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A good example of Obama's warning about the media focusing on 'sexier' stories

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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.

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By Jamie Holmes

posted June 16, 2010 at 10:07 am EDT

Washington — 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.

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.”

Another 48 of these new groups are chapters of “We the People,” who pledge “if necessary, to participate in coordinated, nonviolent, legal and Constitutional civic actions.” Another 30 are the Republic of Texas secessionists – a group that’s been around for over a decade. (Michigan’s Hutaree militia, arrested in March for a plot to kill policeman, was not even included in SPLC’s 2008 list).

Anyone who did their homework could see that this is not a new phenomenon for SPLC. The organization has a track record littered with red flags (or red herrings). They seem to consistently exaggerate conservative threats as a tool for publicity and fundraising – essentially, to scare up liberal dollars. Since 1994, when the Montgomery Advertiser ran a Pulitzer-nominated series “Charity of Riches,” exposing SPLC’s highly questionably practices, journalists have painstakingly reported exactly how the organization operates.

In March, Ken Silverstein of Harper’s put it in plain terms. The law center, he said, regularly exaggerated the powers of "far-right wing groups to make it appear that the country is teetering on the brink” of revolution. He called the SPLC a “fraudulent organization.” Alexander Cockburn has written that SPLC was using “the election of a black president” to exaggerate hate and solicit donations.

To be fair, by most accounts the SPLC once did, and in some areas still does, valuable work. And they do include disclaimers in their reports as to who exactly is promoting violence – entirely insufficient as they are. But their exaggerations, and reporters’ more-or-less intentional acquiescence, are deeply counterproductive. They smear Americans who are merely exercising their right to free speech, and sap funds from other organizations and issues that are much more critical to promoting tolerance.

Exaggerations like the SPLC’s help stifle rational debate. That, as President Obama pointed out in Ann Arbor, Mich., is exactly what “can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.”

We would all do well to take reports of rampant extremism in the United States with a grain of salt – after all, Barack Obama’s election was a signal of increased tolerance, not hate. The SPLC, for their part, should figure out how to better mobilize its massive resources. The group has the potential to be a helpful watchdog, but is squandering that chance with skewed reports.

Meanwhile, Obama has a point about reporters. No matter how difficult times are for them, journalists must remember to always think critically: An easy story, or a high traffic story, is not necessarily a true story, regardless of whether there are “data” to push it.

Jamie Holmes is a research associate at New America Foundation.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0616/A-good-example-of-Obama-s-warning-about-the-media-focusing-on-sexier-stories


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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In March, Ken Silverstein of Harper’s put it in plain terms. The law center, he said, regularly exaggerated the powers of "far-right wing groups to make it appear that the country is teetering on the brink” of revolution. He called the SPLC a “fraudulent organization.” Alexander Cockburn has written that SPLC was using “the election of a black president” to exaggerate hate and solicit donations.

We would all do well to take reports of rampant extremism in the United States with a grain of salt – after all, Barack Obama’s election was a signal of increased tolerance, not hate. The SPLC, for their part, should figure out how to better mobilize its massive resources. The group has the potential to be a helpful watchdog, but is squandering that chance with skewed reports.

Not surprising as I've never seen the SPLC based story that indicated a lessening in hate groups. Foreigners read these reports and think the nation on the brink of civil war. I had a few of them talk about how powerful the KKK is and there are all these militia groups ready to wage war. Few of them making those types of comments had been to the States so they had a skewed view of things.


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Not surprising as I've never seen the SPLC based story that indicated a lessening in hate groups. Foreigners read these reports and think the nation on the brink of civil war. I had a few of them talk about how powerful the KKK is and there are all these militia groups ready to wage war. Few of them making those types of comments had been to the States so they had a skewed view of things.

You seem to ignore the serve damage that numerous individuals on missions have inflicted on the country over the years. Furthermore, in comparison to most other first world countries, these groups are loony in nature. You don't exactly see people in other first world countries flying planes into their tax office, attacking government buildings and so forth now do you. So naturally this bizarre behavior is considered weird.

Perfect example is that Elmer Fudge idiot caught in Pakistan who is out to find Bin Laden. If you told me the guy was Canadian or Mexican doing the equivalent for their country, I would raise an eyebrow. Whereas, as soon as I heard this guy was from the US, I thought yep I can see some idiot doing that.

Edited by Booyah!

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the 400 richest American households earned a total of $US138 billion, up from $US105 billion a year earlier. That's an average of $US345 million each, on which they paid a tax rate of just 16.6 per cent.

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You seem to ignore the serve damage that numerous individuals on missions have inflicted on the country over the years. Furthermore, in comparison to most other first world countries, these groups are loony in nature. You don't exactly see people in other first world countries flying planes into their tax office, attacking government buildings and so forth now do you. So naturally this bizarre behavior is considered weird.

Perfect example is that Elmer Fudge idiot caught in Pakistan who is out to find Bin Laden. If you told me the guy was Canadian or Mexican doing the equivalent for their country, I would raise an eyebrow. Whereas, as soon as I heard this guy was from the US, I thought yep I can see some idiot doing that.

Americans and Canucks can pretty much get visas to many more countries than Mexicans. Not to mention that Mexico isn't exactly engaged in the world theater as the USA is. Ditto for Canada. I'm more of an isolationist and would prefer the USA to be less engaged. It would certainly save us a lot of money we really don't need to spend on such nonsense.

Yeah, there are quite a lot of nuts from the USA in the news. This latest fool in Pakistan gets his 15 minutes of fame. He's lucky they didn't feed him his own nuts on a platter before they killed him. What a dweeb.

The biggest fool that sticks out in my mind is that Jewish kid Nick Berg that was decapitated slowly with a rusty pocket knife on video several years ago in Iraq by al-Qaeda. He was warned several times by heavily armed US soldiers that encountered him on patrol at night in Injun country that he was acting the fool, but it didn't sink in. Some people ain't got a lick of sense. He got what he got. Play with matches and you're gonna get burned.


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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You seem to ignore the serve damage that numerous individuals on missions have inflicted on the country over the years. Furthermore, in comparison to most other first world countries, these groups are loony in nature. You don't exactly see people in other first world countries flying planes into their tax office, attacking government buildings and so forth now do you. So naturally this bizarre behavior is considered weird.

You seem to ignore that this country has plenty of weapons in the hands of the public yet very few violent incidents that are political in nature. Note that even the rare cases are the work of individuals not organized groups.

Edited by alienlovechild

David & Lalai

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aneska1-3-1-1.gif

Greencard Received Date: July 3, 2009

Lifting of Conditions : March 18, 2011

I-751 Application Sent: April 23, 2011

Biometrics: June 9, 2011

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