If there’s anything conservatives hate, it’s having their organizations labeled “hate groups” by the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center — and then seeing the tag repeated in the media.
Alliance Defending Freedom officials are still waiting for a retraction and apology after ABC and NBC referred last week to the Christian legal organization as an alleged “hate group,” citing the SPLC designation.
Both networks included the label in stories Wednesday about a closed-to-press speech by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Christian legal organization’s Summit on Religious Liberty in Dana Point, California.
The network reports followed an SPLC press release Tuesday entitled “Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Address Anti-LGBT Hate Group in Closed-Door Event,” prompting ADF to accuse the networks of basing their reporting on a biased hit piece.
“ABC News has committed journalistic malpractice,” said ADF spokeswoman Kerri Kupec in a statement. “For ABC News to essentially cut and paste false charges against Alliance Defending Freedom by a radically left-wing, violence-inciting organization like Southern Poverty Law Center is a discredit to ABC News and to the profession.”
The NBC online article was headlined “Jeff Sessions Tells ‘Hate Group’ DOJ Will Issue Religious Freedom Guidance,” while ABC reported that Mr. Sessions “delivered a speech to an alleged hate group at an event closed to reporters.”
Neither ABC nor NBC has responded to the ADF’s request for an apology and retraction, said ADF spokeswoman Briana Herlihy, and the networks did not return requests by The Washington Times over the weekend for comment.
The brouhaha comes with allegations of media bias on the rise along with debate over the SPLC’s “hate group” listing, which lumps mainstream conservative groups like the ADF and Family Research Council with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
The SPLC doubled down on the label with a statement Saturday calling the ADF “a hate group that cloaks itself in religion as it spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community in this country and seeks to criminalize it abroad.”
“It was inappropriate for Attorney General Sessions to lend his credibility to the group by appearing before it, and it was ironic that he would suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the laws to the LGBT community,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen.
The Democratic National Committee jumped into the fray by accusing Mr. Sessions of “choosing to spend his time speaking in front of one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups.”
Meanwhile, ADF senior counsel Kristen K. Waggoner decried the SPLC’s designation as “nothing more than propaganda,” adding that the alliance has “one of the most respected Supreme Court practices in the country.”
She noted that the ADF has won seven cases in seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court, including last month’s ruling in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, which had sought public funds to resurface its preschool playground.
“I think the real question is, why [are] ABC and NBC willing to promote propaganda and cut and paste the Southern Poverty Law Center press release into its story when the left and the right have discredited this other organization?” Ms. Waggoner asked in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Based in Montgomery, Alabama, the SPLC has enjoyed a bounce in its public profile during the Trump administration even as its critics accuse the group of sullying its civil rights legacy with politically motivated fear-mongering.
“Time and again I see SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” said Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson on his blog, Legal Insurrection.
Conservatives locked horns with the SPLC earlier this year after the charity tracker GuideStar attached the “hate group” label to 46 nonprofits, including the ADF and FRC. GuideStar removed the tags from its database last month while saying the information would still be available upon request.
David French, a former ADF senior counsel, called on news outlets to stop citing the SPLC, saying the Alabama-based group has become a “dangerous joke.”
He pointed to the 2013 attack on a security guard at the Family Research Council by a Virginia gunman who said he researched the group on the SPLC’s website, which lists 917 organizations on its “hate map.”
“Enough is enough. The SPLC has lost its integrity,” said Mr. French in National Review. “Media outlets who use the SPLC to assess Christian speech expose only their own bias and incompetence.”
ABC reported Wednesday that the Justice Department “is refusing to reveal what he [Mr. Sessions] said” at the ADF conference. The next day, The Federalist reprinted the attorney general’s prepared remarks on its website.
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