Repeating a mistake made by many major media outlets before it, CNN on Thursday published a map of registered hate groups sourced entirely from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an irresponsible advocacy group that purports to operate as an objective assessor of hate. Just one day earlier, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the company was set to make a $1 million donation to the SPLC as well.
But the SPLC's claim to objectivity is nothing less than fraudulent, a reality that informed observers of its practices from both the Left and Right accept. The routine of debunking their supposedly objective classifications occurs like clockwork each time a major outlet makes the mistake of turning to them when reporting on the many conservative thinkers and nonprofits the group absurdly designates as hateful.
So here we go again.
The SPLC routinely lumps conservative advocacy groups in with legitimate hate organizations, putting proponents of traditional family values in the same category as neo-Nazis and the KKK. In a July note to supporters, the Family Research Council, a conservative nonprofit the SPLC has attacked, referred to the center as "a left wing smear group who has become exactly what they set out to fight, spreading hate and putting targets on people's backs."
And they're exactly correct.
Five years ago, for instance, a gunman opened fire at FRC's headquarters, leaving a security guard injured, in part because he saw the organization was listed as a hate group on the SPLC's website.
In June, 41 conservative movement leaders sent a letter that addressed the matter, explaining that the SPLC's "‘hate group' list is nothing more than a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies."
"The list is ad hoc, partisan, and agenda-driven," the letter continued. "The SPLC doesn't even pretend to identify groups on the political left that engage in ‘hate.'"
In 2010, liberal journalist Ken Silverstein called the group "essentially a fraud" with "a habit of casually labeling organizations as ‘hate groups.'"
"In doing so," Silverstein wrote, "the SPLC shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all, raises a pile of money, very little of which is used on behalf of poor people." In 2000, Silverstein reported on the SPLC's practice of exploiting tragedy with misleading fundraising efforts that allow it to amass tens of millions of dollars in donations.
In a column earlier this summer, the Washington Examiner's Timothy P. Carney described how the liberal strategy of lumping mainstream conservatives in with extremists is a dangerous tack that can actually end up making legitimate hate groups seem more innocuous.
There are real consequences to the SPLC's racketeering. At this point, there is just no excuse for major news outlets to cite their work.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.