The Anti-Defamation League at EIJ ’12

Should the Society of Professional Journalists take money from the Anti-Defamation League?

I heard that question a few days ago after some SPJers learned that the ADL will be an exhibitor at this year’s national convention in Fort Lauderdale.

The back story is important.

The ADL condemned two rounds of comments former White House correspondent Helen Thomas made about Israel in 2010. After the first round, Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said Thomas “was always bigoted about Israel,” according to this Washington Post piece.

It was around that time that SPJ also considered removing Thomas’s name from a lifetime achievement award.

SPJ took no action after Thomas’s first remarks and even gave the award again later that year; no one complained, as far as I know.

But, in January 2011, following Thomas’s inflammatory remarks during a speech in Detroit, SPJ’s board of directors “retired” the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.

(Note this passage in the announcement: “To continue offering the award would reignite the controversy each year and take away from its purpose: honoring a lifetime of work in journalism.” Does accepting the ADL as an exhibitor this year “reignite the controversy”?)

“Retiring” the award was seen as a compromise instead of removing her name from the award, but had the same effect.

The ADL was pleased.

This was Thomas’s first set of remarks. This was her second set of remarks.

Some within SPJ considered Thomas’s comments to be hateful. Others – including me – objected to a journalism organization punishing someone for speaking her mind, especially, it should be noted, when she was a columnist (the first time) and a private citizen (the second time).

A movement to reinstate the award failed 85-71 at the 2011 national convention.

Now, the issue is back, for those who remember ADL’s early connection.

Last week, I heard from a concerned SPJer who was told that ADL was a convention sponsor.

Actually, ADL is an exhibitor – a group that buys space for a table to share information about itself – but not a sponsor.

Not all exhibitors are journalism-related organization (such as Alcoholics Anonymous, another exhibitor this year).

SPJ has guidelines for allowing non-journalism organizations as convention sponsors, to be known as “supporters” (including: “2. No money will be accepted from domestic or foreign governments, or from partisan political organizations”). The only exhibitor guidelines I know of are about logistics (space, schedule, payments, etc.).

Some SPJers debating this topic have asked: Should SPJ have accepted the ADL as an exhibitor? Should SPJ shun any groups? Is this bad timing, so close to the “retirement” of the Thomas award?

I see nothing wrong with accepting the ADL as an exhibitor (not as a sponsor or “supporter”) as long as any other organization would have the same chance.