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

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21 Comments on "From the editor: A press release pulled"

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Daniel Barlow
4 years 3 months ago

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

David Van Deusen
4 years 3 months ago

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

amber ruiz
4 years 3 months ago

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

Gunther Furbush
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
4 years 3 months ago

Anne, I admire the way you handled that.

4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Art Bell
4 years 3 months ago

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.

Jane Stein
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
William Boardman
4 years 3 months ago

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.

Paul Donovan
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Heather Pipino
4 years 3 months ago

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!

4 years 3 months ago

Give em Hell Ann.

Amelia Silver
4 years 3 months ago

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?

4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Patrick Cashman
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
thelma o'brien
4 years 3 months ago

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

Ellen Radrick
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
Barry Kade
4 years 3 months ago
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… Read more »
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