Whenever the Southern Poverty Law Center is cited in the media of late, demands for retractions and apologies often follow.
This time, however, it’s the liberal legal center itself — not one of the conservative groups targeted on its “hate map”— issuing the demand, calling on Fox News to deliver an on-air correction for “defamatory” statements made during a Wednesday broadcast of “The Five.”
“The SPLC is currently facing a coordinated attack by far-right extremist groups we’ve named as hate groups because they vilify the LGBT community, immigrants and Muslims,” said the SPLC in a Friday statement. “Their latest megaphone is none other than FOX News.”
The center pointed to Fox host Greg Gutfeld, who said during the program that the SPLC spent $61,000 on legal services in 2015 and concluded that it does “virtually no law.”
“They’re a hard-left outfit that loves to label people as extremists,” said Mr. Gutfeld on the show, adding that “this poverty group sits on a pile of off-shore dough.”
In a Friday letter to Fox, SPLC general counsel James M. Knoepp called the statements “inaccurate, defamatory, and irresponsible,” saying that the $61,000 was spent by the center “on its own corporate legal services, not the amount it spent providing legal services to others.”
He said tax forms show that the center actually spent $1.8 million on “out-of-pocket case costs for litigation brought on behalf of its clients,” and that the legal department also sunk $15 million into client “initiatives.”
“When the SPLC makes an error, such as in the case of the listing of Ben Carson, it acknowledges it and apologizes,” said Mr. Knoepp, referring to the center’s 2015 listing of Mr. Carson on its “extremist watch list.
“We expect Fox News to do the same and acknowledge on the air its errors in the story about the SPLC on The Five program,” he said.
The non-profit legal advocacy group, based in Montgomery, Alabama, boasts a $320 million endowment and reported revenue of $54 million in Fiscal Year 2015, according to Charity Navigator.
The letter follows a recent series of complaints by conservative groups over being labeled by CNN, ABC and NBC as “hate groups” based on their inclusion on the SPLC’s “hate map,” which lumps mainstream organizations like the Family Research Council alongside the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Brotherhood.
So far those networks have not responded publicly to requests for retractions and apologies, although CNN did change the headline on an August story from “Here are all the active hate groups where you live” to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.”
In his letter, Mr. Knoepp defended the “hate map” and “extremist watch list,” saying they provide “critical information to the public and the law enforcement community.”
“No one questions 98% of the listings,” Mr. Knoepp said.
The Fox item was apparently based on an Aug. 31 report in the Washington Free Beacon, which found that the SPLC sent millions of dollars to offshore tax havens such as those in the Cayman Islands.
A Sept. 6 follow-up story i n the Weekly Standard said that the SPLC invested nearly 20 percent of its $320 million endowment in offshore investments.
Mr. Knoepp blasted the Free Beacon report as “bogus,” adding that, “As Fox News surely knows, it is common for universities, foundations and other non-profit organizations to have a portion of their endowments invested in offshore funds.”
Financial experts quoted by the Free Beacon said otherwise.
“It is unethical for any US-based charity to invest large sums of money overseas,” said Amy Sterling Casil, CEO of Pacific Human Capital. “I know of no legitimate reason for any US-based nonprofit to put money in overseas, unregulated bank accounts.”
Fox News and the Free Beacon did not return immediately Sunday requests for comment.
Conservative groups targeted by the SPLC released a McLaughlin & Associates poll Thursday that found 85 percent of those surveyed agreed that “the Constitution guarantees that all Americans are entitled to free speech,” not just “some of us.”
The survey was commissioned by the Center for Security Policy and Eagle Forum.
“Americans clearly understand the dangers associated with attempts to censor speech and other forms of expression: Today, it might be someone else who is being silenced. Tomorrow, it may well be you,” said Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, in a statement.
He also cited the threat to free speech posed by the radical left-wing group antifa, which has engaged in violence to stop conservative speakers in the name of fighting fascism.
To the extent that such groups “are allowed to act as the arbiters of who is allowed to communicate, about what and how, it’s just a matter of time before many millions of us are gagged,” Mr. Gaffney said.
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