The Southern Poverty Libel Center

Scott has been all over the fact that the “respected” Southern Poverty Law Center (which seems to have little to do with either poverty or law) ought to be understood as a hate group, and finally someone in the mainstream media is having second thoughts about whether the SPLC deserves the high regard it receives. The Washington Post Magazine this weekend offers a long feature article by David Montgomery entitled The State of Hate: Researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center have set themselves up as the ultimate judges of hate in America. But are they judging fairly?” 

The article is very long, and extremely wishy-washy on the subject of extremism and the SPLC’s handling of various conservative groups, but in the context of the mainstream media it might be read as a mild probation for the SPLC. Since the Post has a robust paywall, here are a few key excerpts:

[T]he SPLC undermined its own credibility with a couple of blunders. In 2015, it apologized for listing Ben Carson as an extremist (though not on the hate list), saying the characterization was inaccurate. Then, this past June, the group paid $3.4 million to Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam organization to settle a threatened lawsuit. The SPLC had listed them in a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” (again, not on the main hate list). The SPLC apologized for misunderstanding Nawaz’s work to counter Islamist extremism. . . .

About the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) that the SPLC labels a “hate group”:

Does an alliance of lawyers with conservative Christian leanings that has won nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in the past seven years meet that criteria? According to Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project — which produces the hate list — the decision to put the Alliance Defending Freedom on the list for 2016 was a judgment call that went all the way up to top leadership at the SPLC. . .

Which means it was a political decision. Probably because ADF has such a good track record at the Supreme Court. (It won a couple of its cases on 9-0 and 7-2 votes, which hardly looks like getting the favor of a “right-wing” Court.) More:

The SPLC’s stated goal is to create an unbiased hate list, but forays into political activism by other parts of the organization could certainly hurt the list’s reputation. For the first time, the SPLC recently took a stand on a Supreme Court nomination, urging Alabama’s senators to vote against Brett M. Kavanaugh. It also just formed a political arm called the SPLC Action Fund that can lobby and support ballot measures. I asked Cohen if those advances onto political ground threaten to erode the SPLC’s credibility as a nonpartisan arbiter of hate. “We think it’s important to protect our integrity, the power of our brand, you might say,” Cohen said. “But we also think the issues that we’re advocating for are important.”

Translation: Yup, we’re left-wing partisans.

In the end, it seemed to me that the four groups I visited contained unequal quantities of what even the SPLC calls hate. Yet by its nature, the hate list draws no distinctions, and the SPLC is unapologetic in its view that hate is hate: “I don’t see gradations with these organizations,” [SPLC’s] Beirich says.

Weak stuff, but better than nothing. The SPLC thrives in part because of the deference paid to it by the media. If other media decide to give it more scrutiny, things might change for the better.

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