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Oscar-Winning Southern Poverty Law Center Losing Another Top Executive

Bruce Haring

The embattled Southern Poverty Law Center, which has won two Academy Awards for its documentaries and has advised numerous TV shows on hate crimes, has lost another top executive.

Richard Cohen, who headed the SPLC since 2003, said Friday that a search for his successor is underway. His announcement comes a week after the nonprofit organization fired founder Morris Dees for unspecified misconduct.  Cohen said his departure was “in order to give the organization the best chance to heal.”

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Cohen’s decision comes on the heels of a scathing essay in The New Yorker delivered by Bob Moser, a former SPLC staffer turned Rolling Stone reporter. In the essay, Moser called the organization a “highly profitable scam” that “never lived up to the values it espoused.”

Moser said the SPLC was “ripping-off donors” while ignoring sex harassment and racial discrimination within its own organization.

Cohen accepted blame for any failings at the SPLC. “Whatever problems exist at the SPLC happened on my watch, so I take responsibility for them,” Cohen said in the statement announcing his departure.

Hollywood has had a long association with the SPLC, even as the organization’s credibility has lately been criticized for its over-zealousness in labeling individuals and organizations. It once named Housing and Urban Development head Ben Carson on its “Extremist Watch List” for his views on same-sex marriage, and settled a defamation lawsuit for $3.376 million brought by Maajid Nawaz, who was denounced in a report titled A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremism. The moderate Nawaz’s charity, the Quilliam Foundation, opposed extremism in all forms, including that by anti-Muslim bigots.

The SPLC has won Academy Awards for Documentary Short Subject: A Time for Justice (1994) and Mighty Times: The Children’s March (2004). The organization also teamed with the Discovery Network and the NBC News production unit Peacock Productions on the series And Justice For All, using SPLC case files for subject matter. 

The SPLC also partnered with the George & Amal Clooney Foundation for Justice, which bestowed a $1 million grant to the organization.

However, its credibility has waned even as its donations rose. Just last summer, the liberal Washington Post ran an article headlined, “The Southern Poverty Law Center Has Lost All Credibility.”



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