Hate groups, lies and misinformation

About a month and a half ago, a little-known company called the Charity Give Back Group, or CGBG, started making headlines — and not the kind likely to win the company’s public-relations staff any bonuses.

Religion News Service, the Denver Post and The Daily Beast were among those who reported on gay-rights activists and faith-based nonprofits waging online culture war — with CGBG at the center.

I highlighted the controversy (as one example) in a related Christianity Today story on Christian organizations finding it difficult to partner with businesses.

This week, the CGBG story reached The New York Times, which reported:

The culture war over gay rights has entered the impersonal world of e-commerce.

A handful of advocates, armed with nothing more than their keyboards, have put many of the country’s largest retailers, including Apple, Microsoft, Netflix and Wal-Mart, on the spot over their indirect and, until recently, unnoticed roles in funneling money to Christian groups that are vocal in opposing homosexuality.

The advocates are demanding that the retailers end their association with an Internet marketer that gets a commission from the retailers for each online customer it gives them. It is a routine arrangement on hundreds of e-commerce sites, but with a twist here: a share of the commission that retailers pay is donated to a Christian charity of the buyer’s choice, from a list that includes prominent conservative evangelical groups like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.

The marketer and the Christian groups are fighting back, saying that the hundred or so companies that have dropped the marketer were misled and that the charities are being slandered for their religious beliefs.

The 1,200-word Times story is a fairly straightforward report that attempts to explain the controversy and the positions of each side in a balanced way. We get strong language from Stuart Wilber, a 73-year-old gay man and petition organizer who refers to conservative Christian organizations as “hate groups.” But fairly high up, we also get Mike Huckabee calling the petition efforts “economic terrorism” — fairly strong language in its own right.

The reporter boils down the controversy this way:

On one side are angry gay-rights advocates and bloggers, wielding the club of the gay community’s purchasing power.

On the other side are conservative Christian groups that say they are being attacked for their legitimate biblical views of sex and marriage, as well as a Web marketing firm that feels trampled for providing consumers with free choice.

Caught in the middle are companies, including such giants as Macy’s, Expedia and Delta Air Lines, which have the dual aims of avoiding politics but not offending any consumers. In this case, they have been pressured to make a choice that may involve little money either way but that could offend large blocs of consumers.

The phrase “legitimate biblical views of sex and marriage” slowed me down. I wonder if a different word than “legitimate” (such as “traditional” or “orthodox”) might have worked better. But in general, I’m fine with the above section.

However, the following section disappointed me:

Beyond condemning the advocates’ efforts as an infringement on consumer freedom, Mr. Huckabee said it was offensive to apply the “hate group” label to organizations that are legal, peaceful and promote biblical values.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Family Research Council a hate group for “regularly pumping out known falsehoods that demonize the gay community,” said Mark Potok, a project director at the law center — and not, he said, because the council calls homosexuality a sin or opposes gay marriage. The falsehoods, he said, include the discredited claim that gay men are especially prone to pedophilia.

The Family Research Council has accused the law center of “slanderous attacks.”

Advocates insist that their push is not anti-Christian. “It has nothing to do with biblical positions,” said Mr. Steele, the blogger. “It has to do with the fact that these groups spread lies and misinformation about millions of Americans.”

Details that I think would have helped that section:

— What is the Southern Poverty Law Center? What is its political leaning? What credentials does it have for labeling a group a “hate group?”

What exactly did the Family Research Council say concerning gay men and pedophilia? Is there a direct quote or report that the Times could cite of this claim? Does the council stand by its claim? Why or why not? The council is allowed to accuse the center of “slanderous attacks” but not to respond to the specific accusation in the paragraph before.

— What specific lies and misinformation have been spread about millions of Americans? Any direct quotes or references that the Times could cite? And how do those accused of spreading the lies and misinformation respond to the specific claims?

The Times story is not terrible.

It just seems to me — and maybe it’s just me — that it suffers from a lot of the same vagueness and broad generalizations that characterize too many Times stories on gay rights and the culture war.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • dalea

    The online story does link to the SPLC page where the organization explains its reasoning and provides quotes and cites publications from the affected groups. This evidence would not be available for print readers.

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/winter/the-hard-liners

    Perhaps we need to distinguish between the information available on line from that of print. The story has a long history in the GL press but only recently has moved into more mainstream venues.

    Here is one paragraph out of seven on the FRC:

    More recently, in March 2008, Sprigg, responding to a question about uniting gay partners during the immigration process, said: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.” He later apologized, but then went on, last February, to tell MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied. At around the same time, Sprigg claimed that allowing gay people to serve openly in the military would lead to an increase in gay-on-straight sexual assaults.

  • http://rkeefe57.wordpress.com/ Richard Keefe

    “The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Family Research Council a hate group for “regularly pumping out known falsehoods that demonize the gay community,”

    Ironically, the Boy Scouts of America have publicly stated for years that gay men lack the “moral values” required to be Scout Leaders, but the SPLC doesn’t seem to find that broad characterization “demonizing.”

    Despite the fact that the BSA receives millions in public funds each year AND the fact that the BSA’s core mission is to mold the minds and shape the characters of millions of American boys, you won’t find a single word about them on the SPLC’s web site.

    In the same statement, the BSA asserts that “…duty to God is not a mere ideal for those choosing to associate with the Boy Scouts of America; it is an obligation.”

    So, when is a conservative Christian “hate group” NOT a conservative Christian “hate group”?

    The answer is simple. Many of the SPLC’s mostly elderly donors were Scouts, or the proud parents/grandparents of Scouts, and linking the almighty donors to a “hate group” is bad for business. Fighting “hate” is all well and good until it cuts into the bottom line.

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

    Some “experts”

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Richard Keefe –

    Ironically, the Boy Scouts of America have publicly stated for years that gay men lack the “moral values” required to be Scout Leaders, but the SPLC doesn’t seem to find that broad characterization “demonizing.”

    Not allowing certain people to join a private organization is different from, say, advocating banning certain people from military service, or making particular actions criminal offenses.

    At least, it seems to me the SPLC could make a “legitimate” distinction on that basis…

    Regarding that word “legitimate”, I agree that it’s unclear by the wording of the text if that’s the reporter’s word, or if “conservative Christian groups” actually “say” that.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    “Not allowing certain people to join a private organization is different from, say, advocating banning certain people from military service, or making particular actions criminal offenses.”

    Importantly, the BSA isn’t actively campaigning to limit the rights of non-heterosexuals outside of the organization. If it did become such a political body, then the SPLC might well do just that.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Am I missing something? Not sure how the Boy Scouts thread fits into the issue of media coverage?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Spiking comments unrelated to journalism…

    If anybody would like to discuss actual journalism or media coverage, we’re open all day … and all night.

  • Frank

    I assume it’s fair to talk about writing. Let’s forget about the subject material for the moment. One of the most common mistakes in writing is to allow what you know (or believe) to obscure your argument. This causes the writer to leave out key points in what he or she is writing. This is the essence of sloppy writing.

    The standards of writing of the New York Times should be better than this.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bobby -

    I rather disagree with you that the story is vague and over-generalizes. For one thing, that the Family Research Council claims gay men are prone to pedophilia is pretty specific. As to the SPLC’s political leanings, that’s been fairly well worked over on this blog before and I’m not sure what use it would have in a story like this. The information might have been helpful for context, but is it critical? I for one have always been fairly aware of the political leanings of the SPLC; if I know something like that, it’s a fair bet that most other people would as well.

    More helpful might have been more information on the offending marketer:

    …CGBG, a charity support group with a mission and partner network that includes more than 170,000 charities representing a range of religious, non-religious, educational and other groups.

    Given the Times history of cheerleading for gay rights issues, this story seemed a model of balance and fairness. I especially liked the last word going to Delta Airlines:

    And we just thought we were flying airplanes.”

    Apparently not.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    For one thing, that the Family Research Council claims gay men are prone to pedophilia is pretty specific.

    Where in the story does the Family Research Council claim that?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Frank,

    I’m afraid your comment is so vague as to leave out your own key points. :-)

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bobby –

    Bear with me here (layman that I am), but the claim seems pretty specific: are you saying it needs to be authenticated or verified more carefully? Is that what you mean by vague?

    I do see how a direct response from the FRC regarding that claim – as opposed to “slanderous charges” – might be helpful, but it seems (again, to my layman’s eyes) outside the thrust of the story.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Passing By,

    Here’s what the story says:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Family Research Council a hate group for “regularly pumping out known falsehoods that demonize the gay community,” said Mark Potok, a project director at the law center — and not, he said, because the council calls homosexuality a sin or opposes gay marriage. The falsehoods, he said, include the discredited claim that gay men are especially prone to pedophilia.

    The Family Research Council has accused the law center of “slanderous attacks.”

    Yes, the story makes a specific claim: An opponent alleges that the Family Research Council says gay men are especially prone to pedophilia and that the claim has been discredited.

    But you can’t tell from the story:

    1. If the FRC really has made this claim or if it’s the opponent accusing the FRC of making this claim. My point: If the FRC has really made this claim, then quote the specific claim and put it in context.

    2. Who has “discredited” the claim. Is it the opponent being quoted? Is it scientific research believed by the reporter? And does the FRC agree with this assessment of “discredited”? We never find out because the FRC responds to general issues and not a specific claim.

    What if I wrote a story about you and said this?:

    The Expert Group Believed By This Newspaper said Passing By stood outside in his underwater and watered his garden just after sunset every morning.

    Passing By has accused his neighbors of “slanderous attacks.”

    Do you stand outside in your underwear and water the garden or not? Maybe you don’t, and this falls under the slanderous attacks. Maybe you do, and you wish I’d given you an opportunity to say you see nothing wrong with standing outside in your underwear and watering the garden. But I’ve allowed the other side to make a specific allegation against you and not given you a chance to respond. That’s my point. Make any sense?

  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    “Bear with me here (layman that I am), but the claim seems pretty specific: are you saying it needs to be authenticated or verified more carefully? Is that what you mean by vague?”

    The SPLC claims that about the FRC and this is reported. There is no direct report or reference from the FRC or its materials that substantiates this claim. They’re just reporting SPLC hearsay.

    Another big problem is this sentence:

    “On one side are angry gay-rights advocates and bloggers, wielding the club of the gay community’s purchasing power.”

    This has almost nothing to do with the gay community’s purchasing power. It has everything to with mobilizing the left-leaning population at large and perhaps even government entities through allegations of bigotry, discrimination, and hate-speech, etc.

  • Michael

    Bobby, you seem to want the NYTimes to write an article about the FRC instead of an article about CGBG. There have been many articles about the SPLC labeling FRC a hate group, and many articles explaining why, including documentation of FRC’s lies and demonization of gay people, including but hardly limited to accusations of pedophilia.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    No, Michael, I want the Times to follow basic journalistic principles of accuracy and fairness. If there are many examples, as you cited, surely including the specific attribution and FRC response in the story should be quite simple.

  • Dave

    Jeff the Baptist wrote:

    This has almost nothing to do with the gay community’s purchasing power. It has everything to with mobilizing the left-leaning population at large and perhaps even government entities through allegations of bigotry, discrimination, and hate-speech, etc.

    I must disagree. What motivates Apple, Microsoft, et al to comply with this campaign’s request is the purchasing power of the gay community. This is an interaction that will be iterated; the gay community has discovered one of its strengths and is not shy about using it. The description of the transaction is good journalism.

    As to mobilizing additional support, this is always an inherent potential in an action like this, but it’s a long-term goal. The campaign has clear near-term goals.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bobby –

    Thanks for the reply. You too, Jeff the Baptist. I see your point, although I also see what Michael is saying.

    And for the record, I do almost nothing in my underwear (a scarey thought), less than that “just after sunset every morning.”
    :-)

    To Dave – there is also inherent potential in a backlash. Gay activists aren’t the only ones who target unsympathetic business entities. Publicity like this is a two-edged sword.

  • dalea

    Dave says:

    What motivates Apple, Microsoft, et al to comply with this campaign’s request is the purchasing power of the gay community.

    Purchasing power is a large part of the story but not the whole of it. Another factor is that these companies have a number of very visible GL employees who have brought up the problem internally. The GL press covers this story all the time. One of the problems Target had last year, was an uproar from their GL employees over the donations to anti-gay candidates. Any company that relies on fashion and design to move its products, is subject to pressure from its vendors on GL issues. According to the GL press, several of Target’s name designers threatened to pull their lines from Target over the issues. This also applies to kitchen and dining wares. If you ever watch the fashion or cooking channels, there are visible, out gay men on most programs.

    Purchasing power is a large part of the story. But there is also the internal pressure from GL employees and from GL sympathetic vendors. Looks like this story remains in the GL press.


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