In the World

"Liberal critics" call the AFA a hate group?

I enjoyed this Michael Kinsley
post last year more than anything I'd read in
a long time, because it speaks to a big frustration of mine: while (contrary to
most blogger stereotypes) I appreciate the importance of reporting, I can't
stand reading most straight news writing.

Again and again, complex
issues of bias and fairness--what papers cover, whom they talk to, how they
frame coverage--go unaddressed. Yet in the interest of avoiding bias at a more
micro-level, convention demands that reporters meticulously avoid calling a
spade a spade. Instead, they take a paragraph to explain that some people think
a spade is a spade, while others reject this notion. It's excruciating.

Some commenters won't like the example I'm about to use--I'm looking at
you, Anonymous, and also you, other Anonymous--so to be clear, I'm not
suggesting that the New York Times's editors or reporters are favorably
disposed to the American Family Association, which is sponsoring Rick Perry's prayer-themed political rally tomorrow. I'm
saying only that ostensibly evenhanded copy like this in fact obscures more
than it clarifies:

liberal critics call it a hate group, the [AFA] and [founder Donald E.] Wildmon
are widely revered in conservative circles.

If you've never heard of the AFA, this
sentence--and the whole article--will give you the impression that it's a
mainstream conservative group. It isn't. It may be widely revered within
certain religious-right circles, but within the broader conservative coalition
it's merely tolerated--because a lot of the ideas its leaders push are pretty extreme.

And it's not just that Human Rights Campaign or MoveOn calls the
AFA a hate group. The nation's foremost expert on hate groups, the Southern
Poverty Law Center, has identified it as such based on careful investigation
and a precise definition of the term. Sure, the SPLC's
civil-rights-movement roots might place it broadly within the left (though
hardly the most controversial part of the left in this day and age). But the
group monitors left-wing as well as right-wing hate. It's a serious and
credible authority on hate groups, not a liberal messaging shop.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to always refer to
the AFA simply as "the AFA, a hate group." But something like "the AFA,
designated a hate group by the SPLC, which monitors hate groups of all kinds"
would serve readers much better than this sort of "he said, she said" approach.

Steve Thorngate

The Century managing editor is also a church musician and songwriter.

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