Over the past two years, The New York Times has relied on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) expertise in tracking extremist organizations to label white supremacist, anti-government, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim organization as “hate groups.” But in the same period, the Times only once clearly labeled an anti-LGBT organization as a current “hate group” -- and when it did, it questioned SPLC’s designation and quoted an organization representative explaining why the group shouldn’t be labeled a “hate group.”
The SPLC describes itself as “the premier U.S. non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.” The SPLC defines a hate group as a group that has “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
A Media Matters analysis found that over the past two years (June 1, 2014, through June 30, 2016), The New York Times mentioned “hate groups” a total of 35 times, mentioning SPLC’s expertise in tracking “hate groups” in 71 percent of the mentions spanning white nationalist, anti-government, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim organizations. For example, in a June 19, 2015, article reporting on controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, the Times included commentary from the president of the League of the South and noted that the SPLC has listed the organization as a hate group:
Supporters of the Confederate battle flag display signaled Friday that their position had not changed. In a commentary on Friday, Michael Hill, the president of the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed as a hate group, said that the Confederate battle flag should remain at the State House but that the American flag should be removed.
In a February 17, 2016, article “Law Center Finds Surge in Extremist Groups in U.S. Last Year,” the Times reported on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual report on the number of hate groups in the U.S., mentioning that the center tracks hate groups of differing ideologies, including those based on “sexual” characteristics.
But in the past two years, the only instance in which the Times referenced SPLC’s “hate group” label when reporting on an anti-LGBT organization was in an article that questioned the validity of the designation. The article, “Bush Praises World Congress of Families, a Hate Group to Some,” noted that George W. Bush wrote a letter in support of the “conservative group” the World Congress of Families (WCF) that is “classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” The Times went on to report:
But the liberal-leaning [Southern Poverty Law C]enter has been criticized for including groups that fall within the conservative mainstream, like the Family Research Council, based on their stances on gay issues.
The World Congress of Families has strongly disputed the hate-group designation and the implication that it supports violence against the L.G.B.T. community.
“Nothing could be further from the truth, as W.C.F. strongly opposes violence and would never advocate violence or hatred toward any group of people, regardless of differences,” the group wrote in 2014.
In the 34 other instances that the Times reported on hate groups, it never questioned the validity of the “hate group” designation, nor did it allow a hate group to explain why it shouldn’t be labeled as such. Additionally, in the WCF piece the Times falsely wrote that the SPLC designates anti-LGBT organizations as hate groups based on “their stances on gay issues.”
When it first began tracking anti-LGBT hate groups in 2010, the SPLC specifically explained that it lists organizations as hate groups “based on their propagation of known falsehoods” -- things like “asserting that gays and lesbians are more disposed to molesting children than heterosexuals – which the overwhelming weight of credible scientific research has determined is patently untrue.” The SPLC has published extensive research on the extremism of WCF, documenting the organization’s role in exporting homophobia internationally, including passing and lauding laws criminalizing gay people, like Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” bill.
In terms of providing context, the Times most frequently identified anti-LGBT extremists as “conservative” (30 percent of the time or 18 out of 60 mentions). The Washington Post, on the other hand -- which was also considered in Media Matters’ study -- often didn't provide any context when reporting on major anti-LGBT groups (37 percent of the time or 27 out of 74 mentions). The Post, however, did sometimes use the “hate group” label for anti-LGBT groups; in fact, out of all the paper’s “hate group” references, anti-LGBT groups were the second most common type of organization to earn the label (19 percent).
Media outlets have a long history of failing to identify anti-LGBT extremists as hate groups, instead calling them merely “Christian” or “conservative” organizations. The few recent times when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer have properly identified hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were outraged. But outrage is no reason an outlet that frequently relies on the SPLC’s expertise in tracking extremism should fail to provide meaningful context when reporting on anti-LGBT extremists.