Focus on the job description

dobson 02For someone who’s been on the mainstream media’s radar for decades, James Dobson sure has a rough time being understood by journalists. Usually they call the radio psychologist an ordained minister. And they do it over and over again. Sometimes they think the full-time liberal bogeyman is calling for exorcisms when he’s talking about people getting “exercised” — as in worked up about — sex scandals.

Now he’s not an exorcist . . . but an evangelist! Yesterday the ABC News home page, had a jump to a story about how Dobson might endorse John McCain. Headline:

Evangelist: Maybe McCain’s Not So Bad

Apparently to the ABC News copy desk, if you’re a conservative Christian leader, you’re an evangelist. The reader who submitted the headline sent us a screen shot, below, of the ABC News front page. Thankfully the story itself is by Associated Press religion reporter Eric Gorski, which means it’s solid. Gorski, who used to report for a Colorado Springs paper, gets quite a few stories simply by staying on the Focus on the Family beat. The headline to the story itself is much better:

Dobson Shifts Positions, May Endorse McCain
Evangelical Leader Dobson Shifts Positions, May Endorse McCain Despite Misgivings

On Saturday, I pointed out that the mainstream media frenzy surrounding Barack Obama’s alleged inroads to evangelicals is, thus far, all hype. A Pew survey, released last week, showed that while white evangelicals are not jazzed about McCain, they actually support Obama slightly less than they supported John Kerry at the same time four years ago. It’s hard to find that out when everyone has been running lengthy pieces about how successfully the Democratic Party is handling its religious outreach.

On this larger topic, I think there are three stories: one that’s being handled well, one that’s being misrepresented and one that could use more skillful coverage. The one that’s being handled well is about the Democratic Party and Barack Obama’s outreach efforts to white evangelicals and Catholics. The one that’s being misrepresented is that white evangelicals don’t seem to be buying into it. The one that’s begging for better coverage is about white evangelicals’ reticence toward McCain and the Republican Party and how that might impact the election. Speaking of reticence toward McCain, I have to link to my favorite new site of the campaign: GetDrunkandVote4McCain.

Anywho, Gorski’s piece answers some questions about the last story through Dobson’s potential shift in political allegiance. Remember that he claimed he wouldn’t vote for McCain even if he got the nomination:

“I never thought I would hear myself saying this,” Dobson said in a radio broadcast to air Monday. “… While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might.”

Dobson and other evangelical leaders unimpressed by McCain increasingly are taking a lesser-of-two-evils approach to the 2008 race. Dobson and his guest, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, spend most of the pretaped Focus on the Family radio program criticizing Democratic candidate Barack Obama, getting to McCain at the very end.

In an advance copy provided to The Associated Press, Dobson said that while neither candidate is consistent with his views, McCain’s positions are closer by a wide margin.

“There’s nothing dishonorable in a person rethinking his or her positions, especially in a constantly changing political context,” Dobson said in a statement to the AP. “Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything I believe about the institution of the family and what is best for the nation. His radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice, John McCain.”

dobson3Just a very straightforward and interesting story. Gorski also explains why Dobson originally opposed McCain as well as more about why he’s changing it. He also provides some context about Dobson’s influence and listening audience.

The only context that was missing was something that Doug LeBlanc wrote about last October:

2007 certainly doesn’t mark the first time Dobson has threatened to break from the Republican Party over abortion and other social issues.

Yes, Dobson has threatened to leave before and come back. The media got very excited about his threatened departure during the Republican primary but they should have remembered some of Dobson’s past behavior.

More than that, though, the media need to understand why some evangelicals are dissatisfied with the Republican Party and John McCain. Without understanding why, they misdiagnose where these disenchanted evangelicals can go. If these folks don’t think John McCain is strong enough on defending traditional marriage or opposing the destruction of embryos, are they going to support Barack Obama? Only in the mainstream media’s dreams.

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  • Michael

    The one that’s begging for better coverage is about white evangelicals’ reticence toward McCain and the Republican Party and how that might impact the election.

    Based on the Pew Study, the question should also be whether there really is any reticence. He’s actually doing pretty well with white Evangelicals. The 2004 election could be considered an outlier since it was a “culture war” election for many Evangelicals with 13 anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot. That may have inflated overall Evangelical support for Bush.

    But you are right about the impact of Evangelical leadership and McCain. It’s not just whether they will vote, but whether homeschoolers and pro-life activists will man the “get out the vote” efforts, whether they will go door-to-door, whether they will work phone centers. Like labor unions in the Democratic party, the GOP largely relies on Evangelicals to do the hard work of getting out the vote. That’s a nuance you just aren’t seeing any coverage of.

    If James Dobson agrees to bless McCain, will the homeschoolers and pro-life activists change their minds too?

  • Jonathan

    I think the “evangelist” headline is merely the latest instance of the fairly common misunderstanding of the term. Many people seem to use the term “evangelist” when what they really mean is “evangelical”.

  • Mike Hickerson

    In my local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Howard Wilkinson did a good job, I think, in teasing out the reticence of evangelicals toward McCain in an article from yesterday, “Candidates Need Evangelicals.” He found two “typical” evanglicals and let them share their opinions, with additional background from the recent polls, etc. Wilkinson overstated Obama’s success among evangelicals (for one, he didn’t compare Obama’s support among evangelicals with Kerry’s or Gore’s), but it was a good article. I also thought it was a good way of making a national story local – Wilkinson not only found local evangelicals, but went into detail about the differences between Ohio (26% evangelical) and Kentucky (49% evangelical) in terms of voting patterns. He found an evangelical reluctantly supporting McCain, an evangelical supporting Obama, an evangelical enthusiastically supporting McCain, and an evangelical who is voting for someone more conservative than McCain (doesn’t say who).

    Here’s one telling quote from the reluctant McCain supporter:

    [Jake] Cain said he will probably vote for McCain – not out of any great passion for his candidacy, but as “the lesser of two evils.”

    This “lesser of two evils” quote ended up being the subtitle of the article, which some people seem to have taken in the wrong way. In an interesting twist on tmatt’s post about commenters, the person quoted, Jake Cain, has been active on the article’s comment thread clarifying his position and correcting some misunderstandings.

  • JIM

    Why not be honest. Dobson is a lacky for the republican party
    if not he would vote for Bob Barr.