Posts Tagged ‘PR’

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 — Why is the “Hate Map” Static?

August 31, 2016

This week has seen repeated online headlines reading that “White Lives Matter has been designated a ‘hate group'” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), broadcast from a number of media sites, some of them major players, here, here, here, here, here and here.

What most news outlets, from the New York Times to Time magazine to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution neglect to mention is that is that the SPLC won’t actually get around to adding White Lives Matter to its “Hate Map” fundraising tool until February, 2017. But six months from now, WLM is going to have a place on the Wall of Shame, by golly.

This raises the question, and admittedly, such heresy borders on flagrant “journalism,” as to why the SPLC’s “Hate Map” is static in a world of dynamic websites?

The oft-repeated photo accompanying the SPLC’s polished press releases, dutifully reprinted in online media sites across the board, shows a handful of neo-Nazi wannabes desperate to get a rise from the media, as the local populations have shown little interest in WLM’s blather.

WLM.png

There they are, America, the existential threat that ought to keep your eyes wide open at night and your checkbook wide open by day. Think about it.

So to get back to the uncomfortable question, why IS the SPLC’s “Hate Map” fundraising tool static when every media website, social media outlet or even private blog, such as our own Watching the Watchdogs dynamic? It makes no sense, unless you follow the money.

The SPLC releases its annual “Hate Map” every spring, purporting to identify all “hate groups” across the nation on a state-by-state basis from the previous year. Oddly enough, there is no legal definition for “hate group,” so the “groups” listed are purely at the whim of the SPLC, which receives no external oversight or review.

In short, we KNOW the “groups” listed on the SPLC’s “Hate Map” fundraising tool, which include t-shirt shops, one-man blogs and an Italian restaurant outside Pittsburgh, really, really are “hate groups,” because they tell us so.

If knuckleheads like White Lives Matter are such a threat, why won’t the SPLC post them on the “Hate Map” today? Why wait six months?

Well, it’s like this. The “Hate Map” is a fundraising tool, and as such it always refers to the previous year. The current SPLC “Hate Map” actually refers to existential threats from 2015. A little late to take up arms against the outrageous slings and arrows from last year, the “Hate Map” serves an important fundraising purpose. Media outlets from the New York Times, NPR, Time Magazine and the BBC will pick up the SPLC’s bogus “hate group” numbers and repeat them verbatim, ad nauseum, without ever performing even the most preliminary fact checks on the company’s claims.

If the SPLC were actually to create a dynamic tool the company would have to deal not only with scrutiny when it added “groups” to the “Hate Map,” but when they just as arbitrarily removed “groups” from the tool.

Case in point: In February, 2015, the SPLC designated 40 “hate groups” to New Jersey, giving it the fourth highest total in the land. This unsubstantiated claim led Mark Pitcavage, Intelligence Director for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to publicly challenge the reliability of the the numbers his brothers-in-arms at the SPLC were putting forth.

“According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the SPLC has a habit of counting single individuals as groups or chapters, which can give a skewed impression of hate groups in any given state.” [Emphasis added]

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list is wildly inflated,” said Pitcavage. “They list skinhead groups in places where there are no organized groups, but instead it’s just a couple of individuals.” [Emphasis added]

After being publicly humiliated by the ADL, the SPLC reduced its “hate group” count for New Jersey from 40 to 21, due largely to the arbitrary removal of 13 chapters of the AC Skins skinhead group that the company swore was a threat to all that we hold dear in 2015.

AC skins

The beauty of the “static map” system is that even though the ADL debunked the SPLC’s New Jersey claims in March of 2015, the reduction to the “Hate Map” didn’t come until February, 2016, resulting in a full year of fundraising. That one year delay resulted in uncounted donor-dollars wafting their way into the SPLC’s already bloated coffers.

If the “Hate Map” served any purpose beyond agitating the company’s mostly elderly, mostly Progressive donor base, it would be accurate up to the minute.

This friends, is why the SPLC’s “Hate Map” fundraising tool only comes out once a year. It’s not about identifying “threats,” it’s about gulling the gullible. Give early and often and we’ll tell you all about it next year.

 

Book Review: “For the Kingdom and the Power”

January 3, 2015

We recently had the opportunity to read Dale Laackman’s debut book, For the Kingdom and the Power: The Big Money Swindle that Spread Hate Across America (June, 2014, S. Woodhouse Books), which deals with the phenomenal growth of the “new” Ku Klux Klan in America during the 1920s.

Two things drew our attention to this title. First was Mr. Laackman’s recent appearance on CSPAN’s “Book TV” and the second was a glowing endorsement by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s own PR Guru, Mark Potok, which appears on the Amazon.com link cited above.

Most of us have seen dated photos of thousands of Klansmen marching through Washington, DC, in  1925, and read about a Klan membership in the millions during that time, but Mr. Laackman goes beyond the simple knee-jerk visuals and gives a more in-depth review of the actual events on the ground.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

The opening line of Laackman’s book reads: “This is not a book about the Klan,” and indeed, it is not. This is a book about a pair of shrewd Public Relations experts who saw an opportunity to glom onto a growing movement and make a ton of money, regardless of the racist messages and criminal activities committed by many of that group’s members.

The Modern Ku Klux Klan was founded in Georgia in 1915 by one William Joseph Simmons, who described his group as a modern day successor to the organization created by Nathan Beford Forrest immediately after the Civil War. Forrest’s Klan was designed to terrorize blacks and deny them their civil rights by any expedient means, including murder. Simmons’ Klan wrapped itself in a patina of honor, duty and patriotism, and sought to continue Forrest’s war on blacks, as well as Jews, Catholics and all other “aliens.”

Simmons created his organization completely from scratch, including the bylaws, rules and rituals for the governance of each Klan unit. What Simmons possessed in creativity, however, he completely lacked in business acumen. By 1920, Simmons was nearly broke and membership in his KKK was somewhere in the 3,000 range.

Enter Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth “Bessie” Tyler, two natural-born promoters who had recently joined forces to create their own, rather successful Southern Publicity Association in Atlanta. Tyler’s son-in-law had joined the Klan and had mentioned Simmon’s business difficulties to Clarke and Tyler, who immediately saw an opportunity to apply modern public relations techniques and skim off a large slice of the profits for themselves. They met with Simmons and struck a deal whereby the Southern Publicity Association would undertake the promotion of the KKK in exchange for 80% of all new member fees. To Simmons, who was on the verge of losing everything for which he had worked, even a paltry $2 dollars a head for new members sounded like the deal of a lifetime.

To make a long story short, the PR partners produced amazing results almost immediately. Within a year, Klan membership had swelled to over a million and would peak at nearly 5 million three years later. The movement had spread far beyond the South into all corners of the country and boasted important members from local police and government officials to governors, congressmen and senators. Clarke and Tyler became fabulously wealthy overnight, not only from membership fees but from a monopoly on the production of Klan regalia and supplies.

Laackman provides key insights into the popularity of the Klan, especially in the early 1920s, when membership in all kinds of fraternal organizations was at an all time high. It is important to remember that these groups, including the Elks, Freemasons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Eagles, Moose, Ruritans, Grange, etc., served as important networks in the days long before Linkdin and Facebook. These groups provided a venue for men to meet and interact in ways that they rarely would in the course of their day-to-day careers and lives. They all promoted patriotism and religious values, as well as the advantages of the Capitalist way of life.

Most of the members of the new Klan held membership in more than one fraternal organization, and most were unaware of the violence underlying this latest group. To most, the Ku Klux Klan was just another organization, as shown by the equally rapid decline in membership after a series of highly publicized newspapers stories broke on the criminal and financial workings of the Klan, especially the roles played by Clarke and Tyler. Laackman gives membership numbers of 3,000 in 1920, 5,000,000 by 1925, back down to 5,000 by 1930.

While some, like the SPLC’s Potok, point in their fundraising propaganda to the Klan’s peak membership in 1925 as proof positive of the natural racism inherent in all white Protestant men, the numbers show that most of the membership did not agree with the Klan’s violent tendencies and abandoned the group as quickly as they had joined.

We won’t give away the fascinating details of this rapid rise and fall, or the many intrigues surrounding the key players. Laackman’s book does a very good job describing the events and is worth the read. We recommend it.

The one complaint we do have with For the Kingdom and the Power is a tendency to be unnecessarily verbose in sections, which often have only tangential connections to the main story.

For example, no recounting of the modern KKK would be complete without mentioning the famous/infamous 1915 film, Birth of a Nation, which painted the original Klan in an extremely favorable light. Laackman gives a good accounting of the film, including its use of many groundbreaking cinematic techniques, but not before giving us two paragraphs on Thomas Edison’s invention of the film camera and projector, followed by two pages on the early life of director D.W. Griffith.

A discussion of anti-Catholicism in 20th century America is preceded by a chapter on Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn  and the Reformation.

In recounting the life of Bessie Tyler, Laackman gives us the address of the home where she was born, as cited by the US Census Bureau (“Militia District 469, Cooks (east part), Fulton, Georgia, enumeration district 0028, household ID-114”). Even in historical non-fiction there is such a thing as too much information.

In these cases, we suspect the padding has less to do with any pedantic inclinations on the part of the author and more to do with a minimum page or word count requirement set by the publisher. It is a minor irritant in the course of the book as a whole.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is how easily one could take Laackman’s recounting of the PR techniques practiced by the Southern Publicity Association in promoting the savagely racist KKK and compare them to those used by alleged anti-racist organizations today.

It’s little wonder that the SPLC’s Mark Potok calls For the Kingdom and the Power “a splendid book,” noting that “Dale Laackman shows how the group’s exponential growth was driven almost entirely by an unlikely pair of public relations experts who turned out to be consummate swindlers.” Mr. Potok, no doubt, recognizes many of his organization’s own PR ploys in the course of the text.

If Mr. Laackman is looking for material for his next splendid tome, we can provide him with a trove of data on how groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism routinely exploit the fears of good people to further their own aims.

Given that Mr. Laackman has received an endorsement from Mr. Potok, and has cited the SPLC’s dubious numbers in his first book, the odds of such a follow-up tale are remote at best.

If you change your mind, Mr. Laackman, you know how to reach us!

SPLC Media Guides

September 9, 2012

Longtime readers of Watching the Watchdogs, if their comments are accurate, have an appreciation of the information and analysis of Southern Poverty Law Center fundraising propaganda we provide here.

Oftentimes there is a lot of data to digest, at least in a written form, but as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words. To that end, we have endeavored to create a series of short (to accommodate the attention-span-challenged) video clips to show just how really simple it is to find the SPLC’s raw data, almost all of it found on the SPLC’s own web site, so that the viewer can evaluate it for themselves.

We ask no one to take our word for it, but we do ask the viewer to go directly to the source, as we have, see the data for themselves and come to their own conclusions. If you think we’re way off base then please tell us so. All intelligent comments and criticisms are welcome.

These are nothing more than the simple fact checks any real journalist should make before blindly quoting Mark Potok’s press releases. This isn’t “hate,” this isn’t “domestic terrorism,” it’s Journalism 101. These are the basic fact checks the Media should make, but won’t. Check back for additional installments.

First off, Media Guide #1 is a brief examination of the fallacy of the “hate group” label, the bedrock foundation of all SPLC fundraising propaganda. There’s no legal definition for the term, so just what exactly is this “law center” tracking?

Media Guide #2 examines the bogus bookkeeping behind SPLC’s public relations chief Mark Potok’s “hate incident’ log.  Most of these “incidents” are so tenuous, from teenagers carving swastikas into park benches to 8-year-olds threatening the President. More than a third of them are nothing more than updates on earlier events. How thug vandals pleading “not guilty” in criminal court is a “hate incident” is beyond us, but the Media and the all-important donors swallow it hook, line and sinker.

Media Guide #3 examines the preposterous proposition that NOT ONE of the top executives at the “nation’s leading civil rights organization” is a minority, and that this has been the case since Morris Dees opened the doors to the SPLC in 1971. The Executive Suite at the SPLC, which overlooks Martin Luther King’s home church in Montgomery, the birthplace of the American Civil Rights Movement, has been home to “whites only” for more than 40 years. Think about that…


Media Guide #4 explores the “ironic” fact that once one strips out all of the “homeless hate groups” discussed in the first video guide, it turns out that the largest single category of “hate group” in America is Black, according to Mark Potok’s bogus figures. The video also includes an excellent example of the Liberal Media’s inability to comprehend that the SPLC’s fundraising numbers are not based in reality.

Another Excellent Analysis of the SPLC’s Propaganda Techniques

August 15, 2012

I just found this superb analysis of the classic propaganda techniques employed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and in particular, its $150,000 donor-dollar-a-year public relations guru, Mark Potok.

Written in 2010, Patrick Henningsen’s cogent post Textbook Doublethink: SPLC’s Latest Effort Attacks Constitutionalists examines the language and public relations techniques employed by Mr. Potok in his never-ending struggle to extract as many donor-dollars as possible from his mostly elderly donor base.

While I cannot affirm some of Mr. Henningsen’s conclusions regarding individual groups mentioned, his in-depth analysis of the techniques employed is spot on. Nowhere is he more prescient than in his observation that:

“Handlers of this organization may believe that the SPLC is working like a well-oiled machine, ever-effective at infecting the mainstream media with its own choice talking points. But like all tired institutions who rely on the traditional heavy and passive linear News 1.0 operating system…, they can only watch as their model of traditional propaganda distribution becomes increasingly outdated by the day, as millions of active web surfers embrace the more sophisticated News 2.0 model, a model which rewards the readers and viewers who choose to dig, research, corroborate and verify their information- as opposed  to accepting information(and obvious spin) on face value.”

The Internet and social media may bring in more cash to the SPLC’s coffers in the short run, but ultimately they will lead to the demise of “non-profit” vigilante groups like the SPLC and the other alphabet soup Hate Industry hucksters.

SPLC — Housing Crisis for “Hate Groups”?

August 20, 2011

While doing a little housekeeping recently here at Watching the Watchdogs, we came across a fantastic statistic buried within the Southern Poverty Law Center’s indisputable “hate group” accounting system.

In 2009, WTW noted that of the 926 “hate groups” designated by the SPLC for the previous year, (according to their own spurious definition), fully 127 of them were not affiliated with any known city or town on the map. That’s 14% of the total listed on their “Hate Map” fund-raising tool for 2008, (the “Hate Map” numbers always reflect the previous fiscal year.)

We can all rest assured that those 127 mystery groups are really, really out there, because the good folks at the SPLC tell us they are out there, right? Not that they give any information about the other alleged “groups” beyond a town name. One would think “outing” a hate group by giving its address, phone number and membership list would be a great way to shame the “haters” back underground.

2008 was also the year that Barack Obama was elected president, causing the SPLC’s public relations guru Mark Potok to sputter that this only proved that Americans were more racist than ever, and Mr. Potok predicted that the election of a black president combined with a tanking economy would lead to unprecedented growth in the number of “hate groups.”

As it turns out, for 2009, the first year of the Obama administration and the worst year of the current recession (so far…), the number of “hate groups,” as counted by Swami Potok himself, rocketed from 926 to 932, a terrifying increase of six groups, or six-tenths of a percent. Shocking, but true.

In the big money world of the Hate-For-Profit industry, the number of “hate groups” is NEVER allowed to decline, no matter how much money you throw at them, and since the SPLC is the sole arbiter of the highly lucrative and highly meaningless “hate group” label, we at WTW were mystified as to why Mr. Potok only came up with a 0.65% increase? After all, if you’re the one pulling numbers out of thin air why not make up a number that would at least back up your predictions?

Six-tenths of a percent is the lowest increase in the SPLC’s entire history.

Regretfully, we at Watching the Watchdogs were so bowled over by these anemic returns that we dropped the ball and did not bother to run through the state by state maps to see how many of those 932 groups were officially homeless. For this, we apologize. We took the numbers for granted even though we have known for years that you cannot trust the SPLC’s mathematics. Mea culpa, mea culpa…

In March of this year, Swami Potok released his impeccably researched number of “hate groups” for 2010, and we were relieved to note that Mr. Potok had noted his previous error and arbitrarily jumped the numbers from 932 to 1002, an increase of 70 groups in one year, or a net gain of 7.5%. Now there’s the kind of good hate work we expect from Mr. Potok. Lord knows you can’t scare the old folks with a measly six-tenths of a percent. What was the man thinking?

As it turns out, after reviewing the maps and doing the math, the number of unaffiliated “hate groups” jumped rather significantly, to 262, or 26% of the total right off the top!

What this means is that while the number of “hate groups” increased by 70, the number of homeless “hate groups” increased by 99!! Apparently, not only were every last one of the new “hate groups” phantoms, but 29 other hotbeds of hate got evicted as well.

It’s no secret that the bursting of the housing bubble caused a lot of good, decent Americans to lose their homes, but thanks to Mr. Potok and the SPLC, we can take great comfort in knowing that evil American “hate groups” are faring no better.

Cue the schadenfreude…

Mr. Potok has been the “Director of Intelligence” at the SPLC for more than a decade now, and while some might be alarmed by these shocking lapses in both accounting and judgment, (Six-tenths of a percent, Mr. P.?? What were you thinking??), fear not, for Mr. Potok’s six-digit salary is far from being in jeopardy. In fact, his grateful overseers actually gave him a $7,300 raise last year (“Recession? What recession?”).

Mr. Potok’s spurious “Hate Map” has been instrumental in bringing in more than $86,000 tax-free donor-dollars a day, every day last year. His numbers are crap, but what does he care? It’s not like anyone in the mainstream media is actually going to look at them.

When you’re the one making up the numbers, you can make up any number you want.

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.

SPLC Public Relations Guru: Mark Potok

September 8, 2009

Most Americans are completely unaware of the role professionally crafted press releases play in modern media. With shrinking news staffs and 24 hours-a-day news cycles, most news outlets find themselves with a lot of blank newsprint/airtime/website space to fill every day.

Many of these sites could not survive without PR press releases, which arrive in their e-mail pre-formatted, spell checked and pre-edited.

All the media outlet has to do is copy and paste, and voila! Instant content. Some will go as far as to slap a fig leaf on the release, in the form of a local “reporter” byline and maybe a local reference or two, but most won’t perform even the most rudimentary fact checks before passing the press release on as “news”.

In effect, special interest groups get to write their own “news” articles about themselves. The Southern Poverty Law Center is no exception. The SPLC sends out print and video press releases on a regular basis via paid public relations firms like PRNewswire, USNewswire, and Taylor Media Services (TMS).

These press releases are then picked up by news aggregators like the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters, which pass them along to their thousands of customers without checking a single fact. In fact, at this point, the press release, written by the special interest groups themselves, now picks up an AP or Reuters byline, giving the entire bogus document a patina of credibility.

Now, if you’re going to write your own news articles you’ll want to have them written by a pro, especially when there are hundreds of millions of donor dollars at stake. The SPLC hired former freelance reporter Mark Potok.

Potok has been writing PR copy for the SPLC for a dozen years, despite having no legal or law enforcement background. He must be doing something right as the SPLC’s “Endowment Fund” tallied over $200 million donor dollars in 2007, (although it too was a victim of the current recession and now languishes at a mere $151 million.)

For his modest efforts, Potok is compensated with more than $143,000 donor dollars each year, according to page 40 the SPLC’s most recent IRS Form 990. For that kind of money, it’s little wonder Mr. Potok sees “hate groups” behind every rock and tree. There’s gold in them thar “haters”.

So efficient is Mr. Potok in promoting the SPLC’s latest fund raising “news stories” that almost everything you read, see or hear about the SPLC will have been written, in part or in total, by Mark Potok or a member of his staff.

When you read that the SPLC is a “premier civil rights watchdog” or that Mark Potok is a “civil rights expert,” you’re reading the words of Mark Potok. Every press release Potok writes will include a similar reference, conferring an air of authority to whatever denunciations or smears he is uttering at the time.

Is this illegal? No. All special interest groups and money making organizations do it. The problem with such a system is that 99% of the public have no idea that the vast majority of “news” they consume is actually skillfully crafted advertising copy.


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