From the editor: A press release pulled

VTDigger.org publishes press releases as a service for our readers.

We want to get as much salient information about politics and public policy issues to the public as possible. Rather than write staff reports based on press releases, as many news outlets do, we run them verbatim, and we vet the material to make sure that it comes from legitimate sources.

We reserve the right to ignore press releases that aren’t relevant, that are patently self-promotional or that present potentially libelous information.

We don’t censor political views.

On Monday, we ran a press release, however, that later gave us pause. It was about a poll of Vermont voters and their views on “illegal immigration.” The survey, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, was commissioned by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. According to the release, it “reveals that likely Vermont voters overwhelmingly believe illegal immigration is harmful to the state, and half would like to see overall levels of immigration to the United States reduced.”

“A clear majority of likely Vermont voters, 55 percent, say that illegal immigration negatively affects the state,” according to FAIR.

The information was distributed by PRNewswire, a commonly used mainstream media information source, and it was also published in The Sacramento Bee.

We received an email from Brendan O’Neill, an activist with Migrant Justice, within minutes of posting the FAIR press release. O’Neill who is an advocate for Mexican migrant workers in Vermont pointed out that FAIR has a dubious reputation. The organization is described as a “hate” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, based in Montgomery, Ala.

Here is an excerpt from the center’s 2001 report on anti-immigration groups, which was updated in 2007 to include FAIR.

Founded in 1978 by John H. Tanton, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is one of the country’s best-established anti-immigration groups — and the richest beneficiary among them of the largesse of the infamous Pioneer Fund.

The Fund, which has long subsidized dubious studies of the alleged links between race and intelligence, awarded FAIR $1.2 million between 1985 and 1994, according to the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism. FAIR now says that it has severed its links to the controversial Fund.

Today, FAIR claims a staggering 70,000 members, although that number is almost certainly inflated. Tanton remains on FAIR’s board and also is the publisher of The Social Contract Press, which sells racist anti-immigrant tracts.

Dan Stein, the group’s executive director, has warned that certain immigrant groups are engaged in “competitive breeding” aimed at diminishing white power. Rick Oltman, FAIR’s western representative, has spoken before and worked with the racist Council of Conservative Citizens.

Garrett Hardin, a FAIR board member, has argued that aiding starving Africans is counterproductive and will only “encourage population growth.” Overall, FAIR blames immigrants for crime, poverty, disease, urban sprawl and increasing racial tensions in America, and calls for a drastic cut in the numbers of those allowed in.

Though we very rarely remove posts, I took the press release down after I read the center’s report. Though the information from FAIR was cloaked in legitimacy — it was a about a poll, and it came from a commonly used email newswire — I decided VTDigger.org shouldn’t publish information from a group that has a record of racist views.

Shortly afterward, Migrant Justice took credit for the decision and then excoriated VTDigger.org on Facebook.

Justicia Migrante Migrant Justice
VT Digger published a press release about Vermonters being ‘anti-immigrant’. Catch is they didn’t check the source to see they published a HATE GROUPS press release who were part of the fight for the Arizonification laws and whose hateful rhetoric enables a system of violence against all people of color. Tell VT Digger to check their sources before publishing hate! VtDigger

Unfortunately, my inbox hasn’t been inundated with complaints.
VTDigger.org is a platform for wide-ranging, sometimes heated discussions on issues.
When it comes to racism, however, there is no debate. Our nation has a shameful history of bigotry that continues to this day through acts of discrimination, violence and the war of words against people of color.
It’s a legacy of hatred we want no part of.
~Anne Galloway, editor of VTDigger.org

Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Daniel Barlow :

    Good call, Anne. Hate has no home here in Vermont.

  2. David Van Deusen :

    VT Digger,
    Thank you for looking into this and making the right decision. Hate groups have no place in Vermont.

  3. amber ruiz :

    Actually fair has done to various states. All these polls just suddenly popped up and every poll was being reported by that nazi group

  4. Gunther Furbush :

    Yes, you’ve censored a political view. That’s your privilege as an editor. At times it may be your duty.
    Is this one of those times? You haven’t made that case.
    “When it comes to racism … there is no debate.” Of course there is. The nature and cause of that social poison is hardly a settled issue. Neither is the remedy. Immigration policy has been part of that often-painful discussion since the 19th century.
    In the 1950s, this country learned the danger of putting blind faith in someone else’s list of un-American people and organizations. Don’t go there. You are journalists. Do your own research.
    If FAIR regularly operates beyond the pale, stand by your decision.
    But if it is primarily an advocate of harsh immigration reforms that are anathema to the SPLC, that doesn’t make it a hate group. if its poll result is credible and newsworthy, post it.
    In either case, you need a consistent standard for review of activists’ press releases.

  5. Anne, I admire the way you handled that.

  6. A few facts about the Southern Poverty Law Center and “hate groups” of which every media outlet should be aware:

    1. There is no legal definition for “hate group,” which is why even the FBI does not, cannot, designate “hate groups.”

    The SPLC uses the deliberately meaningless term “hate group” in its fund-raising materials precisely because it allows them to denigrate groups with which they (or more importantly, their donors…) disagree without accusing them of any actual crimes.

    2. The SPLC’s public relations chief, Mark Potok, designated 1,002 “hate groups” in 2010, but he cannot locate 262 of them on his own “Hate Map.” That’s 26% right off the top.

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map

    Check out New England. For Mass., 30% of its “hate groups are homeless. It’s 40% for NH, but the “radical Catholic” group is actually counted twice to pad out the numbers. CT and RI both come in at 50%, 66% for Maine and an incredible 100% of Vermont’s “hate groups” are phantoms.

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-8u

    3. When asked about these huge discrepancies last October, Mr. Potok admitted on camera that his “hate group” numbers were “anecdotal, a very rough estimate, and an imperfect process.”

    In short, Mr. Potok pretty much makes up the numbers as he goes along. The sad part is that the media does not realize that his numbers are bogus and cite SPLC fund-raising propaganda as fact, as Ms. Galloway has done here, without vetting a single claim.

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-bc

    4. A perfect example of Mr. Potok’s fast-and-loose “statistics” is the Ku Klux Klan. Starting in 2010, Mr. Potok began diminishing the threat of the KKK in public statements, culminating in his astonishing claim last March that the Klan was all but non-existent:

    “The Klan of today is small, fractured, impotent and irrelevant,” Potok said. (www.timesfreepress.com, September 12, 2010)

    “But Potok said the Klan has disintegrated. “There is no Klan now,” he said, only a collection of squabbling organizations. (www.sanluisobispo.com, March 23, 2011)

    “Irrelevant,” “impotent,” and “disintegrated,” yet Mr. Potok includes 220 Klan groups on his “Hate Map” even though he cannot locate 109 of them, including all of those he’s consigned to New England.

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-9i

    5. One final fact about the SPLC that ought to give everyone pause. The SPLC claims to be one of the nation’s premiere civil rights groups, yet NOT ONE of their top executives is a minority, and certainly not an immigrant.

    In fact, despite being located LITERALLY in the back yard of Dr. Martin Luther King’s home church in Montgomery, the SPLC has NEVER hired a person of color to a highly paid position of authority in its entire 40 year history.

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-7m

    Even the SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” program, aimed at K-12 school children has been led by “whites only” for 19 of its 20 year history.

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-bD

    The writer from Migrant Justice is correct in one thing, the staff of VT DIGGER and every media outlet need to research the claims of any group, including the SPLC and Migrant Justice, to see just what the truth actually is.

    Nine times out of ten, these groups are making money from their claims.

  7. Art Bell :

    I have always thought its bizarre and a bit unprofessional for you to ever print press releases unvetted.

    No traditional newspapers do this…as your roots are in professional journalism…maybe the ‘service’ you think you are offering isn’t actually a good service to offer.

    Just a thought.

  8. Jane Stein :

    I’m perfectly OK with publishing press releases of all kinds, but the FAIR incident highlights the needle that has to be threaded. FAIR does have an ugly reputation, but the poster above is right that the SPLC isn’t entirely trustworthy either.

    I wonder if maybe it would make sense to publish only press releases from groups/individuals you’re familiar with, and maybe toss things like the FAIR release to an intern or volunteer or somebody to spend some time researching on Google for info an editor could use to decide.

    If the resources are available, I’d like to see a release like this FAIR one published (caveat below), but with a few paragraphs of information about the group and why their survey data should be taken with a grain of salt.

    On surveys in general, I think I might not publish them at all unless the survey takers provided a list of their questions and their methodology. Who knows how those questions were put to how many Vermonters to get the results that they did. Perhaps it’s all totally straightforward, but I’m skeptical that Vermonters hold those attitudes to the extent the survey claims.

  9. William Boardman :

    Reasonable Digger decision, but maybe not the best.

    Better perhaps to run the release with contextual information.

    Censoring bad guys is a slippery slope.

    In any case it was a clear Digger failure not to distinguish this FAIR from others — in particular Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a FAIR that does excellent work in journalism.

  10. Paul Donovan :

    Tough call, but I think you made the right call. If you got a press release stating that the earth was flat, would “fairness” require you to print it? No. News organizations have an obligation to air diverse views, but they also owe an obligation to the truth. Yet still we get news organizations presenting preposterous views because they’re terrified of being labeled unfair or censorious (or, God help them, “liberal”). Mr. Keefe has spent the last four years ferociously attacking the SPLC in his blog using highly inflammatory (and exceedingly repetitive) language. I recommend following his links and looking at the blog’s archives. The SPLC may be inaccurate, but clearly he is driven by a personal agenda.

    • If exposing the hypocrisy, hiring and fund-raising practices of the SPLC is “ferociously attacking” them, I agree, please do follow the links and you’ll find that those that do not lead to major media outlets lead directly to the SPLC’s own publications.

      I cite all of my sources and freely admit that my “personal agenda” is to expose America’s most profitable “non-profit” every time someone holds them up as an exemplar.

      If you’re not bothered by the fact that “the nation’s leading civil rights organization” has never hired a minority to a highly paid position of authority, I would say that your “agenda” is more questionable.

      Follow every link. I will recant and apologize for ANY statement found to be erroneous. Look at the facts and judge for yourselves.

  11. Good call, maybe not the right reasons. FAIR’s press release is an effort, of a particularly nasty kind, to manufacture news. If we ask people if they think witchcraft is wrong, most people will answer yes, because the word has negative connotations. So, too, “illegal immigration.” There is no net illegal immigration, has not been for the past two or three years, owing to vigorous enforcement and other factors–as we all know. The term is just a code, meant to summon a stereotype. This is push-polling, not news. You were right to take it down, even if maybe for the wrong reason.

  12. Heather Pipino :

    Thank you, Anne. I am always dubious of these kinds of polls and was particularly horrified to see this FAIR group get published on VTDigger. Appreciate your integrity. Keep up the good work!

  13. Give em Hell Ann.

  14. Amelia Silver :

    Mr Keefe: Why are you bothering to post on this site? You make patently untrue statements about the SPLC, its board, its attorneys, its leadership, and its mission, and to what end?

    • Ms. Silver, on the assumption that our posts crossed in the mail, if my statements are patently untrue then it should require very little effort to disprove them.

      I’ll only ask for you to refute three:

      1. Just give us the legal definition of “hate group.” Not your opinion,or the opinion of the SPLC or any other special interest group.

      Just a simple, codified definition that any group can be held to across the board by United States law enforcement agencies.

      “I know it when I see it,” and “because I say so,” don’t cut it.

      2. Mark Potok of the SPLC lists two “hate groups” in Vermont on his “Hate Map” fund-raising tool. Where are they?

      http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map#s=VT

      If you or Mr. Potok know where these alleged “hate groups” are hiding then please “out” them and be done with it. Otherwise, the “Hate Map” is as worthless and meaningless as Mr. Potok admitted on camera last October.

      http://wp.me/pCLYZ-bc

      3. Every year the SPLC posts its IRS Form 990 on its web site and that form identifies the Center’s top executives and their salaries. All one has to do Google those names, as I have, and you can usually come up with a photo of same.

      Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can find Form 990s for the SPLC going back to 2002.

      Here are my results from the past three years:

      http://wp.me/pCLYZ-7m
      http://wp.me/pCLYZ-67
      http://wp.me/pCLYZ-3r

      At the risk of racial profiling, I cannot help but conclude that all of the top executives at “the nation’s leading civil rights organization” are white.

      In 1994, Dan Morse of the Montgomery Advertiser, the SPLC’s hometown newspaper, first noticed this lack of diversity in his week-long expose of the SPLC. Nothing has changed since then.

      Dan Morse, “Equal Treatment? No blacks in center’s leadership,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 16, 1994

      Ken Silverstein, an investigative journalist for Harper’s Magazine, (hardly a right-wing rag), noted the same skewed demographics in his 2000 article “The Church of Morris Dees: How the Southern Poverty Law Center profits from intolerance.”

      http://harpers.org/archive/2000/11/0068709

      Don’t take my word for it. Take his and Mr. Morse’s, or download the SPLC’s Form 990s and research it yourself. I have.

      Otherwise, all you’re left with, Ms. Silver, is cognitive dissonance, and that doesn’t cut it either.

      On a tangential note, despite all of the tongue-clucking and finger-waggling that has been directed at Ms. Galloway over this issue, (myself included), she has permitted this conversation to take place, which has encouraged a number of opinions with differing views.

      This is precisely the mission of the Media and the most authentic use of the Internet. She is to be commended. We don’t all have to agree on everything, but we ought to be able to express differing opinions without being smeared as a “hate group.”

      Thank you, Ms. Galloway.

  15. Patrick Cashman :

    This gives the appearance of agenda driven editorial decisions. In this case VT Digger deleted the press release of an organization associated with, even if tangentially, hate speech. Yet that organization is at least somewhat public about its leadership and associations (evidenced by the above discussions). However in the case of Green Mountain Daily this same site published a press release by an anonymous organization that uses the same type of speech against fellow Vermonters. It appears that in the case of FAIR Ms. Galloway finds their flavor of alleged hate speech distasteful, but in the case of GMD she finds the target of their hate speech worthy of that speech and therefore publishing an anonymous missive from GMD is acceptable.

  16. thelma o'brien :

    Good job withdrawing that odious press release from that odious group. Thanks, TOB

  17. Ellen Radrick :

    For Richard Keefe and anyone who might fall for the false claims he promotes:

    ——

    From the FBI’s Web Site:

    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/faqs

    “Does the FBI investigate hate groups in the United States?

    The FBI investigates domestic hate groups within guidelines established by the attorney general. Investigations are conducted only when a threat or advocacy of force is made; when the group has the apparent ability to carry out the proclaimed act; and when the act would constitute a potential violation of federal law.”

    ——

    From the US Attorney General’s Website, definition of Hate Crime. Hate Groups are groups that promote and support hate crimes:

    http://www.justice.gov/crs/pubs/crs_pub_hate_crime_bulletin_1201.htm

    “Hate crime is the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability. The purveyors of hate use explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence, and verbal threats of violence to instill fear in their victims, leaving them vulnerable to more attacks and feeling alienated, helpless, suspicious and fearful.

    Of all crimes, hate crimes are most likely to create or exacerbate tensions, which can trigger larger community-wide racial conflict, civil disturbances, and even riots. Hate crimes put cities and towns at-risk of serious social and economic consequences. The immediate costs of racial conflicts and civil disturbances are police, fire, and medical personnel overtime, injury or death, business and residential property loss, and damage to vehicles and equipment. Long-term recovery may be hindered by a decline in property values, which results in lower tax revenues, scarcity of funds for rebuilding, and increased insurance rates.”

  18. Thank you, Ms. Radrick,

    As your links point out, there is NO legal definition of “hate group.” The author of the FBI link you provided mentions the term once in a document from 1996, and the term “hate group” doesn’t even appear in the DOJ link except in the title of a document produced by a private organization.

    If you have an actual statute, rather than a random keyword or personal opinion, please post it here.

    Even Mark Potok, the SPLC’s “Director of Intelligence” concedes that there is no definition, nor is it a crime to belong to any group unless that group commits and actual crime.

    “The FBI does not monitor groups just because they have “hateful” ideology. There must be some evidence of criminal wrongdoing.“ (www.usatoday.com, May 17, 2002)

    What Mr. Potok DOES say about “hate groups” ought to give most people pause:

    “…a “hate group” has nothing to do with criminality… [or] potential for violence…” Rather, as Potok put it, “It’s all about ideology.”

    No crime, no violence, just “wrong thinking.”

    Mr. Potok’s “Hate Map” fund-raising tool makes this astonishing claim:

    “Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.” http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map

    I don’t know about most of the readers here, but I don’t link marches, rallies, speeches or any of the other constitutionally protected RIGHTS denounced by Mr. Potok with “criminal acts.”

    Again, it’s all about your ideology. If the “Law Center” doesn’t like what you say, in spite of your legal right to say it, you are designated a “hate group.”

    A few more words of wisdom from the quotable Mr. Potok http://wp.me/pCLYZ-77 :

    “Potok says inclusion on the list might come from a minor presence, such as a post office box.” (www.sanluisobispo.com, March 25, 2009)

    “Mark Potok, who has directed the SPLC’s Intelligence Project for 12 years, said the report relies on media, citizen and law enforcement reports, and does not include original reporting by SPLC staff.” (www.postcrescent.com, July 6, 2009)

    “And I would say as a general matter, it is extremely unusual these days for an organization to plan and carry out a criminal act where mainly for the reason that they are so likely to get caught.

    So what we really see out there in terms of violence from the radical right is by and large what we would call lone wolves, people operating on their own or with just one or two partners. As opposed to, you know, being some kind of organizational plan.” (www.npr.org, October 30, 2008)

    “Still, [Potok] said the public should remain vigilant about the activities of hate groups, even though individuals are responsible for the majority of hate crimes in America.” (www.courier-journal.com, July 21, 2009)

    This last quote segues nicely into the second half of your post, Ms. Radrick, meaning the conflation of subjective, self-designated “hate groups” and very real, legally defined and codified hate crimes.

    Even Mr. Potok’s spurious “Hate Map” concedes that there is no correlation:

    “Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”

    To get back to the original focus of this post, whatever you, I or anyone thinks about FAIR or their rhetoric, they have broken NO laws and have committed NO hate crimes.

    We may not like what they say, but smearing individuals or groups because you disagree with their opinions is not only intellectually lazy, it’s bigotry in its rawest sense.

    One final thought to ponder: What happens when the SPLC arbitrarily deems YOUR group to be a “hate group”?

    In 2009, the Missouri State Highway Patrol issued its officers a document with language lifted directly from SPLC fund-raising materials. That document informed the state police that an excellent way to spot “domestic extremists” was to look for third party bumper stickers on their cars.

    I’m an ex-pat New Englander myself and I know many people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine who vote for the Green Party, the Libertarians and several other third party groups. Perhaps you do too.

    I have a real problem with these people being tagged as “extremists” for exercising their most fundamental constitutional rights. Think about it, Ms. Radrick… you may already belong to a “hate group” and not even know it.

    What troubles me most is now that SPLC president Richard Cohen sits on a Homela nd Security advisory panel, SPLC rhetoric like that above is turning up verbatim in DHS documents, just as in the Missouri case.

    I’m sorry if my statements regarding the SPLC are unpleasant to you and some of the others, but the statements come largely from the SPLC itself.

    As Charles Dickens so aptly noted: “I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

  19. Barry Kade :

    I find it troubling on the one hand VT Digger policy is not to censor political opinions, but on the other censors those from “hate groups.” I have no problem with censoring “hate speech” as such. But a group that we define as a “hate group” may still have something to say. Freedom of speech is not necessary to protect those in the mainstream.
    A legitimate reason for pulling the press release is the fact that it concerned a survey from an unreliable source. Surveys are notoriously unreliable when they come from a group with an agenda. Clearly FAIR has an agenda and it is highly likely that their method of conducting a survey would be skewered toward getting the desired result. That should be the reason for pulling FAIR’s press release.

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