September 12, 2017
If the latest batch of headlines is any indication, the brief honeymoon between the media and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) after Charlottesville may be drawing to a close. At least two major news outlets -- the Wall Street Journal and PBS -- are picking up where the press left off with its SPLC skepticism. Both are leveling serious allegations at the group for its methods and political vendettas in advance of the group's testimony (now postponed) before the House Homeland Security Committee.
Retired Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain explains "What It's Like to Be Smeared by the Southern Poverty Law Center" in a strong column for the Journal, which hasn't exactly been holding back its skepticism of Richard Cohen's group. For Dr. Swain, institutionalized prejudice is nothing new. As an African-American woman, she's been threatened, protested, and verbally abused for exposing students to other views in one of academia's elite laboratories of radicalism. Now, she can add "targeted by the SPLC" to her long list of distinctions, which among other things, accuses Carol of expressing hatred toward minorities – which is ridiculous since she is a minority!
Still, Swain insists, she "wears the SPLC's mud as a badge of honor because I know I am in the company of many good men and women who have been similarly vilified for standing for righteousness and truth." But, Carol writes soberly, the SPLC's labeling has had "has had a lasting impact on my life and career. Offers from other universities ended and speaking opportunities declined. Once you've been smeared in this way, mainstream news outlets are less likely to cite you as an expert of any kind."
But, she continues, "Some of those vilified by the SPLC have been subjected to even worse treatment. The Family Research Council and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise have been violently attacked by individuals inspired by the propaganda the SPLC regularly dishes out -- which is often accepted without criticism and passed on by media, law-enforcement agencies and universities." Like others at the Wall Street Journal who think SPLC's "hate list" feeds the polarization it claims to be fighting, Carol knows Cohen's group has one goal (articulated, conveniently, by former staffer Mark Potok): "destroying" the groups it opposes.
That allegation was taken quite seriously by PBS's Bob Garfield, who invited Cohen on his show to defend himself against the open letter signed by 47 conservative groups (including FRC). In a conversation that covered everything from SPLC's suspicious offshore accounts to its modern mission, PBS's "On the Media" doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the organization's lack of credibility.
Harkening back to its days as a legitimate civil rights groups, the PBS host talks about how the public's perceptions of SPLC have changed.
PBS: My assumption has always been that you were free of any bias...but [now] I wonder if my trust has been misplaced...
Cohen: ...Ninety-eight percent of all the groups [on SPLC's hate] list, no one disputes. A tiny portion of them have been controversial at times, and I'm prepared to defend those as well... I don't make any apologies about being partisan.
PBS: But you also don't want to be the boy who cried Nazi, and I wonder if this current controversy has made you and [founder] Morris Dees reevaluate your methodology and your threshold for putting a prominent name on the list. You got burned when you included Ben Carson, for example, and there are other names on the list who may be politically conservative but certainly don't seem to represent anything close to violent extremism."
Cohen: Are you thinking about something like the Family Research Council, Bob?
PBS: Yeah, let's talk about the Family Research Council, the very core of the so-called Religious Right. They're on your list. Why?
Cohen: Yes they are, because of their continuous incendiary name-calling and lies about the LGBT community... So I think the FRC well-deserves the 'hate label' regardless of how the support they might have...
PBS: Well, if that's the threshold, where is the Assemblies of God Church? Where is about a third of Congress? If you open the tent that wide, you'll have an awfully long hate list... Do you not perceive that if Southern Poverty Law Center is viewed not as fighting the good fight but as being opportunists exploiting our political miseries, that it kills the goose that lays the golden egg? I mean, even as just a PR matter, is this not something that you're thinking about right now?
Certainly, the media and conservative movement have given SPLC plenty to think about in these last few months. And until the phony civil rights group gives up its reckless ways, the hot seat will only get hotter!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.