media they manage to fool.