Dr. James Dobson tries to lobby the press

Bansp_1Gosh, you go on the road for a few days out into slow dial-up territory and you get behind on your daily barrage email and, lo and behold, you miss something truly interesting like this epistle.

I did not even know that Dr. James Dobson had my home email address.

Thus, I am sure he will not mind me sharing this personal letter with GetReligion’s readers. This story may have legs, so to speak.

Dear Terry,

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about the controversy surrounding statements I made recently in which I reportedly accused a cartoon character named SpongeBob SquarePants of being “gay.” Although I never made any such comment, the media has repeated the story incessantly, to the point that the truth of the matter has been completely obscured.

Here’s what actually happened. In an address to congressional leaders last month, I briefly took the time to express my concern over a video that is being distributed to elementary schools featuring not only SpongeBob, but more than 100 additional children’s characters including the Muppets, Barney the Dinosaur, Bob the Builder, and Winnie the Pooh. The video itself is relatively harmless and is devoid of any sexual content. However, it is being incorporated into a larger campaign, created by an organization called the We Are Family Foundation, to teach “tolerance” to young children. Unfortunately, rather than simply encouraging tolerance of those who come from different cultural, religious, or socio-economic backgrounds ˆ which we believe is a worthy objective ˆ the curriculum also contains material designed to encourage young children to celebrate homosexual behavior.

To complicate the issue further, soon after this story broke, the pro-homosexual resources to which we took offense were suddenly removed from the We Are Family Foundation’s Web site. However, despite the suspicious disappearance of this material and the public denials on the part of the foundation that it was promoting homosexuality, we have extensive and detailed documentation showing that my original statements are still valid. It should be obvious that my concern lies not with SpongeBob or Big Bird or any of the other characters in the video, but with the way the We Are Family Foundation is hijacking those childhood symbols to blatantly promote the teaching of homosexuality to children in elementary school.

The February edition of my monthly letter, which is being released a few days early, explains this situation in greater detail. It can be accessed on Focus on the Family’s Web site by clicking here. I hope you will take the time to read it and get a better understanding of what has transpired. This is especially important if you are a parent with children in public school. Now, more than ever, we must be vigilant in staying abreast of what our little ones are being taught in the classroom.

James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
Founder and Chairman

Actually, this is not the first story in which embarrassing webpages have vanished once they have been sighted (or cited) by enemies on the other side of a cultural, theological or political fight. This raises an interesting question for journalists who cover the digital Culture Wars: What constitutes proof that these materials existed? If a webpage falls in the blogosphere and the mainstream press is not there, does it make a sound? I am not sure this metaphor makes any sense, but I know what I am trying to say.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • JoJo

    Furthermore, how should we treat revisions to materials presented on the web, a very fluid medium? Suppose someone says “Hmmm…maybe that didn’t sound the way I intended.” Shouldn’t they have the right to revise the copy without notice? Or should we insist on a clear and public retraction? I don’t know of many websites that have such a policy.

    Dobson claims that, despite the reports, he did not charge the swishy SpongeBob of unnatural acts. Apparently Dodson is correct; no one has produced evidence to the contrary. But did he say anything about the cartoon character at all in the first place? And if so, did he specifically cite SBSP, understanding that the cartoon character is a gay icon in some communities? If anyone has the original comments from Dodson that initiated this furor, please provide.

    I’d like some of you to translate what Dobson means by “pro-homosexual” and “promoting homosexuality”. I haven’t seen the video, but if it contains ANY display of mixed sex couples then isn’t it equally guilty of being “pro-heterosexual”? WAFF describes itself as pro-tolerance, and that seems accurate. We should call Dodson on his sloppy terminology.

  • Jill

    Terry, I am glad you heard personally from Dr. Dobson.

    I know that in the past I’ve been able to do a search on Google or another search engine and find the recently-pulled document or web page under “cached items.” A good example of this was last fall’s incident with the Episcopal church and the strange alternative service for women they came up with.

  • http://www.jlleblanc.com Joseph LeBlanc

    The Internet Archive Wayback Machine can also be helpful:

    http://www.archive.org/web/web.php

    …however, it is more useful for snapshots of websites from years ago, rather than tracking up-to-the minute revisions.

  • Paul Thompson

    Dr Dobson

    When you say that you should become vigilant in staying abreast of what your children are taught in school, doesn’t that indicate to you that you may yourself be guilty of narrow mindedness, of prejudice and infact are being homophobic.

    There are laws in many parts of the world to prevent homophobic prejudice. Dont you think that they are there for a reason. Civilisation is finally moving on (apart from the Mid West USA) and children seeing “GAY” characters is not promoting homosexuality, but so what if it were ? Whats wrong with homosexuality?

    Cant you al hear how stupid you sound saying “Sponge Bob has made a video that could make your children gay.”

    :-)

  • Tom Harmon

    Paul,

    Who has said, “Sponge Bob has made a video that could make your children gay?” Anyone on this blog?

    I think Dobson’s concern was for “celebrating homosexuality.” Nowhere did he say that he was concerned that SpongeBob would make children gay. Do you think there might be something else he’s worried about? I’m sure if you tried to see the issue fairly, you’d understand what he’s trying to highlight. Maybe not agree, but perhaps understand.

  • Chip Frontz

    Keep “abreast.” Heh.

  • N Rinne

    I share Dr. Dobson’s concern about knowing what our children are being taught in school.

    I also have no doubt that the organization who made the cartoon character video for schools promoting tolerance did indeed have the pro-homosexual material on their website that Dobson says they did.

    HOWEVER…that video produced for the schools to my knowledge promotes tolerance and does not speak about homosexuality at all. From what I heard, it sounds like what it contains is very good, if understood in the proper context. As Issues ETC host Todd Wilken asked a couple days ago, “are Christians against tolerance?”

    As he pointed out, this is really about the definition of the word “tolerance”, just like the battle over the word “marriage”.

    That is what’s at stake here–and I think that is where Dobson should focus if he’s going to try to clarify things.

  • N Rinne

    Sorry, for those who don’t know, Issues ETC is a daily Christian talk show out of St. Louis with tons of archived audio on the web.

    Todd Wilken is the conservative Lutheran Pastor who hosts the program.

    http://kfuo.org/IE_Main.htm

  • Cathy

    Tolerance means:

    a: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own b: the act of allowing something.

    No mater what the Right or Left say about it is what it is….

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    How do laws in certain unamed countries “prevent homophobic prejudice”? Not even “discrimination”, but “prejudice”, a MENTAL ATTITUDE? Do they have a real “Thought Police”?

    Should we adopt laws to “prevent anti-religious prejudice” for people like Mr. Thompson?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I resist the impulse to post Phyllis McGinley’s poem yet again. But it has been my observation that the louder people rant about “tolerance” and “open minds”, the deeper their contempt for everyone who is not just like them. (And when they rant about “diversity”, I know the last thing they want is any diversity of THOUGHT.)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The Canadian Anglican Web Elves (this is not a sect, but a kind of digital media cult thing) offer the following links to help those interested in this issue.

    Now, I realize that you can show that something WAS — past tense — on a site. The problem is whether it matters at all if information is CURRENTLY on a site.

    This is a major WWW issue. Are websites like newspapers or even broadcasts. Once saved, always saved?

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:lkYcyA6BQcoJ:www.wearefamilyfoundation.org/+&hl=en&client=firefox-a

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:5G0owfEw230J:www.wearefamilyfoundation.org/TEACHERS/Wfc.asp+www.wearefamilyfoundation.org+Writing+for+Change&hl=en&client=firefox-a

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:mg8SpF7MwKUJ:www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_usng4.jsp+Writing+for+Change:+Raising+Awareness+of+Difference,+Power,+%26+Discrimination&hl=en&client=firefox-a

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:zmwlS9Yha4cJ:www.wearefamilyfoundation.org/ADL_101Ways_Allies.htm+www.wearefamilyfoundation.org+GLAAD&hl=en&client=firefox-a

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/index.jsp

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_sctn1_4.jsp

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_sctn2_4.jsp

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_sctn3_4.jsp

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_sctn4_4.jsp

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_rsrcs4.jsp

    http://www.tolerance.org/teach/web/wfc/wfc_authrs4.jsp

    http://www.wearefamilyfoundation.org/sponsors.asp

    http://therealitycheck.org/FeaturedWriters/dhuntwork012305.htm

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1327841/posts

  • Molly

    In response to Cathy’s post, I pursued the word “tolerance” on Google and came up with this interesting page linked below. Tolerance does not necessarily connote giving up or giving into practices or beliefs differing from one’s own but does allow for movement within parameters or limits.

    http://www.answers.com/tolerance&r=67#Dictionary

  • Molly
  • Molly

    I’m sure you’ve seen this one, Terry.

    http://www.therevealer.org/archives/main_story_001573.php

  • Molly

    http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6210240/

    and this one, too….

  • http://turtleislander.blogspot.com/ Turtle

    As far as Terry’s original point is concerned – journalism in the digital age – I’ve run into this problem before.

    Journalists and bloggers can get tricked by the false stability of web jargon. We use grand words like “publish” or “post”. We have to consider the web closer to an oral medium: If you want evidence, you’re going to have to make a record.

    Any time you find a statement on a webpage, that you wish to use in an article, use your browser to capture a facsimile of that webpage, complete with URL and date, and file it away.

    Without such evidence, we’re left in a he-said-she-said-impasse.

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    Wonder why Wayback stopped archiving their site….

    To answer Terry’s point, web publishing is mutable, print is not. But that means instead of running “corrections,” you can just correct the article. Newspapers still run corrections on their sites (e.g. the Seattle P-I embeds their corrections in their article), but there’s nothing compelling the average web publisher to include corrections in articles.

    What’s forgotten, though, is that you can’t hide your mistakes for long. Google caches its results; if you know a change happened in the last 24-48 hours, the cache will usually have the uncorrected version.

    The thing I don’t get is why the researcher for FotF didn’t take a screenshot or use Acrobat to PDF-ify the site — or even just print it out. If you print it out, there’s a time/date stamp at the bottom along with the URL. If they had done that, we’d know definitely if/what they pulled content off that site AND whether the researcher was actually looking at the right site in the first place. If he/she had, there wouldn’t be conjecture, only evidence.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    This all brings up another angle. It is fairly easy to find “buried” material on the Web. But how can Dr. Dobson prove he DIDN’T say something? How can we verify that family.org did NOT have “spongebob is gay” on it?

    This sort of thing is dealt with by Buckley in the opening section of THE UNMAKING OF A MAYOR, where he relates how he played the tape of his speech to show “the silence that did not rock the ballroom” when he mentioned the killing of Mrs. Liuzzo.

  • http://www.xanga.com/emilye EmilyE

    I did a bunch of digging yesterday and found the links mentioned above plus some more on my own, posting them on my own little site… I didn’t realize that other people were concerned about this until one of my readers told me to check out this entry.

    The evidence (such as one can find in the Web’s dumpsters) does seem to be on Dobson’s side, though. The lesson plans to accompany the video that Dobson took offense to were posted on the We Are Family Foundation’s site until after the media frenzy erupted. Suspicious, to say the least.

  • JoJo

    Emily, I saw your research on this. Nice work. But there still seems to be a missing piece (unless I’ve overlooked it, which is entirely possible). Part of the criticism of WAFF is their alleged denial that they said anything about homosexuality in the first place. What did the WAFF folks say and when did they say it? We can’t just take Dobson’s word for it. I’m curious…

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Still looking. The reference is apparently to the Family Research Council’s “True Blue Awards” presentation to congressional honorees on January 19th, but I could not turn up anything on family.org or frc.org which gave the text of Dobson’s remarks.


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