The Southern Poverty Law Center has put out a preview of its latest list of anti-gay “hate” groups, causing some furor over whether showing up on that list means that the media shouldn’t feature those groups in interviews. Dan Savage set off the discussion on CNN.


According to Karl Frisch at progressive media watchdog Media Matters, here is the transcript:

PHILLIPS: You know, it’s difficult to say what would be a solution [to anti-gay hate crimes]. But, could we start with more hate crimes legislation where bullies are prosecuted more severely?

SAVAGE: We can start with that, we can also start with… really, we need a cultural reckoning around gay and lesbian issues. There was once two sides to the race debate. There was once a side, you could go on television and argue for segregation, you could argue against interracial marriage, against the Civil Rights Act, against extending voting rights to African Americans and that used to be treated as one side, you know, one legitimate side of a pressing national debate and it isn’t anymore. And we really need to reach that point with gay and lesbian issues. There are no ‘two sides’ to the issues about gay and lesbian rights.

And right now one side is really using dehumanizing rhetoric. The Southern Poverty Law Center labels these groups as hate groups and yet the leaders of these groups, people like Tony Perkins, are welcomed onto networks like CNN to espouse hate directed at gays and lesbians. And similarly hateful people who are targeting Jews or people of color or anyone else would not be welcome to spew their bile on networks like CNN and then that really — we really have to start there. We have to start with that type of cultural reckoning.

The exchange has gotten attention at a number of activist group, progressive, and LGBT blogs. Via Joe Jervis at JoeMyGod, we learn that CNN pretty much knew what Savage was going to say about its inclusion of anti-gay groups on the show.

The exchange raises a journalism question we’ve asked before .

First, the “hate group” label that is a favorite in the LGBT and progressive world. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups” is far from scientific and is often criticized for its role in SPLC fundraising. Mainstream media, understandably, is reluctant to use the SPLC “hate group” designation when describing organizations like those being criticized.

While the “hate group” list is interesting, it is also largely meaningless in terms of who the media should talk to and who they shouldn’t. Included in the current list of 18 groups–who all, apparently, aren’t going to show up on the final list–are organizations associated with white supremacist and Christian Identity movements, but also major players in the social conservative political world: Concerned Women for America, National Organization for Marriage, and Family Research Council. While activists may not like the work these groups do, labeling them “hate groups” based on SPLC’s designation and therefore off-limits for the media is nonsensical.

(UPDATE: CWA and NOM are not on the “hate group” list, while FRC is).

Instead, the media needs to do a better job of deciding when and how it uses groups considered anti-gay.

Part of the problem, of course, is relying on the same voices and people over and over again.  This is a problem on all-sides of the debate where the same people are called by CNN and MSNBC and Fox to talk about gay issues, both on the pro-gay and anti-gay sides.  If Perkins and FRC are overexposed, one could argue the same thing about a laundry list of gay male pundits and LGBT activist groups.

In addition to expanding the list of people who are interviewed and called, there needs to be more thought about when you need to include voices from FRC or CWA.  Not every show about gay issues needs to be controversial with dueling pundits.

But the reality is that many gay issues are controversial and there is opposition that needs to be represented in media coverage.  But instead of relying just on the same sound bite or press statement, we need to ask more probing questions, hold people accountable for their comments, and move beyond black and white.