Washington Post follows up on faith-related 'hate group' story (and answers our prayers)


Among the journalistic salutes that, frankly, never get old is being quoted by one of the nation's leading newspapers.

Thank you, then, to The Washington Post for noticing a blog post by your humble correspondent posted here about a week ago. (See quote at the top of the post.)

That notice came in the context of changes over at GuideStar, the nonprofit that maintains a gigantic database of information about other nonprofits. For years, many journalists and researchers have relied on the organization when seeking to dig up data on this or that group.

As reported here -- drawing on media reports at websites for Christianity Today and The Daily Signal -- GuideStar began running a banner noting that a given faith-based group, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, had been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In that GetReligion post, I wondered whether the story would cross over into mainstream press, and if so, "I'm hoping -- and not against hope, I pray -- that journalists will pause and ask some serious factual questions if and when that coverage takes place."

The Post report obliged, I'm happy to say. It also contained some good news for ADF and other groups:

Earlier this month, GuideStar, the world’s largest source for information about charities, added a new feature to its website: warning labels flagging would-be donors to nearly four dozen nonprofits accused of spreading hate.
The outcry was immediate and most vehement from conservative groups, including Christians who said they’d been targeted as hateful for opposing same-sex marriage.
The complaints prompted GuideStar to reverse its course. The company said it’s removing the labels “for the time being” beginning Monday, in part because of concerns raised about their objectivity but also because of the threats against employees.

The Post article, part of its "Morning Mix" feature, had a fair amount of discussion about complaints from groups such as the ADF, which believed being lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist organizations was grossly unfair:

GuideStar announced its decision to remove the labels ... two days after being sent a complaint letter signed by 41 people, largely representing conservative organizations, including Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes,” and Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association, a group the SPLC says is staunchly anti-LGBT.
“The ‘hate group’ list is nothing more than a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies,” the letter said. “The list is ad hoc, partisan, and agenda-driven.”
The letter called the SPLC a “progressive political organization” that had “gained credibility attacking Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and skinheads — many of who were engaged in violence.” But now, the letter stated, the center had expanded its “tactics” into debates about immigration and “sexual-identity” politics.

Being "staunchly anti-LGBT" may not win the American Family Association the approbation of the Southern Poverty Law Center -- or of GuideStar or even The Washington Post. But merely, even aggressively, disagreeing on a public policy issue does not a hate group make.

At the same time, it should go without saying that no one should condone any threat of violence against the employees and leadership of GuideStar. If such can be documented and traced, I hope the proper authorities will investigate and hold those threat-makers accountable under the law.

My chief concern for continuing coverage of the GuideStar/Southern Poverty Law Center question was that media apart from Christianity Today and The Daily Signal would overlook a need for balanced coverage:

Memo to editors and reporters: If you step into coverage of the dispute between the Southern Poverty Law Center and ecumenical and even interfaith groups to which it attaches a "hate group" label, please, pleaseexamine and report on the backgrounds of everyone pointing fingers, even (or especially) if they claim to speak from a moral high ground.

After all, GuideStar has been long respected for its work collecting and sharing data on thousands of nonprofits. And there are many people who applaud what the Southern Poverty Law Center has done over the years.

Any good works performed by either group do not offer them carte blanche to sling labels around, however. It remains important for the press -- and it's the work of the press that GetReligion is concerned about -- to remember there are often many dimensions to a story, and certainly voices that opposed what GuideStar did, and has since rescinded.

By the way, requesting accurate, balanced coverage isn't a "conservative" thing -- it used to part of a liberal model of the press.

But, hey, bravo to The Washington Post for examining opposing views. Oh, and thanks again for the name check.

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