Archive for August, 2017

SPLC — Whither Mark Potok?

August 31, 2017

It is a dark day at Watching the Watchdogs. A short while ago we were reading an article about a black musician who was fighting racism by befriending white nationalists when we read the following words: “Mark Potok, an expert on extremism formerly with the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

FORMERLY with the SPLC? WHEN did that happen? HOW could that happen? And why wasn’t it a major news item? For millions of people, Mark Potok has been the public face and voice of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the brains behind the insanely lucrative annual “Hate Map” fundraising tool for nearly two decades.

It would nearly impossible to estimate how many millions of donor-dollars Mr. Potok has brought into SPLC coffers over the years.

And now he’s gone? Without so much as a “So long, Mark. Thanks for everything!” from Morris Dees or Richard Cohen?

We immediately turned to our favorite sleuthing tool, the Internet Archives’ cantankerous Wayback Machine to see if we could pinpoint Mr. Potok’s untimely departure.

As of February 20, 2017, Mr. Potok was still listed as a “Senior Fellow” on the SPLC website.

Mark Potok _ Senior-Fellow-Feb-20-17

As of now, Mr. Potok’s biography page, if you can find it, refers to him as “Former Employee.” No “Former Senior Fellow,” or “Senior Fellow Emeritus,” as SPLC co-founder Joe Levin and the late SPLC celebrity spokesman Julian Bond got upon their retirements.

Potok Former Employee

Potok was still listed on the “Leadership” circle page on the site in February.

Feb-22-2017-Leadership _ Southern Poverty Law Center

Today, his picture has been removed from the page with all of the subtlety of an old-time Pravda airbrushing.

8-31_14-Leadership _ Southern Poverty Law Center

In fact, Mr. Potok’s bylines on the hundreds of hit pieces he wrote for the company now refer to him as “Former Employee.”

Potok-byline

Potok’s Facebook page has one cryptic note from March: “Left Job at Southern Poverty Law Center.” No mention of “retiring” or “exploring new opportunities.” Not even a “wants to spend more time with his family.”

Potok Left SPLC

Twenty years of faithful, profitable service and the man is kicked out without so much as a thank you or a Fare-thee-well. What happened?

Apparently Mr. Potok has his own website now, where he is offering his “expertise” on the open market. “I’m an expert on the radical right who spent 20 years at the SPLC.”

Potok Keynote Speaker

While there is no denying that Mr. Potok was a master craftsman of fear-mongering and the smear while at the SPLC, it seems unlikely that he will find another gig that pays anything near the six-digit salary Dees and Cohen have paid him for years.

Potok990

Potok’s website includes several testimonials regarding his career, but the only one from the SPLC comes from retiree Joe Levin. There is no sign of Dees or Cohen to be found anywhere.

Potok Testamonials

What a sad end to a brilliant career. Here was a man who could find unfettered access to every form of media and every leading news outlet with the snap of his fingers. Cut down in his prime at the very dawn of the company’s Golden Era.

With Donald Trump in the White House and Nazi-wannabees holding torchlight processions in Charlottesville, Mr. Potok’s best material ever would have all but written itself. The money is pouring into the SPLC so fast these days that there will no doubt be fat raises for all of the white millionaire proprietors.

Just last week alone, Mo Dees found a way to cash in on the death of Charlottesville protester Heather Heyer. Every tragedy has a silver lining at the SPLC.

It only goes to show the extent of the SPLC’s transformation from “civil rights organization” to “advocacy group.” There are tens of millions of donor-dollars at stake and it’s quite possible that veteran Mark Potok is no longer the “face” of the company that will best appeal to fickle Millennial donors. Maybe he was back-stabbed by ambitious co-workers or somehow crossed his overlords.

For now, we’ll just have to wait until somebody spills the beans. If anyone knows the story, and that includes Mr. Potok himself, please let us know.

There is an old German term, Schadenfreude, which translates more-or-less to “joy or happiness felt at someone else’s misfortune.” Let the record show that we at Watching the Watchdogs take no pleasure at Mark Potok’s departure. While we have spent much of the past decade chronicling his various fear and fundraising campaigns, as a life-long student of communication, rhetoric, persuasion and propaganda, you just have to admire the man’s mastery of the arts.

Though we’ll never agree on much, unless Mr. Potok has a tell-all book up his sleeve, we sincerely tip our hat to a true legend of the art of persuasion.

The man deserved better.

Even if your former colleagues have abandoned you, Mark Potok, we offer you a heartfelt “Fare-thee-well” and we look forward to writing about your work in the future.

“I think a lot of people feel, ‘Oh, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, they find, you know, the two hundred Nazis running around the country, they build them up into great big groups, they make a big deal about it and then ask for your money,’ right? In other words, it’s kind of a scam. You hype up this little tiny threat into something scary, uh, and then go and try to make money off of it.”

Mark Potok speaking to Bill Holiday in 2008, Track 2.

 

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SPLC — Cashing in on Charlottesville

August 19, 2017

While the violence and death at last week’s “Unite the Right” riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a national tragedy and a source of horror for most Americans, it follows as surely as the night follows day that the Southern Poverty Law Center would find a way to make money off it.

It was only a few weeks ago, in June, when the SPLC was writhing under some of the most negative media coverage it had possibly ever seen, in the wake of the GuideStar debacle. Reliable media allies such as Politico and the Wall Street Journal were openly criticizing GuideStar, a leading rating agency of non-profit organizations, for adding the SPLC’s spurious “hate group” label to dozens of its entries.

[The Politico article is one of the best exposés of the SPLC written in decades and well worth a read.]

Then came Charlottesville. The violent idiots on both sides of the fighting were right out of Central Casting and a godsend for the SPLC. Images of torchlight parades across the University of Virginia campus were tailor-made for the endless barrage of fundraising tweets, press releases, and, no doubt, fundraising letters. The cash has been pouring in ever since. The company will probably have to open several more off-shore bank accounts to house it all.

All of that paled in comparison to the tragedy of Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer’s death after being struck by a car that careered into a crowd on Saturday afternoon. Video footage of the incident gives little doubt that the act was intentional, and the driver of the car, James Fields, Jr., who was identified marching with white nationalists earlier in the day, is currently being held on charges of second-degree murder and several other counts.

Once Heyer’s name was released on the following day she was immediately canonized by the media and the Left, for their own financial and political purposes, but none of them could hold a candle to the Southern Poverty Law Center when it comes to monetizing murder.

Less than a week after Heyer’s death, the SPLC announced that it was “honoring Heather Heyer at Civil Rights Memorial Center.”

“Like the civil rights martyrs whose names are inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial, Heather took a stand against hate and bigotry and made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lecia Brooks, director of outreach for the SPLC, which built and maintains the memorial.”

Will Heyer’s name be immortalized on the SPLC’s “Martyr’s Monument,” a black granite disc designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial artist Maya Lin? Well no, that monument cost the perpetually cash-strapped SPLC $5,000,000 in 1989 (nearly $10 million in today’s dollars.)

Instead, the SPLC is going to honor Heyer on its less-static and infinitely more economical “Wall of Tolerance.” Longtime Watching the Watchdogs readers may recall our 2016 investigation of the Wall of Tolerance fundraising scam. We found that, like the lucrative “Stand Strong Against Hate” map scam that preceded it, the Wall of Tolerance was little more than a fundraising tool designed to recruit new donors.

While invoking the names of the “civil rights martyrs,” the Wall of Tolerance scam is built solidly upon the age-old persuasion technique of “reciprocity,” in which an organization sends out free gifts to potential donors in the expectation that the recipients will feel obliged to make a donation. Many readers may remember receiving packs of return address labels from various veteran’s groups. It’s a simple, cost-effective method that has been around for decades.

In the Wall of Tolerance scam, prospective donors receive a suitable-for-framing certificate from the SPLC thanking them for joining the ranks of the civil rights martyrs by supporting the company in its never-ending “fight against hate.” In addition to the certificate, the recipient will be memorialized forever on the “Wall of Tolerance,” a 20-by-40-foot Jumbotron screen at SPLC headquarters, where hundreds of thousands of names drift autumn-leaf-like across the screen “as the gentle rain from heaven.”

Recipients, honored to be included among such auspicious company, feel obligated to send along a little something in appreciation. Others can add their names simply by passing along their personal contact information to the Fundraising Department.

As our report noted, at least one honoree, Marcus Epstein,  had the dual honor of having his own page on the SPLC website that denounced him as a racist. Oops!

SOFII, the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration, was hugely impressed by the elegant simplicity of the Wall of Tolerance:

SOFII’s view

The Southern Poverty Law Center, who launched this campaign, is a hugely impressive organisation with a long and well-deserved reputation for effective donor development.

Though we don’t have the results, we think we can presume that this direct mail capital appeal must have worked really very well.

Merits

This is one of the most moving and long-lasting donor involvement campaigns in the USA and represents some of the best that the direct marketer’s art can produce.

It cost the SPLC nothing to add Heather Heyer’s name to the Wall o’ Tolerance Jumbotron but the tax-free donor-dollars will be rolling in by the truckload for weeks and months.

Incidentally, Lecia Brooks, who is quoted above in the Heyer press release, holds two concurrent Directorships at the SPLC. One of the few African-Americans in the SPLC hierarchy, Double-Director Brooks has never been named among the company’s highest paid executives.

One wonders what Heather Heyer would have made of that?

 


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