Friday, January 19, 2018

John Stossel needs a better fact-checker

John Stossel
John Stossel has published a video to Facebook about Southern Poverty Law Center. According to Stossel: “The Southern Poverty Law Center has become a hate group itself. It is now a left-wing, money grabbing, slander machine.”

Stossel uses the word “slander” which is the written form of defamation. Defamation is generally limited to misstatements of fact rather than a point of view that someone doesn't like. Mr. Stossel failed to point out a single factual inaccuracy published or expressed in some form by SPLC. However, the same cannot be said for Mr. Stossel.

Stossel said that SPLC president, Richard Cohen, and chief trial counsel, Morris Dees, would speak with him. That is actually true — but misleading. No one would speak with Stossel because — according to a senior executive at SPLC — Stossel never asked. Nevertheless, let's get to meatier issues. I have what is undoubtedly a partial list of misstatements and misconceptions. Some of these are the repetition of unverified hate group rhetoric.

Stossel claims that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is on “their list.” While a viewer might be confused that Ali is somehow listed as a hate group, the list that Stossel is referring to is a compendium of extreme anti-Islam critics. In October, 2016 SPLC wrote a piece about Ms. Ali who is a fierce critic of Islam. SPLC is critical of the actual words that Ali has used. These are quoted with links to the source. Stossel claims that “she speaks out against radical Islam.” He also called Ali a “skeptical Muslim.” That is false. Ali, an ex-Muslim (something Stossel failed to realize) and she berates the religion in its entirety with statements like: “violence is inherent in Islam.” Stossel failed to point out any falsehood or inconsistency on SPLC's part. He just regurgitated the all-too-familiar rhetoric of hate groups who do not like being called hate groups. That rhetoric includes the fact that these hate groups often claim that Ms. Ali is a victim of persecution by SPLC. The hate groups are never specific and Stossel was not specific.

In fact, SPLC's opinions about groups are based primarily upon the rhetoric of the group. Hate groups make demonstrably false claims about a minority in order to marginalize the minority. While hate groups like Liberty Counsel try to separate themselves from groups like the Klan and neo-Nazis, the behavior of hate groups has a common component which is to defame minorities. KKK and  neo-Nazi groups might be more violent than, say, Liberty Counsel or Family Research Council. However, they do to Jews and blacks exactly what LC and FRC do to LGBT people. Stossel tries to make the same distinction, failing to consider what hate groups have in common.

I am sure that there are Klan and Nazi groups that have never committed any violence. Should those be excluded? Is violence a necessary element for a hate group designation? The simple fact is that groups like Liberty Counsel and Family Research Council probably inspire, or at least excuse, a great deal of violence that is visited upon LGBT people.

Stossel claims that SPLC has done an injustice to ex-Muslim Maajid Nawaz by labeling him an extremist for opposing extreme Islam. That is incorrect. SPLC claims that Nawaz seems more interested in self-promotion and money than ideology. You can read SPLC's piece in full pointing out the many inconsistencies in Nawaz's story. Nawaz's Quilliam foundation wrote: “The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics.” That has the effect of saying that all Muslims are terrorists. That is certainly not criticism limited to Islamic extremists.

Stossel made no effort to point out any factual error on the part of SPLC. Moreover, he gave the impression that Nawaz is a persecuted Muslim which is untrue. Stossel did not even offer an explanation of why his opinion of Nawaz was different from that published by SPLC. I question if he even read SPLC's piece. Stossel just repeated the talking points of hate groups, including their claims of persecuting poor Mr. Nawaz.

Next, Stossel implied, through selective airing of Family Research Council rhetoric, that Family Research Council is designated as a hate group because it opposes same-sex marriage. That is identical to what FRC has claimed about the designation and it is demonstrably false.

Stossel seems to have made no effort to independently assess any of the claims of hate groups. He just regurgitated their talking points.

Family Research Council is considered a hate group because it routinely lies about LGBT people. For example, Tony Perkins has repeatedly claimed that gay men are predisposed to be pedophiles. Stossel failed to challenge SPLC's opinion based upon the facts presented by SPLC. As SPLC points out, FRC's rhetoric includes the statement:
Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.
That is the very definition of false light and bigotry. Stossel made no effort to argue that a statement like the above should not result in FRC being classified as a hate group. I question if he even read what SPLC has to say about Family Research Council. Stossel was lazy.

Stossel implied that he is being fair. Because SPLC would not speak with him, he used one of the commentators from Young Turks to defend the organization. She did a poor job of doing  so by not making a case based on facts or she was not asked the right questions or her responses were edited. If Stossel really wanted to speak with someone at SPLC he could have done so. It might not have been Cohen or Dees but he certainly could have spoken with a senior level representative. He made no effort to do so.

Indeed, in contrast, Stossel gave a great deal of time to an interview with FRC executive vice president Jerry Boykin.  Boykin claims that SPLC is listed as a hate group because it disagrees with SPLC politically. Rubbish. FRC is listed for routinely mis-characterizing LGBT people and Muslims. SPLC is very precise while Stossel allows Boykin to attack SPLC solely with generalities.

Boykin claims that he does not hate gays, that he knows gay people and that he has worked with gay people. According to WND (as much as I hate to ever cite WND) Boykin claimed that just the presence of gay troops has lowered Morale in the military. Boykin also thinks that gay men cannot be trusted by other military personnel:
Boykin firmly believes this trend will hurt morale and diminish performance because these new dynamics will create trust issues among our troops – issues that could cost lives. He said the impact of repealing DADT probably won’t be seen for about a decade, but once apparent it will likely hurt recruiting for years to come.
Lately Boykin has been targeting transgender people, even calling for violence:
The bottom line is that I oppose these so called "‪‎Bathroom‬" bills that let men go into women's locker rooms, showers, and toilets and I have been very public about it. When I said in Orlando that "...the first man who goes in the restroom with my daughter will not have to worry about surgery," the LGBT community once again came after me, claiming that I was calling for violence against ‪transgender‬ people.
Did John Stossel bother to do so much as a Google search before he spouted off someone else's talking points?

Following the familiar script, Stossel claims that SPLC makes people targets; claiming that SPLC is responsible for the shooting at Family Research Council.

Imagine this. Some guy has crappy credit. He applies for a car loan and is rejected. His reaction is to go to the bank and shoot a security guard. The bank blames the credit reporting agency for the shooting. Does that make any sense at all?

The issue is not about some deranged gunman (who I will not name). The issue is limited to whether or not Southern Poverty Law Center fairly designates Family Research Council as a hate group. Stossel makes no effort whatsoever to demonstrate that SPLC's designation is unfair. Stossel has been irresponsible.

From there we move on to Ruth Institute and Jennifer Roback Morse. Stossel claims that SPLC “smears” the group. Again, there is no effort to analyze SPLC's designation and its inherent fairness or unfairness. Morse claims that there is no way to appeal to SPLC. That is utter nonsense suggesting that Morse has never tried.

Ruth Institute is listed partially because of their objection to same-sex parenting which is based on Morse's ultra-conservative Catholicism and an edict from the Church which reads, in part:
Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral…
Stossel refers to Ruth as a religious organization as if that gives them a free pass

Morse claims that there could be situations where a gay couple was a suitable guardian for a child but that generally children should be placed with a mother and her father. I cannot find any Ruth Institute materials that ever allow for gay parenting.

Following the familiar script, Ruth Institute was supposedly victimized by their merchant bank which will not process donation transactions for hate groups. Stossel dutifully displays the letter on screen.

Then Stossel makes the bizarre claim that SPLC keeps the list long (suggesting that they don't remove groups) because it is good for their donations. Last I checked, SPLC is a nonprofit entity. Stossel allows Boykin to suggest that SPLC's endowment is too large and, following the familiar script, he gets in the “much of that is offshore” through Boykin. That evokes a conversation about money in the Cayman Islands as if SPLC is doing something nefarious.

In point of fact 4,320 charities have offshore accounts. Of the 25 largest charities (by asset size) 22, or 88%, have offshore accounts 1. Many, if not most, of those are in the Cayman Islands. With interest rates very low, charities are seeking more productive vehicles for investing their assets such as hedge funds.

Many, probably  most, hedge funds are domiciled in the Cayman Islands. The reason is that CI provides a tax pass-through for all investors, foreign and domestic. A New Yorker,  for example, will be obligated to pay municipal, state and federal taxes on profits but will not be subjected to additional taxes imposed by the Cayman Islands. The same is true for a citizen of any other country. The important thing to understand is that no one is avoiding or evading any taxes.

Stossel then claims that some SPLC employees earn more than $400,000 per year. According to the 2016 tax return that is inaccurate. Richard Cohen's salary was $355,140. Stossel likely included pension and other benefits. If we look at the conservative Christian equivalent, Alliance Defending Freedom (also designated a hate group), its president was paid a salary of $389,598, nearly $35,000 more than SPLC's president. So what is the point?

Again, following the script, Stossel claims that SPLC doesn't list Antifa. That is because it is not a group. It is a movement. However, SPLC does list a broad range of hate groups including black separatists.

Stossel says “Give me a break.” That break will not come from this observer. A very smart man (Stossel) has not used his curiosity to find out what is really behind the hate group talking points regarding SPLC. He was lazy and sloppy. Ultimately, Stossel, as he would put it, smeared Southern Poverty Law Center without so much as a fact demonstrating unfairness on their part.

Stossel cites Ben Carson as an example of unfairness. What he doesn't do is to read what SPLC has written about Carson, determine if it is accurate and then opine on its fairness. Not doing so is, well …unfair. It is also highly hypocritical.

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1 Data is derived from a local database of the IRS extract which includes all charities other than private foundations, that filed a form 990 during calendar year 2016. 2017 data is not yet available.

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