Southern Poverty Law Center

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  • Univision Helps Anti-Immigrant Hate Group Sanitize Its Nativist Image

    FAIR Is A Nativist Anti-Immigrant Hate Group, But Univision Won't Say So

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Univision has continuously failed to provide proper context to its audience when interviewing members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), by omitting the fact that the group is an anti-immigrant “hate group” with ties to the nativist movement and white nationalism.

    During a November 29 segment about FAIR’s hard-line anti-immigrant policy proposals on Univision’s Noticiero Univisión, anchor Jorge Ramos and correspondent Janet Rodríguez both helped mainstream the group by labeling it a “conservative organization that opposes undocumented immigrants” and a “conservative anti-immigrant organization.” By simply labeling the group as “conservative,” Ramos and Rodríguez failed to properly identify the group’s nativist origins and extremism while interviewing FAIR spokesperson Jack Martin:

    Translated transcript:

    JORGE RAMOS (HOST): A well-known conservative organization that opposes undocumented immigrants is preparing a series of recommendations for the future Donald Trump presidency. Among the suggestions there is the elimination of the deferred action program and increasing deportations. Janet Rodríguez spoke with a leader of this organization.

    JANET RODRÍGUEZ: If Donald Trump promised to be strict against undocumented immigrants, the organization proposing to advise him on this topic is even stricter. Today, the directors of FAIR, a conservative anti-immigrant organization, put forward a series of recommendations that they're making to the new administration.

    JACK MARTIN: We think they will find these recommendations very favorable.

    RODRÍGUEZ: For the first hundred days of the administration the organization is proposing that the president eliminate deferred action, withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, restart workplace raids, and start building the wall.

    MARTIN: Just being in the U.S. illegally should be enough for deportation.

    RODRÍGUEZ: They say that during the first year the goal should be to limit reentry permits and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), eliminate the use of ankle monitors and conditional freedom, reviving the 287G program and the secure communities program. The plan is very similar to the one Kris Kobach, also an enemy of immigration reform, and who is looking to become the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He has presented the plan to the president-elect. But these are just recommendations, and the organization recognizes that perhaps the president-elect and the new Congress will never approve a plan as harsh as they'd like it to be.

    This is not the first time Univision has provided FAIR with a platform to air its extremism without providing necessary context. On November 17, the network also featured Martin’s point of view devoid of context.

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), FAIR earned the “hate group” label because of its history of “defending racism, encouraging xenophobia and nativism, and giving its all to efforts to keep America white.” FAIR also accepted funding from the Pioneer Fund, “a group founded to promote the genes of white colonials” which also “funds studies of race, intelligence and genetics.” SPLC also noted that FAIR has hired people who are also members of “white supremacist groups” to its top posts and specifically promoted “racist conspiracy theories about Latinos.” The group’s founder, John Tanton -- a current member of FAIR’s national board of advisers -- has “expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population.”

    In a July 22 report about the nativist influences on President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, The Daily Beast described FAIR’s work as an effort to “demonize immigrants" and explained that even conservative groups “loathe the Tanton network.” In addition the piece noted that before Trump, “these groups found themselves pushed to the margins of the conservative conversation of immigration.” Yet failures by the media to appropriately characterize groups like FAIR has allowed the group to pass as a mainstream conservative organization with a valid seat at the table in the immigration policy debate.

    Spanish-language media has in the past failed to grasp the influence of white supremacy on anti-immigration sentiments. Regardless of whether the Trump administration implements FAIR’s policy proposals or not, providing hate groups with a platform could have an impact on rhetoric and negatively impact those affected by the immigration policies. As NPR’s Latino USA host pointed out in her coverage of virulent 2016 campaign rhetoric, “words are powerful; they can motivate people in good ways and bad.”

  • Media Should Not Sanitize Trump Immigration Adviser Kris Kobach’s Extremism, Ties To White Supremacists

    Kobach “Wrote The Book” On Muslim Registry And Was Behind Anti-Immigrant SB 1070

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    A reported architect behind President-elect Donald Trump’s extreme immigration proposals, radio host and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has received significant media attention following the announcement that he was joining Trump’s transition team. However, media outlets are failing to note his ties to hate groups and nativist organizations and his attacks on immigrants and LGBTQ people.

  • Why Is Univision Giving Airtime To A Member Of A Hate Group?

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Univision included commentary from a member of an anti-immigrant hate group -- without identifying the group as such -- in a segment about undocumented immigrants in the U.S., which effectively allowed the organization to pass as a credible institution.

    On November 17, Univision’s Noticiero Univisión reported on the uncertain future, under President-elect Donald Trump, of the executive actions that temporarily protect from deportation millions of so-called Dreamers -- children brought to the U.S. by undocumented parents. During the segment, Univision’s Noticiero Univisión featured a comment from Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) spokesperson Jack Martin. While Univision identified him as “member of the organization FAIR,” the network did not provide any context about the organization or its beliefs.

    Univision failed its audience by leaving out context about the organization Martin represents. FAIR has been labeled an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because of its record “defending racism, encouraging xenophobia and nativism, and giving its all to efforts to keep America white.” According to SPLC, FAIR has “ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists,” its founder, John Tanton, “has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population,” and his organizations actively work to limit “the number of nonwhites who enter the country.” Another member of FAIR once wrote that “Hispanic immigrants should be shot” because they “multiply like a bunch of rats.”

    Including commentary from this organization and leaving out the context of what it represents in the immigration battle sanitizes the group's image and doesn’t properly provide viewers with the information they need to determine what to believe.  

  • Media Matters And Civil Rights Groups Release Media “Field Guide To Anti-Muslim Extremists”

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Media Matters partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Center for New Community, and ReThink Media to release a journalist's guide to the network of anti-Muslim activists and surrogates spreading vitriolic rhetoric in the media and the best practices for countering these extremists’ misinformation.

    The report “profiles 15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists, many of whom are associated with organizations identified by the SPLC as hate groups,” who appear frequently in the media, “where they spread falsehoods that too often go untested.” Citing the “baseless” propaganda produced by these extremists who “have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith,” the full report details the way television news networks and leading newspapers have allowed these extremists to “routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods” about Muslims without providing any pushback. The report contends that the media have enabled these extremists to vilify American Muslims by accusing them of conspiring to “impose Shariah religious law,” thereby creating a false impression of the community and resulting in “hundreds of violent hate crime attacks” against them. From the October 26 report:

    Ever since the Al Qaeda massacre of Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims have been under attack. They have been vilified as murderers, accused of conspiring to take over the United States and impose Shariah religious law, described as enemies of women, and subjected to hundreds of violent hate crime attacks. A major party presidential nominee has even suggested that America ban Muslim immigrants.

    Fueling this hatred has been the propaganda, the vast majority of it completely baseless, produced and popularized by a network of anti-Muslim extremists and their enablers. These men and women have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith.

    Sadly, a shocking number of these extremists are seen regularly on television news programs and quoted in the pages of our leading newspapers. There, they routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms. More often than not, these claims go uncontested.

    [...]

    This misinformation and hateful rhetoric have consequences. When huge numbers of Americans believe that a majority of Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it can hardly be a surprise that some percentage of them engage in hate crime attacks. After all, they learned of the threat they believe Muslims pose from sources who were presented by the media as authoritative experts.

    This country faces an array of complex and daunting problems, the threat of terrorism indisputably among them. Let’s not make them worse by allowing self-described “experts” to propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods. Our media, in particular, has the opportunity to present an objective picture that illuminates, rather than distorts, reality.

    The 15 anti-Muslim extremists profiled in the report are Ann Corcoran, Steven Emerson, Brigitte Gabriel, Frank Gaffney Jr., Pamela Geller, John Guandolo, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Horowitz, Ryan Mauro, Robert Muise, Maajid Nawaz, Daniel Pipes, Walid Shoebat, Robert Spencer, and David Yerushalmi. The report lists various false and extreme claims from the extremists and calls on the media to stop presenting the extremists as “authoritative experts” and allowing them to “propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods”:

    The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.

    According to the report, the media coverage of and interviews with these anti-Muslim extremists fail to contextualize their “defamatory and false rhetoric and their hate group associations” and thus don't tell their audiences that these extremists “are far outside the mainstream, and that their factual assertions are very often completely baseless.” The report includes best practices for media, noting that “too often, television networks, newspapers and other media organizations turn to these groups’ spokespeople as credible sources on national security, immigration and religious liberty, and valid counterpoints to real issue experts.”

    The report’s best practices include:

    1. Research the background of extremist spokespeople and consider other sources.

    2. If you do use anti-Muslim spokespeople, point out their extremism.

    3. Prepare to challenge hateful rhetoric and misinformation.

    4. Don’t rely on opposing guests to challenge extremists.

    To read the full report, click here.

  • Hate Group FAIR Hosting Annual Event With Anti-Immigrant Radio Hosts

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) announced that it will hold its “10th annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire radio row broadcast in Washington,” on June 22 and 23. In previous years FAIR has hosted speakers at the event who have used their own radio shows to push anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated FAIR as a hate group whose founder “has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population.”

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • Fox News Co-Hosts "Haven't Heard Of Any" Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes

    Eric Bolling: "Are There A Lot Of A Hate Crimes Against Muslims In The United States, Because I Haven't Heard Of Any?"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTIANO LIMA

    Fox News co-hosts Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle questioned whether hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. actually exist, despite numerous reports showing that attacks on Muslims in America have been on the rise for years.

    During the February 4 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-hosts Juan Williams, Eric Bolling, and Kimberly Guildoyle discussed President Barack Obama's recent speech at a U.S. mosque. Co-host Juan Williams pointed out that Obama's visit to the mosque comes as hate crimes against Muslims in America have increased, to which Bolling asked whether there were many hate crimes against Muslims "because I haven't heard of any." Guilfoyle echoed Bolling, demanding Williams produce evidence:

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): Yes, I think that Christians are being driven out of the Middle East in droves, being raped and tortured, murdered. Religious Christian sites and churches not being allowed to be rebuilt. What is the president doing to stand for them? Instead every time he gives one of these speeches we hear a little excerpt from the book of Obama of how Christians should be living their life and that Muslims is a religion of peace. Show me the evidence.

    [...]

    JUAN WILLIAMS (CO-HOST): The challenge at the moment has to do with the spike in attacks, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States. And don't forget you've had Donald Trump say we should ban --

    ERIC BOLLING (CO-HOST): Are there a lot of a hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, because I haven't heard of any?

    GUILFOYLE: Where are the numbers for that?

    The Washington Post reported on February 3, that, "Hate crimes against Muslims are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. And they've been edging steadily upward over the past few years." A previous report on December 4, 2015, also found that "American Muslims ... feel growing anti-Muslim sentiment after the recent Islamic State attacks in Paris and this week's San Bernardino shootings."

    The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that the FBI's hate crime statistics found that "reported hate crimes [are] down nationally, except for Muslims," adding that hate crimes against Muslim Americans "rose about 14 percent over the prior year." The Huffington Post recently launched a project to track anti-Islamic acts in the U.S., declaring that "Islamophobia is real. And it's not going anywhere":

    After last year's terror attacks in Paris and mass shooting in San Bernardino, California -- and amidst a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric from U.S. politicians -- reports about Muslims in America facing violence, harassment, intimidation and bigotry have become omnipresent. Many Muslims say Islamophobia is worse now than it's ever been -- even worse than it was after 9/11.

    A comprehensive list of discriminatory acts against American Muslims might be impossible, but The Huffington Post will document this deplorable wave of hate for all of 2016 using news reports and firsthand accounts. The breadth and severity of Islamophobia in America can no longer go unnoticed. Enough is enough.  

  • Conservative Media's Demand That Muslims Atone For Terrorism Is A Rigged Game

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    "Moderate Muslims don't speak out enough against the hijacking of their religion" Fox News primetime host Sean Hannity claimed in his first radio appearance after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

    In a year bookended by three major terror attacks against the West, blaming "moderate Muslims" for failing to condemn acts of terrorism has become a hallmark of conservative media coverage. The constant demand for penance -- from Muslims who have nothing to do with the acts of violence -- is a rigged game, aimed at convincing audiences that Islam is dominated by violent extremists.

    January's Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris set the stage for a year of anti-Muslim coverage. Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox News' parent company, tweeted that Muslims "must be held responsible" for terrorist attacks "until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer." Fox contributor Monica Crowley echoed his statements, claiming "I haven't heard any condemnation" of the attack from Muslim groups, while right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham claimed that similar attacks wouldn't occur if "most Muslims were against what was happening." When Paris was struck by terror again in November, Fox primetime figurehead Bill O'Reilly called for a "Million Muslim March," adding that people want to "see a mobilization of the good Muslims." Capping off the year of Islamophobic coverage, Fox daytime host Andrea Tantaros used December's terrorist attack by a Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California as an opportunity to peddle the myth that Muslims "don't come out and denounce [terrorism]."

    But conservative media's calls for "moderate Muslims" to condemn terrorism are disingenuous. Muslim groups and leaders have repeatedly and roundly condemned terrorism. After November's attacks in Paris, leaders from numerous Arab states and Muslim-majority countries called them "heinous crimes" that are "repugnant," and "against all human and moral values." Eleven months earlier, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, religious scholar Reza Aslan said "anyone who keeps saying that we need to hear the moderate voice of Islam, why aren't Muslims denouncing these violent attacks, doesn't own Google." Nevertheless right-wing media routinely ignored these condemnations, choosing instead to criticize Muslims for supposedly not speaking up. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the spokesman from Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA condemned the attack on FoxNews.com, yet on the same day Fox News personalities claimed Muslims had not. Sean Hannity doubled down in his attacks against "silent" Muslims days after leaders of predominately Muslim countries, some of the largest Islamic groups in America, and Muslims across the world denounced the November Paris attacks.

    And when conservative commentators do acknowledge statements from mainstream Muslim groups, it's often only to ridicule those groups for speaking out. After the December 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the largest Islamic organizations in America, quickly denounced the attack in a press conference after the shooters were revealed to be Muslim. Executive Director Hussam Ayloush reassured the country on CNN that "all American Muslims share with the rest of the country our sorrow today, our shock, and our agony for what happened."

    But rather than silencing criticisms, CAIR's response only drew outrage from conservative commentators who labeled the group a "terrorist organization" and "that Muslim group that ain't the best in the world." One Fox guest even went so far as to compare the press conference to "a pedophile sending NAMBLA out to speak for them," while others dismissed the statements as "damage control" and a "media crisis management plan." Frequent Fox guest Dr. Zuhdi Jasser somehow gathered from CAIR's statements that they "inculcate[] those first steps of radicalization" and see it as "sort of normal behavior."

    CAIR's condemnations also did little to curb conservative media claims that Muslims weren't speaking out against terrorism. Even while acknowledging CAIR's press conference, a segment on Fox's Outnumbered still claimed that Muslims weren't sending the message that terrorists "are much different than the rest of us."

    Many of the same conservative media figures who demanded penance from "moderate Muslims" for acts of terror also repeatedly suggested that Islam and Western society are fundamentally incompatible. Monica Crowley reasoned that Muslims weren't denouncing terror because "in Islam, the good Muslims are the jihadis, so the ones not carrying out violence are looked at as sort of crummy Muslims." Laura Ingraham stoked anti-Muslim fears by citing a faulty poll to falsely claim that Muslims "have a 5,000 percent greater chance of being connected with some type of jihadi group in the United States." Sean Hannity asked if "we have a clash of cultures we've got to consider?" in reference to resettling Syrian civil war refugees in the U.S., adding, "How do we know if they want to assimilate?" Bill O'Reilly called the European refugee crisis "the dramatic Muslim invasion." Fox News figures capitalized on the crisis to stoke fears that Muslim refugees may be terrorists, from Andrea Tantaros claiming "taking Islamic refugees would be suicide" to The Five co-host Eric Bolling saying male Muslim refugees are "going to be easily radicalized by ISIS."

    This tactic -- assigning collective guilt and then falsely accusing "moderate Muslims" of being complicit with violent terrorism -- has become a powerful weapon in conservative media's campaign to fearmonger about Islam.

    After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Caner Dagli, a professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, pointed out that these demands are "really about political statements and maintaining a certain social hierarchy" and "an act by the powerful assigning collective guilt against the powerless":

    This is really about political statements and maintaining a certain social hierarchy. Demanding that innocent Muslims always make new statements about crimes they could not have stopped, from which they do not benefit, and have always condemned anyway, is an act by the powerful assigning collective guilt against the powerless. The critics who want Muslims to "speak out" only grow more demanding when Muslims actually do speak out, because by doing so Muslims have publicly affirmed the right of others to blame them collectively, regardless of whether they are accountable or not.

    Such political maneuvers -- and that is what they really are -- increase the leverage that can be exerted over Muslims in public life. Muslim voices are thus uniquely kept out of view unless they are apologizing for some atrocity they had nothing to do with.

    Endlessly accusing Muslims of being insufficiently outraged by terrorism helps prime conservative media audiences for a wildly distorted view of Islam. Vox's Max Fisher shed light on the mindset that these tactics breed: "the implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise."

    That implication has consequences. While right-wing media figures heightened suspicions of the Muslim community, anti-Muslim backlash in America has been on the rise. The FBI reported that in 2014, hate crimes across the board decreased -- that is, except for anti-Muslim crimes, which rose about 14 percent. And according to a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, that trend may be "destined to accelerate."

    Just days after the attacks in Paris, a Muslim engineer attended a community forum to present an application for a zoning permit to replace his city's aging Islamic center. A crowd poured into the meeting to harass him. "Nobody wants your evil cult in this town," someone in the hall shouted, "because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists ... Every Muslim is a terrorist, period. Shut your mouth." Vandalism at mosques reached a record high this year with anecdotal evidence suggesting that 2015 "has been one of the most intensely anti-Muslim periods in American history," as nearly twenty anti-Muslim incidents took place over the course of just one week in December.

    When conservative media commentators demand that Muslims condemn acts of terrorism and subsequently ignore their voices when they do, they are insidiously suggesting that Muslims condone terrorism. These demands are meant to make audiences suspicious of the idea of "moderate Muslims" and inflate the perception of extremists within the religion. Muslims are then left with seemingly no way to win, no matter how loud or how hard they try.

  • Media Explain That Frank Gaffney, Whose Poll Inspired Trump's Proposed Ban On Muslim Immigration, Is A "Notorious Islamophobe"

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Multiple media outlets documented the Islamophobic and conspiratorial views of Frank Gaffney, the president and founder of the right-wing Center for Security Policy (CSP), after Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump cited a CSP poll to justify his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

  • Islamophobic Organization's Misleading Poll Used To Justify Donald Trump's Call To Ban Muslims From America

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump cited a misleading poll from Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy to justify a call he issued "for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Gaffney has been described as "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes" and experts dismiss the poll's methodology as questionable.

  • Right Wing Media Attack Loretta Lynch For Condemning Anti-Muslim Rhetoric That Leads To Violence

    But Muslim Hate Crimes On Rise In US And Around The World

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET, BRENNAN SUEN & DAYANITA RAMESH

    Right-wing pundits criticized Attorney General Loretta Lynch for advocating action against anti-Muslim rhetoric that "edges towards violence" at the 10th annual Muslim Advocates dinner. Conservatives called the comments "sedition," but crime data shows anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise in U.S.

  • Don't Be Surprised That Kim Davis' Pope Visit Was Overblown

    When You're Dealing With A Hate Group, Dishonesty Is Par For The Course

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is embroiled in yet another media firestorm following revelations that reports about her private meeting with Pope Francis during his recent visit to the U.S. may have been grossly misrepresented by her and the legal group representing her, Liberty Counsel. But the controversy should come as no surprise to those familiar with Liberty Counsel, which has a reputation for lying in order to elevate its profile and further demonize LGBT people.

    Florida-based Liberty Counsel was founded in 1989 by its now-chairman, Mat Staver. For years, the organization has distinguished itself as one of the anti-gay right's most extreme and blundering legal groups, taking on doomed efforts to defend harmful "ex-gay" therapy and slow the inevitable advance of marriage equality.

    Before it began representing Davis, Liberty Counsel was perhaps most notorious for representing Lisa Miller. After ending a same-sex relationship with her partner, Miller took their daughter and moved to another state, defying a court order and refusing to allow her former partner to see the child. Liberty Counsel rallied to Miller's defense, creating a public relations nightmare for itself when Miller subsequently kidnapped the child and fled the country.

    In addition to Davis, the group is also defending Scott Lively,  an American evangelist facing charges of "crimes against humanity" for his involvement in promoting Uganda's extreme anti-LGBT law, which threatens gay Ugandans with life in prison.

    Apart from its ham-handed legal work, Liberty Counsel is a run-of-the-mill anti-gay group that regularly makes asinine and hateful proclamations about the LGBT community. Liberty's Staver has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and disease, and predicted that marriage equality could cause society to "cease to exist." In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) added Liberty Counsel to its list of anti-gay "hate groups."

    The Kim Davis marriage-license story offered Liberty Counsel an opportunity to capitalize off of the national media spotlight trained on the law-breaking clerk - a chance for it to raise its visibility and carve out a niche for itself alongside more successful anti-LGBT legal organizations. Staver became a regular fixture in the media's coverage of Davis, cited in nearly every major mainstream media report about the controversy. 

    But that increased media attention also brought with it increased media scrutiny and vetting, especially as it become clear that Davis would face jail time for refusing to do her job. Commentators began openly wondering whether Liberty was cynically taking advantage of Davis to raise its profile. Others noted Liberty's penchant for pursuing dead-end, extreme anti-gay litigation. Even on Fox, media figures were suspicious of Staver's arguments and intentions. A panel of Fox commentators mocked Staver's "ridiculously stupid" suggestion that Kentucky isn't bound to follow the Supreme Court's orders. In an interview with Staver, Fox's Neil Cavuto seemed sincerely perplexed by Staver's legal reasoning, admitting he was "thoroughly confused" by the end of the segment.

    That doubtfulness about Staver and Liberty Counsel's credibility turned out to be well-warranted. Since Davis' release from jail, Liberty Counsel has been embroiled in several PR controversies, almost exclusively attributable to Staver's own incompetence. During the September 17 edition of Liberty Counsel's Faith and Freedom broadcast, Staver claimed that the hosts of ABC's The View had called for Kim Davis to be killed, a blatant falsehood he was later forced to apologize for.

    A few weeks later, while speaking at the conservative Values Voter Summit, Staver displayed a picture of what he claimed was a 100,000-person prayer rally in Lima, Peru for Davis. The photo was met with immediate suspicion from media commentators, who could find no evidence on social media that such a massive rally had taken place. After days of doubling down, attacking its critics, and revising its defense of the photo's authenticity, Liberty Counsel was forced to admit that the image actually came from a completely unrelated event in 2014, calling the mix-up "an honest mistake."

    And then came Pope Francis' visit to the United States. On September 29, Liberty Counsel announced that the pope had met privately with Davis in Washington, DC to thank her for her "courage" and encourage her to "stay strong." In interviews with major media outlets, Liberty Counsel depicted the meeting as a de facto endorsement of Davis' case, telling CBS News that the meeting "sends a huge message worldwide that [the pope] stands for the inherent right of religious freedom." Staver also told CNN's Jake Tapper that the pope "did encourage [Davis] for standing."

    But on October 2, the Vatican released an official statement clarifying that the meeting was not an endorsement of Davis' case:

    Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope's characteristic kindness and availability.

    [...]

    The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

    One official said there was "a sense of regret" at the Vatican over the meeting, while an advisor close to Pope Francis tweeted that the pope was "exploited" by a "meeting that never should have taken place." Liberty Counsel has responded by disputing the Vatican's description of the event, effectively throwing more fuel on the media fire.

    Liberty Counsel's recent PR crises aren't anomalies -- they're characteristic of an organization run by a man whose only real claim to fame is spewing vitriol and championing fringe, losing legal battles against LGBT equality. LGBT activists who have followed Liberty Counsel's work for the past several years probably aren't surprised that the group is again embarrassing itself in the national media's spotlight. But major news outlets, which have largely been reluctant to dig in to Liberty Counsel's history of extremism, are less likely to treat the group with the skepticism and hesitance that it deserves.

    To be fair, this problem isn't unique to Liberty Counsel -- a number of extreme anti-LGBT hate groups have duped the media into taking them seriously. As LGBT equality becomes less and less controversial, media outlets have a shrinking number of radical anti-gay charlatans to rely on as representing the voice of the opposition. And in the case of Kim Davis, Liberty Counsel has cast itself as a central character in the drama.

    Staver's repeated missteps and embarrassments are a worthwhile reminder of why these kinds of organizations are labeled "hate groups" in the first place. They're not just ideologically extreme - dishonesty, exaggeration, and propaganda are core components of their brands. Given how frequently hate groups like Liberty Counsel lie about LGBT people on a daily basis, media outlets should anticipate that same level of dishonesty when they're the subject of major news stories, and treat them accordingly.

  • Media Run With Discredited Nativist Group's Research To Claim More Than Half Of Immigrant Households Receive "Welfare"

    More Questionable Research From The SPLC-Labeled Nativist Group, The Center For Immigration Studies

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Numerous conservative media outlets are parroting the misleading conclusions of a September 2015 report by an anti-immigrant nativist group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which claims that "immigrant households use welfare at significantly higher rates than native households." Like previous flawed CIS studies, these findings have been called into question by immigration experts for failing to account for the economic hardship of some immigrant families, lumping American-born beneficiaries into "immigrant household" categorizations, and conflating numerous anti-poverty programs with so-called "welfare."