Archive for January, 2010

SPLC — Damned Lies and Statistics — Part 2

January 22, 2010

As part of an ongoing investigation of how the Southern Poverty Law Center manipulates the media for its own goals, let’s take a closer look at a public relations press release issued by the SPLC on January 19, 2010.

Teaching Tolerance Magazine Examines the “New Segregation” in US Schools

MONTGOMERY, Ala., Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education offered the hope of integrated classrooms, today’s schools not only remain racially segregated, but are dividing along gender lines, sexual orientation and immigration status in the name of better education, according to the Spring 2010 issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine.

“The sad truth is that our public schools are more racially segregated today than they were 40 years ago,” said Lecia Brooks, director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “We’re back to buying into the belief that separate can be equal — and this time around we’re not limiting segregated classrooms to race.”

Teaching Tolerance, released today, is being distributed free of charge by the SPLC to more than 400,000 educators nationwide. It can be read at www.teachingtolerance.org.

In a series of articles titled “The New Segregation,” Teaching Tolerance examines the state of racial segregation in public schools and how some educators are embracing the idea of creating schools and classrooms that separate other groups of students who are often ill-served by schools.

Today, one-third of black students attend school in places where the population is more than 90 percent black. Almost half of white students attend schools that are more than 90 percent white. One-third of all black and Latino students attend high-poverty schools where more than 75 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches, as compared to 4 percent of white students.

In addition, educators are experimenting with segregating students based on characteristics other than race.

The magazine examines the practice of creating gender-segregated classrooms and looks at schools created to provide safe havens for gay students hoping to escape harassment and bullying. It also explores schools focused on the needs of immigrant students and describes the obstacles encountered by students with mental disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

Other articles offer educators tips on how to address issues related to segregation that they may face in their own classrooms — whether it is teaching the Civil Rights Movement in a segregated community or reaching the lone student of color in a class.

Teaching Tolerance magazine, published twice a year by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is the nation’s leading journal serving educators on diversity issues. In 2007, the magazine was named Periodical of the Year by the Association of Educational Publishers for the second consecutive year. Teaching Tolerance films have garnered four Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., is a nonprofit civil rights organization that combats bigotry and discrimination through litigation, education and advocacy.  For more information, see www.splcenter.org.

SOURCE Southern Poverty Law Center

First a quick word about press releases. Most Americans are entirely unaware of how much of the so-called “news” they encounter each day is actually public relations advertising copy, written by and for the special interest group being discussed in the “article”.

With shrinking newsroom budgets and a 24-hour news cycle, media outlets are desperate for fresh content with which to fill up the blank newsprint/web page/ air time they face each day. Enter the press release; a pre-written, pre-formatted, pre-edited text, audio or video file that can be cut and pasted into the void with a few clicks of the mouse.

Note the dateline on this piece, “MONTGOMERY, Ala., Jan. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ –”

PRNewswire and USNewswire are press release aggregators. Special interest groups, like the SPLC or the Tobacco lobby, etc., send them their carefully crafted statements and, for a fee, the aggregators will pass them along to thousands of other subscribers, who will pick them up and reissue them as “news” without performing the simplest fact checks.

In short, the “newsmakers” are writing their own “news” articles. It’s a business.

Press releases are usually written in a third-person style, allowing the media outlets to attach a local by-line as a fig leaf. Note the several quotes by the “expert,” who is on the same payroll as the “journalist” who wrote the piece.

Next comes the statement of supporting factoids. A veritable fruit basket of half-truths and skewed statistics, where apples are mixed in with the oranges:

Today, one-third of black students attend school in places where the population is more than 90 percent black. Almost half of white students attend schools that are more than 90 percent white. One-third of all black and Latino students attend high-poverty schools where more than 75 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches, as compared to 4 percent of white students.

Where did this “information” come from? We don’t know. It is not cited in either the press release or in the actual article. In true SPLC fashion, you know it’s true because they told you it was true.

  • If “one-third of black students attend school in places where the population is more than 90 percent black,” doesn’t that mean that two-thirds of black students do not?
  • Likewise, if “almost half of all white students attend schools that are more than 90 percent white” (gasp!), doesn’t that mean that more than half of them do not?
  • According to the 2000 US Census, whites outnumbered blacks by nearly 7 to 1. Since the black population is not equally distributed across the country, and there are a heck of a lot more white kids than black kids, how much rocket science is required to figure out that you’re not going to achieve a perfect mix?

As usual, the numbers are meaningless.

In 2007, the magazine was named Periodical of the Year by the Association of Educational Publishers for the second consecutive year.”

Pretty impressive, no? No. Not so much. For those pesky few people, like me, who actually take three minutes to visit the AEP website, it’s kinda hard to get all worked up by an award from a trade group that was created to promote non-profit organizations. In short, it’s a PR service for PR hacks.

Some of the benefits of membership in the AEP include:

Did you catch the second benefit? “Save nearly 50% on entries into the renowned AEP Awards” You actually have to pay cash, (from the donation pot, no doubt) to “enter” the contest against other “entrants” who also paid for the privilege. Now there’s a wide field of contenders. What if no one else paid to enter your particular event? Instant winner!

Well, it is an association of educational publishers, so it must be all about education, right? Why else would an organization spend scarce resources to enter the contest?

Stand out in a crowded marketplace

The educational resource market is fast becoming a tough place to do business­–and the competition isn’t just other companies anymore. Almost anyone with an Internet connection and an idea can get “published,” but how do you make your product stand out from the sea of educational content available on the Internet?

Enter the AEP Awards.

Maximize your marketing ROI [Return on Investment]

Industry awards are surefire way to give your product and your brand a one-up over your competitors. In fact, Janine Popick, CEO of direct marketing firm VerticalResponse, calls industry awards one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to help grow your business.

Media Opportunities
In addition to general AEP-issued press releases about the Awards—which are distributed to members of the general, education, and trade media—your organization can use your nomination as a Finalist or Winner as an opportunity to reach out to your local media and mailing lists.

AEP Awards Seals
In a crowded and growing marketplace, one of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to point out your accomplishments and accolades. AEP Award Finalists and Winners earn the right to display the AEP Award Seal, recognized by students, teachers, and administrators as a symbol of outstanding educational quality.”

Hmm, on second thought, maybe the AEP is actually an association of educational publishers.

So, once again, the SPLC’s PR guru, Mark Potok, has cobbled together another pre-fab, 500-word filler piece that will be picked up by media outlets and regurgitated as “news”.When this “news story” hits your local venue, compare it to the original press release shown above to see how much hard-hitting journalism your local reporters put into this article.

No matter that the “statistics” are un-cited and unverified, we know that the SPLC is telling the truth because they paid darned good money to another PR group to say so.

Once again, as usual, the bottom line at the SPLC is… the bottom line. It’s all about the money.

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