Thursday, March 08, 2007

A development I am following with interest is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent classification of Catholic organizations as hate groups. I am curious to see if major news outlets assign the same trustworthiness to these claims that they did to SPLC claims that Southern heritage associations are hate groups. I still remember National Public Radio’s interview with an SPLC representative concerning its low opinions of Southern heritage organizations. But, unless I missed it, NPR hasn’t conducted similar interviews with the SPLC regarding its attacks on national Catholic organizations.

The SPLC’s latest hate group labeling brings to mind the Aesop fable about the boy who kept crying wolf when there was no wolf until villagers finally stopped heeding his cries. In an allegorical sense the Southern Poverty Law Center is like the boy who cries wolf when there is no wolf, and major news outlets are like the villagers that continue to heed the boy’s cries. But, like the boy in the fable, the SPLC may have cried wolf when there is no wolf once too often. So I am hoping that this phony accusation against Catholic organizations will finally cause the news media to begin questioning SPLC claims.

The Society of Saint Pius X, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News are fairly typical of several Catholic organizations that oppose many of the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council. Although their relationship to the Holy See is slightly strained, they have not been deemed to be schismatic nor have their members been excommunicated. Indeed, the members of these organizations consider themselves to be good Catholics, albeit Catholics preferring traditional forms to those they consider adulterated.

By classifying them as hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center has lumped them together with Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Skinheads, the Aryan Nation, and various other fringe organizations. Leaders of these Catholic organizations were, to put it mildly, stunned when a representative of the SPLC, Rhonda Brownstein, informed them that her “research” confirmed that they were indeed hate groups. According to Ms. Brownstein, their statements concerning Jews conform to the SPLC’s criteria for classification as a hate group.

“Research” of another SPLC representative, Heidi Beirich, also concluded that these Catholic groups hate Jews. But Ms. Beirich goes a step further by stating that these organizations “reject the teachings of the modern papacy.” We can’t be sure what Ms. Beirich means by this strange accusation. Either she is not familiar with Vatican II or she is interpreting it in unintended ways. Of course, as usual, it is standard procedure for the SPLC to interpret things in the way that best suits its agenda.

(Note: In an Internet article it is not possible to discuss Vatican II and the objections to it adequately. Nor does space permit even a representative list of the SPLC’s history of ridiculous claims. These two SPLC accusations are typical of the organization: Pat Buchanan’s writings contain “echoes of a Nazi ideology”, and opposition to same-sex marriage is a form of hate speech.)

Those who are familiar with the maligned Catholic groups insist that although some members may hold rather strange opinions, the organizations cannot be considered hate groups even by the most far-fetched definition of the term. The leader of one of the groups characterizes the procedure the SPLC uses to denigrate organizations as “politician’s logic”, which goes something like this:

All cats have four legs

My dog has four legs

Therefore, my dog is a cat.

Once again, the SPLC characteristically engages in innuendo and distortion of facts to justify its indictment of Catholic groups.

The editor of The Remnant newspaper stated that when he read about the 2004 legal action that the SPLC’s Richard Cohen took against Judge Roy Moore for his display of the Ten Commandments, he never dreamed that his own organization would become an SPLC target one day . Catholic organizations are now experiencing the helplessness that Southern heritage groups and other unfortunate SPLC victims feel. They know they are not guilty as charged, but they also realize that major news organizations, such as National Public Radio, accept the SPLC’s accusations without question.

The concept of “verifying sources”, which used to be standard procedure for news organizations has, in recent years, been abandoned when the accused party is deemed “out-of-step” with fashionable social and political trends. In such cases, major news outlets, like NPR, feel that verification of sources is not necessary. Consequently, they never question the SPLC’s criteria for labeling an organization a hate group.

This careless approach to journalism raises no eyebrows as long as the maligned party is a Southern heritage association or other organization deemed undesirable by media elites. But now the SPLC has broadened its scope and aimed its reputation-destroying campaigns at national Catholic bodies.

Members of the mainstream media are now admitting that they engage in advocacy journalism to push agendas they deem beneficial. Even so, it will be interesting to see if news outlets blindly accept the SPLC’s latest accusation, or if the organization has cried wolf once too often. The news media’s reaction to the SPLC’s latest attack takes on added importance because it comes at a time when members of congress are trying to amend hate crime laws in ways that might restrict certain types of religious expression. The Constitution’s protection of free speech is in serious jeopardy.

Gail Jarvis

Posted by Mike Tuggle on 03/08

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