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I-Team turns to experts for advice in our 'State of Hate' series

Discussions generate policies regarding hate symbols, naming groups
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Posted at 7:17 AM, Aug 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-06 17:02:28-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The ABC Action News I-Team is digging into the growth of the white supremacy movement in Florida in our new series “State of Hate.” 

For this series, the I-Team turned to experts and community leaders for their thoughts on how to cover this topic in a sensitive and ethical way.  

A demonstration by neo-Nazis turns violent, swastikas are displayed outside the Tampa Convention Center, and hateful flyers are distributed in St. Petersburg neighborhoods… just a few recent examples of anti-Semitic incidents in Florida.

The Anti-Defamation League said reported incidents rose 50% last year.

RELATED: The Growing State of Hate: Hate incidents in Florida reach record levels


“The message needs to be out there”

Jonathan Ellis of the Tampa Jewish Community Relations Council said the growing visibility of hate symbols is a concern.  

“Some people, I think, look at it and assume it’s a nuisance. This is free speech. I’ll tolerate it,” Ellis said. “I think other people will have a very visceral reaction. They look at this as really a threat to them, as a personal or property threat. They look at it as it could be leading to violence.”

Ellis believes the news media should responsibly cover the rise of hate groups in our community because he thinks it’s important for people to know.  

“I don’t think you can have a rise of Nazi activity or white supremacy activity without the news actually covering it and looking into it,” he said.  

Hillsborough County NAACP President Yvette Lewis agrees.    

“The message needs to be out there. That there are people like this in America that hate people because of the color of their skin. That hate people because of their religion,” Lewis said.

Racist phone calls and hate mail to her organization are on the rise.  She fears violence may follow, citing an uptick in racially motivated mass shootings.  

“Honestly, I fear my life. I fear my family’s life,” Yvette Lewis said.  


“They’re becoming more visible”

In preparing for our “State of Hate” series looking into the growth of white supremacy, we turned to the experts at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg for guidance as to what we should include in our coverage and what we should not.  

“They’re becoming much more visible. And they are seeking attention,” said Poynter Institute Vice President Kelly McBride.  

She said events like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol helped catapult the white supremacist movement onto the national stage.  

McBride started her career covering white supremacy groups decades ago.  

“When I was a young reporter in Idaho, I thought the spectacle was the coverage I was supposed to provide,” she said. “I thought yes, take pictures of the burning cross and the guys goose-stepping down some dirt driveway in rural Idaho and put it all over the front page of the paper. And make people aware that these people existed. And now I realize that that didn’t do any good at all.”

She said by providing that front page coverage, she inadvertently helped fringe groups recruit new members.  

McBride now believes journalists should report that these groups exist and pose a potential danger, but she said media organizations shouldn’t name specific groups or individuals in most cases.  

She also said the public should be aware that some of these groups are becoming more visible with the intention of provoking confrontations and getting media attention.  

“The more information you can give people about their strategy, the more equipped people will be to combat that strategy."


Striking a balance

ABC Action News is trying to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the belief that coverage will help grow white supremacy groups.

After multiple internal conversations, we’ve come up with a plan.

We are reporting about their strategies, including provoking confrontations at demonstrations, so the public can avoid falling into these traps. We are not naming specific groups or individuals whenever possible to avoid giving them a recruiting platform.

On our broadcast stories, you’ll be seeing lots of blurred videos since we’ve decided not to show hate symbols on flags, clothing, flyers or tattoos.  

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email us at adam@abcactionnews.com.