Earlier posts on this blog pointed out how groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center use public relations press releases to craft their public image and propagate their ideology. While the SPLC pays its PR guru a six-digit salary to keep the tens of millions of donor dollars coming in, not every “watchdog” group has such deep pockets.
Take the case of Brian Levin, a professor and self-described “Director” of the “Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism” at California State University at San Bernardino (CSU/SB). That’s an extremely impressive title, however, all signs indicate that Mr. Levin is the entire staff of the “Center for the Study of Hate.”
There just doesn’t seem to be anyone else there for the “Director” to direct.
A brief view of the evidence does little to dispel this impression:
- The “Center’s” web site languished for 8 years with virtually no updates since 2001.
- Mr. Levin eventually updated the site in August, 2009, although, as of this writing, not much has changed on this site either.
Given that this is allegedly an academic center at a prestigious university, does it not seem just a little bit odd that in eight years the “Center” couldn’t assign a single staff member, intern or extra-credit seeking computer geek to maintain its most important public asset?
- The staff directory, located on the home page of the web site, indicates NO staff.
- The contact information listed on the site includes a telephone number to the main office of the Department of Criminal Justice at CSU/SB, not to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and the only e-mail address is to Mr. Levin’s free AOL account.
- The “Center’s” only other public manifestation, its blog, is hosted on a free blogger site, rather than a CSU/SB server.
Granted, I’m no expert on academic centers, but I’m pretty sure that if they have actual staff, at least one person would be tasked with answering the phone calls coming in to the center’s OWN telephone number, and e-mails would go to a csusb.edu address and NOT to a free AOL account.
Obviously, there is much to be said for free blog sites, (like this one), but you’d be hard put to find another academic center that relies on them.
- Mr. Levin also issues press releases, much like his mentors and former employers, the SPLC, which tout his expertise and willingness to comment on the “hate” topic du jour, such as this one, dated October 21, 2009.
- This “academic center” produces very little in the way of academic studies. When pressed, (see below), Mr. Levin can produce a string of articles published chiefly between 1992 and 2006, as well as a couple of book chapters, but all of them are authored by B. Levin.
Is there no one else at the “Center” producing academic research?
In August, 2009, I had a rare opportunity to discuss these issues with Mr. Levin, albeit indirectly. After posting the same observations made above in the comment section of an article featuring Mr. Levin’s comments in OC Weekly, I was surprised and gratified that the Director took time out of his busy day to rebut my accusations. (See the “comments” section here)
While not addressing me directly, Mr. Levin explained his side of the story.
- “I don’t list a lot of the people who assist us (both professional and interns) because I don’t need them to be harassed by bigots too.”
- “I won’t get into much detail about why I use my personal email or blogs, but it relates to web security and convenience.”
- “I don’t think we put out many press releases, probably less than a dozen in ten years is my guess, but I haven’t checked.”
- Mr. Levin produces an impressive list of university board members, (no one doubts that his “Center” is part of CSU/SB, just that it’s more than a one-man show), and an even longer list of distinguished advisers, none of whom have written anything under the aegis of the “Center for the Study of Hate.”
At the end of the day, after some rather clumsy efforts to smear the messenger, (“bigot,” “shadowy,” “white nationalist,” dishonest, etc.), Mr. Levin STILL fails to produce a single iota of proof that his “Center” is anything more than a classic Bernaysian front group.
What is so remarkable about Mr. Levin’s “Center” is that he doesn’t need it. Brian Levin is one of the most experienced people in his field, his recent work on the plight of homeless people is admirable.
Unlike his mentors at the SPLC, to my knowledge, Brian Levin has never solicited a single dime for himself or his center. Whatever his “Center” is doing for him, it’s not making him rich.
What Mr. Levin’s “Center” is doing for him is lending an aura of authority to his own personal opinions. There’s no real crime in this, perhaps, but any real news organization should be suspicious from the get-go. The front group is one of the oldest tricks in the PR book.
It’s also entirely possible that I’m completely wrong about the “Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism,” but given the available evidence, either Mr. Levin’s “Center” is a one-man show, or he has gone to great lengths, shunned all academic orthodoxy, in order to make it appear as one.
Mr. Levin… tear up this paper “Center”.