How To Tell When A News Article Is Lying To You: Southern Poverty Law Center Edition

How To Tell When A News Article Is Lying To You: Southern Poverty Law Center Edition

Knowing how to tell what’s true and what’s false on the internet is one of those useful skills that nobody is teaching you. Right? You aren’t handed a BS detector when you graduate school.

As a writer, reporter and filmmaker, I have to deal constantly with information overwhelm-going through tons of articles, book, video and other content and then separating out the correct parts from lies, bias and lazy research.

Here’s an example I found when researching my documentary  The Caliphate where a widely respected and quotes source just gets the basic facts wrong. The group is the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, who designates ‘hate groups’ and has helped groups like CAIR push the idea of Islamaphobia as a way of downplaying the clear and present danger from Islamists.

One of the methods they use is discredit sources. In this case, the source is FrontPage editor and former 1960s radical turned conservative David Horowitz. (Full disclosure: I’ve never met or spoken with Horowitz, but we’re both featured as narrators in the film Occupy Unmasked.)

Here’s what the SPLC says in a section of their hit pieces on Horowitz describing a video that made the rounds a few years ago. Here’s how the Southern Poverty Law Centers describes an exchange between Horowitz and a student:

During one such week in 2010, Horowitz appeared at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Midway through the program, he began to debate a Muslim student wearing a traditional Palestinian keffiyah — what Horowitz called a “terrorist neckerchief.” When the young woman asked Horowitz to clarify the connections he had been drawing between the Muslim Student Association on campus and radical terrorists, he instead asked the woman to denounce Hamas.

“For it, or against it?” he barked, demanding an answer. It was a trap.

While she would later claim she was thinking unclearly and intimidated, she bashfully replied, “For it.” Horowitz nodded and smiled. It was a rhetorical trick — the kind Horowitz has perfected. If she supported Hamas, Horowitz argued, the Muslim Student Association to which she belonged was actually tied to a terrorist organization, as defined by the State Department.

The video made the rounds on conservative news outlets, seeming to confirm for Horowitz and his followers that his fight with the “radical faith” was on target. Islam was on the move — everywhere.

It’s interesting that the SLPC doesn’t embed the video or even link to it.

This is intentional for reasons you can see when you take three and a half minutes to watch the clip being described.


checkedLet’s break down some of the falsehoods. Minor point, it’s UCSD.

The glaring thing is how the whole tone described doesn’t correspond with what you see in the video. Horotwitz doesn’t bark. The student doesn’t seem intimidated, in fact she’s fairly aggressive and insulting to Horowitz throughout.

The article also gets the order of events wrong. The student makes it clear that she is for Hamas and there’s no intimidation. The ‘For It’ part is where Horowitz asks her if she’d like see all Jews gather in Palastine so they are easier to kill.  She’s For It.

Also note the scare quotes around Horowitz’s “terrorist neckerchief.” This is a common trick that sends the message to the reader that the person saying the thing in the scare quotes is misguided, wrong or crazy.

In this case, it’s meant to trick readers who can’t see the video. When you watch the video, the woman asking the question is obviously and intentionally wearing a black and white chequered keffiyeh.

What does that mean?

The black and white chequered keffiyeh has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, dating back to the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. Outside of the Middle East and North Africa, the keffiyeh first gained popularity among activists supporting the Palestinians in the conflict with Israel.

While Western protesters wear differing styles and shades of keffiyeh, the most prominent is the black-and-white keffiyeh. This is typically worn around the neck like a neckerchief, simply knotted in the front with the fabric allowed to drape over the back. Other popular styles include rectangular-shaped scarves with the basic black-and-white pattern in the body, with the ends knitted in the form of the Palestinian flag. Since the Al-Aqsa Intifada, these rectangular scarves have increasingly appeared with a combination of the Palestinian flag and Al-Aqsa Mosque printed on the ends of the fabric.

David Horowitz isn’t blind or dumb and neither is the Southern Poverty Law Center. The whole section and indeed the whole article is an attempt by the SLPC to separate out support for the Palestinian cause with terrorism.

But unless the readers of the article do diligence, they will be tricked.

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