Research/Study Research/Study

STUDY: Which Publications Avoid Using The “Hate Group” Label For Anti-LGBT Extremists

A Media Matters analysis revealed that over the past two years, The New York Times has used the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) designation of “hate group” to clearly designate an anti-LGBT hate group only once. In Times coverage, anti-LGBT hate groups were most likely to be called “conservative” or given no designation at all. But in the same period, the Times cited the SPLC as an expert on tracking hate groups and frequently used the organization’s hate group designation when reporting on white nationalist groups. The Washington Post used the label more, but like the Times, overwhelmingly reserved its use for white nationalists.

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center Is A Leading Authority On Tracking Domestic Extremism And Hate Groups, Including Anti-LGBT Organizations

    The Southern Poverty Law Center Tracks Domestic Hate Groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center (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.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 7/11/16, accessed 7/10/16]

    The SPLC Currently Tracks 48 Anti-LGBT Hate Groups Across The U.S., Five Of Which Are Featured In Its “Extremist Profiles.” The SPLC identifies anti-LGBT hate groups “on the basis of spreading known falsehoods and demonizing propaganda against LGBT people, such as the claim that gay men largely orchestrated the Holocaust” but not on the basis of organizations’ religious views about LGBT people. The SPLC has been working to identify anti-LGBT hate groups since 2010, and it currently counts 48 anti-LGBT groups nationally, five of which SPLC has extensively profiled. The five anti-LGBT hate groups SPLC has profiled in its “extremist” files are the American Family Association, Westboro Baptist Church, Liberty Counsel, the Family Research Council, and the Traditional Values Coalition. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 11/4/10, 12/23/10, accessed 7/13/16]

    Media Matters Reviewed The Way That Major National Publications Described Anti-LGBT Hate Groups Over The Last Two Years. Media Matters analyzed news coverage of anti-LGBT hate groups from June 1, 2014, to June 30, 2016. In our analysis we searched The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times for each of the five anti-LGBT hate groups profiled by the SPLC. We also searched for the keywords “hate groups,” “extremist,” or “Southern Poverty Law Center” in order to take into account the publications’ overall application of such a designation. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today rarely deemed any organizations “hate groups” and were thus excluded from the final report. The Los Angeles Times rarely reported on the five anti-LGBT hate groups we searched for, and it was thus excluded from the final report.

    NY Times Failed To Properly Identify SPLC’s Major Anti-LGBT Hate Groups

    NY Times Failed To Clearly Define SPLC’s Major Anti-LGBT Hate Groups. Over the two-year period, The New York Times mentioned four out of the five profiled anti-LGBT hate groups surveyed (The Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association, and Westboro Baptist Church) a total of 60 times, and never clearly defined any of them as a current hate group. The paper most frequently labeled these hate groups as “conservative” (18 times or 30 percent of the total) or gave them no descriptor at all (14 times or 23 percent of the total).

    Only Once Did NY Times Clearly Use SPLC’s Hate Group Label For Any Anti-LGBT Group, And It Questioned The Validity Of The Label. One New York Times article in our analysis used the hate group designation for an anti-LGBT group, but it also included a quote from the group, the World Congress of Families, denouncing the label. (World Congress of Families is not one of the major “extremist” anti-LGBT groups SPLC profiled, but SPLC still designates it as a hate group.) The article also included criticism of SPLC’s authority and questioned its methodology. Finally, in a passing mention of the Family Research Council, the article falsely reported that SPLC designates hate groups based “on their stances on gay issues,” rather than on their propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people. No other article in our analysis attempted to question the authority of SPLC’s classification or allowed a hate group a platform to defend its organization without pushback from SPLC, for this or any other ideology. From the Times' May 18 article:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, added the World Congress of Families to its list in 2014, calling it “one of the key driving forces behind the U.S. religious right’s global export of homophobia and sexism.” But the liberal-leaning center 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. [The New York Times, 5/18/16]

    Wash. Post Frequently Failed to Label Anti-LGBT Hate Groups As Such Or Explain Their Extremism. During the two-year period of our analysis, The Washington Post mentioned anti-LGBT hate groups 74 times, labeling them as hate groups six times (8 percent of the total). Most of the time (27 times or 37 percent of the total), the Post provided no context for the group. When it did label such groups, the paper was most likely (eight times or 11 percent of the total) to label the groups as “conservative” or contextualize them by mentioning their legal work (such as with Liberty Counsel, which represents the Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling). [The Associated Press, 10/4/15]

    But NY Times and Wash. Post Frequently Used The Term “Hate Group” And Referenced SPLC As An Authority In Tracking Other Hate Groups

    NY Times Frequently Identified SPLC-Designated Hate Groups But Failed To Do So For Anti-LGBT Groups. In the past two years, The New York Times has labeled organizations as hate groups or extremist a total of 35 times, referring to SPLC as an authority 71 percent of the time (25 times out of 35 total mentions). A majority of the references to hate groups were about white nationalist organizations and other groups with similar purposes (63 percent of total mentions, or 22 times). The paper identified anti-government organizations as hate groups three times (9 percent of the total hate group mentions). Additionally, it designated anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups as hate groups twice (6 percent of the total for each).

    Wash. Post Also Utilized SPLC’s Hate Group Designation Frequently For Other Types Of Groups. In the past two years, The Washington Post has labeled organizations as hate groups or extremist 36 times, referencing SPLC as an authority 83 percent of the time (30 times out of 36 total mentions). White nationalist organizations were most likely to receive the label (42 percent of the total mentions, or 15 times). Even though the Post infrequently labeled anti-LGBT groups as hate groups, a substantive portion of groups that it labeled as hate groups were anti-LGBT (19 percent of the total hate groups labeled). 


    Media Matters searched The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times in Nexis for coverage between June 1, 2014, and June 30, 2016, using the terms “American Family Association” or “Liberty Counsel” or “Liberty Council” or “Family Research Council” or “Traditional Values Coalition” or “Westboro Baptist” or “Tony Perkins” or “Mat Staver” or “Mathew Staver” or “Tim Wildmon” or “Bryan Fischer” or “Andrea Lafferty” or “Southern Poverty Law Center” or “hate group” or “extremist.” Editorials, opinion columns, blogs, magazine content, arts criticisms, and film reviews were excluded from the analysis. Articles by newswires, including The Associated Press, Reuters, and Religion News Service, were excluded from analysis. The political morning newsletter “First Draft” from The New York Times was included in analysis.

    The same search was repeated for The Wall Street Journal in Factivia.

    Descriptors referring to hate group representatives (e.g. “conservative leader Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council”) were excluded from analysis. When multiple descriptors were used for a hate group (e.g. “the Christian law firm that represented Kim Davis”), the most editorial descriptor was used for coding. Duplicate articles in separate editions of each paper were excluded from analysis. Quotes from individuals using the term “hate group” with no further mention of “hate group” in the article were excluded from analysis. Statements from various organizations including the term “hate group” that were quoted by outlets were included. Mentions of multiple different hate groups within the same article were each counted separately. References to individuals -- not groups -- who were labeled “extremists” by the SPLC were excluded from analysis. Only definitive statements on the current standing of a hate group’s SPLC designation were counted as being labeled “hate group.” Not all percentages add up to 100 due to rounding. 

    Publication Notes

    The publications were selected based on circulation and digital platform traffic. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today were included in the analysis but ultimately excluded from the report due to their infrequent use of the term “hate group” overall. The Los Angeles Times was excluded from the final report as well due to its infrequent reporting on the five anti-LGBT groups surveyed.