Monday, March 6, 2017
The Haters are Coming!
Mostly I watch CBS This Morning to get examples of how they report the news apparently without ever thinking about it. It requires us to think more about some of the stuff they miss, but is that really fair? They present news as if it were facts, but so often the numbers don’t add up without any explanation.
The latest was a couple of weeks ago in the headlines segment. They showed a graphic on the screen with two “facts.” The number of hate groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was up in 2016. The total was 917 compared to 892, an increase of 25. It said the number of anti-Muslim hate groups almost tripled from 34 to 101. Obviously, the total increase of 25 with the anti-Muslim groups increasing by 67, leaves some 42 groups unaccounted for. They must have stopped hating or changed their focus or just given up and gone home.
No comment on this discrepancy from CBS, they just moved on to interview the next celebrity or get the opinion of a fellow journalist about the political state of the country.
So I went to the source hoping to find an explanation and more important to discover what exactly a hate group is.
It’s a long, detailed report, but my first discovery was that the SPLC can’t add either. Near the top of another page they show a graph with the number of hate groups counted since 1999. The total climbed steadily from that point until it in 2011 at 1018. Then it declined for three years before heading back up in 2015 and 2016. But in the full report they state, “the [antigovernment patriot] groups had skyrocketed from a low of 149 in 2008 to a high of 1,360 in 2012, in large part as a reaction to the November 2008 election of Barack Obama.” How could there be 1,360 such groups in 2012 when (according to their own graph) there were only 1007 hate groups in total? (In another example: On one page they have a graphic showing how to learn more about the 663 patriot groups in 2016, but the link opens to a page showing only 623.) The numbers still don't make sense.
As shown in the quotation above, they attribute the rise in hate groups during the last administration to opposition to Obama, but they attribute the rise over the last two years to hate groups being emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric. As they put it, “Without a doubt, Trump appealed to garden-variety racists, xenophobes, religious bigots and misogynists — people not necessarily in any hate or related kind of group, but who still were antagonistic toward multiculturalism.” But that refers to individuals and the subject of the study is groups, so there is no reason for the opinion to appear in the report. (Since they described most hate groups as “right wing,” it is not hard to detect a strong political bias.)
But what exactly is a hate group? The SPLC definition says: “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Groups that fit this definition are truly deplorable. And to their credit the SPLC includes Black separatists, who “typically oppose integration and racial intermarriage” and endorse “separate institutions or even a separate nation” for African-Americans. They tend to be "strongly anti-white and anti-Semitic." Also to the SPLC’s credit is the apparently painstaking job of tracking and spotlighting these hate groups, though their choices are sometimes puzzling.
For example based on the definition, what justifies the inclusion of some anti-government patriot groups? They declare that listing these groups on their "does not imply that the groups themselves advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, or are racist.” But the government itself is not an entire class of people with immutable characteristics. Just being anti-government doesn't even fit their own definition! Libertarians and some Republicans call for less government interference in our lives without being recognized as hate groups. And this “patriot” category comprises over two-thirds of the total of groups on the list.
Conclusions: How much credibility can we give to a list where 2/3 of those on it may or may not fit the criteria and the numbers simply don't add up? A quick review raises doubts and questions about the report and its motives. It’s probably good to keep an eye on hate groups, especially those intent on letting their hate manifest itself in illegal acts. But if “hating” the government is also to be included, a more objective list should include any group ready to condone intimidation or vandalism to silence political points of view different from their own.