That’s Dr. Dobson to you, punks

DobsonBibleThe media relations staff at Focus on the Family may soon have to create a form letter for requesting corrections from Newsweek (which, as tmatt noted earlier this month, published one of the funnier corrections in recent Godbeat history).

Newsweek sure seems to have the correction in a macro somewhere. From the Feb. 20 issue:

In the Feb. 13 article “God’s Green Soldiers,” we incorrectly identified James Dobson as a reverend. He in fact has a Ph.D. in child psychology and goes by Dr. Dobson. Newsweek regrets the [error].

From the Aug. 8, 2005, issue:

In our Aug. 1 issue, a sidebar on lobbying groups (“A User’s Guide to the Groups”) incorrect[ly] identifies James Dobson as a reverend. He in fact has a Ph.D. in child psychology and goes by Dr. Dobson. Newsweek regrets the error.

The style guardians at Newsweek might consider adding a stylebook entry for Dobson, James, Ph.D.; urging their reporters to bookmark this page; or posting a copy of this article by their own Howard Fineman at each water fountain in every bureau (all together now: “Unlike evangelical Christian provocateurs such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, Dobson isn’t a minister”).

Even if Dobson were ordained, the proper word is pastor, not reverend, as this Wikipedia article explains.

Yes, the doctor wields the Bible like he belongs behind a pulpit, he talks more openly about Jesus than do some ordained ministers, and his father was a Nazarene pastor, but politics plus evangelical faith plus a national profile does not have to add up to the pastorate.

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  • http://www.psonnets.org/ Michael Rew

    Dr. Dobson could revise a Clint Eastwood classic by saying, “Go ahead. Make me pray.”

  • Corban

    Dare to dis him!

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    At least it speaks to the integrity of DR. Dobson -who is very much looked up to by many religious people- that he repeatedly tries to correct the mistake. How many politicians over the last few years have been caught promoting a mistake-originally made by the media–if it seemed advantageous to keep it alive–then when the truth came out blamed it all on the media.

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Of course, if you follow AP style, the use of “Dr.” is also somewhat dubious, as it is generally used only for physicians.

    “If appropriate in the context, Dr. may be used on first reference before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees. However, because the public frequently identifies Dr. only with physicians, care should be taken to assure that the individual’s specialty is stated in first or second reference.”

    In many stories about (um) Dr. Dobson’s non-psychological activities, I’m guessing that the necessary care is not taken.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Good points, Andy, and I should have thought to include AP’s guidance on using Dr. In most cases, “James Dobson of Focus on the Family” should cover the bases. But, then, I think writers cannot even remember that Dobson is nor ordained would be all that precise about the finer points of style. Maybe they could just start calling him “James Dobson, the fundamentalist Ph.D.”

  • David

    Actually, the “change” would correctly be “James Dobson, the evangelical Ph.D.” Although theologically conservative, Dobson is no fundamentalist.

  • Matt

    James Dobson, Ph.D., as a member of the Nazarene denomination, formally agrees with the doctrines contained in the booklets titled “The Fundamentals” it is, therefore, fair to call him a Fundamentalist.

    The booklets were edited by R.A. Torey (Moody Bible Institute) and published by Lyman Stuart (founded both Union Oil and Biola University) just before the First World War. These pamphlets are the origen of the word Fundamentalist. And in my opinion provide the only meaningful definition of the word “fundamentalist”.

    I hate seeing Shiites refered to as “Fundamentalist Muslims”. What does that mean about Wahabists, Druze, and Dervishes? What are the fundamentals of Islam? Or mormanism? or Hinduism. Yeah, someone answer that! What is a fundamentalist Hindu?

    If reporters are going to use a word like fundamentalist, please, learn what it means.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    My suggestion that reporters could call Dobson “the fundamentalist Ph.D.” was strictly satirical — of reporters who feel so compelled to attach ideological labels.

    This blog has a long history of discouraging promiscuous use of the word fundamentalist.

  • John

    Good luck getting James Dobson to answer to, y’know, “James Dobson.” Just visit FotF headquarters in Colorado Springs, or listen to his radio show, and you’ll find everyone referring to everyone else in the folksy American tradition of first names EXCEPT when they refer to the Big Fella (on whom their salaries rely) as “DOCTOR Dobson.”

    And don’t these supposedly media-savvy types remember the flap over radio host Dr. Laura, with her doctorate in “nothing-to-do-with-what-I’m-doing-now”? Dobson’s degree in child psychology qualifies him to discuss foreign and domestic policy, theology, church politics, etc., etc., precisely HOW?

  • Stephen A.

    “Dobson’s degree in child psychology qualifies him to discuss foreign and domestic policy, theology, church politics, etc., etc., precisely HOW?”

    The same degree that gives you and I the right to discuss these things.

  • Matt

    And we all (including Dr. Dobson) certainly have that right – the right of discussion, or free speech.

    What I think John was referring to in his previous comment was that while Dobson’s political opinion is not always that of a qualified professional, it is often wielded as such an instrument. There are so many Dobson loyalists out there who will take his opinion for a qualified position because of the Ph.D., and Dobson knows as much.


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