A good example of Obama's warning about the media focusing on 'sexier' stories
The media do damage by playing up every hint of conflict to produce “sexier” stories. Recent coverage of a Southern Poverty Law Center report on 'hate groups' proves the point.
Obama has had a few choice words for reporters recently. He warned graduates at the University of Michigan of the damage the media do by playing up “every hint of conflict” to produce “sexier” stories.Skip to next paragraph
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Vilification on both sides, Obama said, “prevents learning – since after all, why should we listen to a ‘fascist’ or a ‘socialist’ or a ‘right-wing nut’ or a ‘left-wing nut’?”
It’s a lesson that the slew of reporters who have recently cited the spring 2010 report of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism,” should have taken to heart.
The SPLC, known for monitoring hate groups, warned of a resurgent tide of a right-wing movement that in the 1990s “produced an enormous amount of violence.” “Patriot groups – militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose ‘one-world government’ on liberty-loving Americans,” they reported, “came roaring back after years out of the limelight.”
SLPC spokesman Mark Potok was even more explicit in an interview. He told one reporter that today’s America “feels a lot like the run-up to Oklahoma City,” and penned an opinion article to that effect on the 15th anniversary of the bombing.
Citing the SPLC data, Australia’s The Age described a US “on the edge of upheaval,” like “an impregnated sky ahead of a thunderstorm.” The Toronto Star asked whether America is losing its “grip on reality.” The Guardian, The Straits Times, and Sydney Morning Herald ran similar pieces, while Newsweek, USA Today, and MSNBC each placed the law center prominently in stories on the rise of right-wing hate.
There’s only one problem: the SPLC report is deeply flawed.
The news sources all referenced the SPLC’s claim of a 244 percent rise in patriot groups and militias. This represents an increase of 363 groups in 2009, but a side by side comparison with SPLC’s 2008 data shows inflated numbers. For instance, 102 of these new groups are chapters of “We are Change,” a “grassroots peace and social justice movement,” according to the organization’s own website. Their founding member, Luke Rudkoswki, was included in the SPLC’s April “Meet the Patriots” list of enablers of right-wing extremism. “It was weird,” Mr. Rudkoswki said, “the SPLC specifically interviewed me for this report, we spoke about nonviolence, Gandhi, Dr. King” as well as raising funds for 9/11 first responders, toy and clothing drives, and helping the homeless. “They didn’t even mention any of it.”