Got news? Focus PWNs the shocked left

The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc, co-founder of this here weblog, is not writing for GetReligion at the moment, but he’s still out there in media land — seeing things through GetReligion eyes.

After the Super Bowl, he sent me the link for an editorial column that hinted at a wonderful hook for a “God news?” post. The source is the conservative site, where columnist Jeff Emanuel had some interesting commentary on the media storm that surrounded the Focus on the Family advertisement featuring Tim and Pam Tebow.

Once again, I know that this is editorial-column content, not hard news. But hang in there with me, because there is a news hook in here:

The fact that the commercial was not overtly pro-life (or anti-abortion) made the PWNing even sweeter, and likely brought far more people over to the Life side of the issue (or, at least, divorced them from the pro-abortion side) than an overtly anti-abortion spot would have. … On top of all that, the absence of an abortion message in the ad meant the pro-abortion left had to bear the entire burden of publicizing such a divisive and touchy issue all by themselves.

This was made possible, in part, by a brilliant non-information campaign. The ad’s contents were kept entirely secret. … In this absence of detail, the pro-abortion left immediately assumed the worst, treating the ad as though it would approach the issue as they do: by getting in people’s faces and shoving views down their throats.

The fact that Focus on the Family did nothing of the sort made the pro-abortion left’s smear-and-silence campaign into a massive overreaction — and made Focus’s effort an EPIC WIN for the pro-life side of the aisle.

By the way, since I am not a computer-game guy, I was not familiar with the term “PWN.” Thus, Doug had to point me to the Urban Dictionary for clarification. I do not know what this says about Doug and his media habits. But, I digress.

Try to forget the editorializing in Emanuel’s post and focus on an a very interesting question: Who was the media strategist who thought up this strategy for Focus on the Family? This leads to another question: Can you imagine this kind of media-savvy tactic being used during the regime of Dr. James Dobson? Does this ad seem like his style?

The story behind the ad is interesting enough, if anyone at Focus will talk about the fine details. But the larger news question is now obvious: Is this ad one of our first looks at a the “new” Focus, a glimpse of what may be its new style after the departure of Dobson (and the subtle tensions that have followed)?

In a way, these questions are linked to that eyebrow-raising column by Sally Jenkins, a proud and articulate feminist, that ran in the Washington Post sports section the other day about the Tebow affair. Lots of folks sent me the URL for that column (as if I didn’t see it in one of my local newspapers), asking for GetReligion commentary on it.

Well, LeBlanc’s tip makes a chunk of that editorial column relevant. You can see shades of the Focus strategy in this passage, even though this ran before the Super Bowl:

Tebow’s 30-second ad hasn’t even run yet, but it already has provoked “The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us” to reveal something important about themselves: They aren’t actually “pro-choice” so much as they are pro-abortion. Pam Tebow has a genuine pro-choice story to tell. She got pregnant in 1987, post-Roe v. Wade, and while on a Christian mission in the Philippines, she contracted a tropical ailment. Doctors advised her the pregnancy could be dangerous, but she exercised her freedom of choice and now, 20-some years later, the outcome of that choice is her beauteous Heisman Trophy winner son, a chaste, proselytizing evangelical.

Pam Tebow and her son feel good enough about that choice to want to tell people about it. Only, NOW says they shouldn’t be allowed to. Apparently NOW feels this commercial is an inappropriate message for America to see for 30 seconds, but women in bikinis selling beer is the right one. I would like to meet the genius at NOW who made that decision. On second thought, no, I wouldn’t.

If you want to dig deeper into the arguments that followed that Jenkins piece, click here and explore some of the 1212 comments that were posted before the newspaper shut them down.

So has anyone in the mainstream press seen the news hook here?

You can see hints that veteran Godbeat reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today has seen the news hook — but has only been able to write about it online, in her Faith & Reason weblog. Click here to see what she has to say.

Yes, she talked to Jim Daly (photo), the new Focus on the Family president:

For a week now, earnest groups have been protesting the anti-abortion, anti-gay rights Focus group getting CBS to change its policy against advocacy advertising and let this issue ad run.

Now, it’s airing and it’s a major score in the “Euphemism Bowl” — no mention of abortion, of choosing to carry a life-threatening pregnancy to term or anything else politically hairy.

Daly told me Sunday afternoon that they were perplexed by all the hyperventilating.

Perplexed? Or pleased? That’s the story.

What’s next? Cooperating with the witty women at Feminists For Life? Stay tuned.

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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.

  • whimsy

    I think it is amazing that there were no leaks on the CBS side.

  • tmatt

    Folks, please comment on the coverage and the media discussion of the ad. Not the actual content of the ad itself or your opinion of the ad.

  • Bern

    The ad got lots of coverage, as it was intended to do, and that coverage was generated by the media machines at various advocacy organizations. Overall it was lively, as well as being predictably biased in particular publications by particular people. Not unlike tmatt’s headline here. What left?

  • tmatt


    The cultural left on that particular issue.

    I am, of course, aware that there are Libertarian conservatives who are pro-abortion rights. And there are political liberals who are pro-life.

    But the usual groups on the liberal side OF THAT ISSUE. That left.

  • Dave

    Focus on the Family didn’t have to be particularly clever, only clever enough to study its opposition and act accordingly. In the abortion debate, though, this looks immensely clever because both sides, directly and through the media that favor them, demonize the opposition to a fair-thee-well. Who will wise up first? The MSM or my side of the abortion debate? Stay tuned…

  • Bern

    Thanks for the clarification: the pro-abortion left. (No need to shout.)

  • tmatt


    I never use the term pro-abortion because that is not fair to the diversity of views on that side of the issue. It’s the right’s version of the term anti-choice that you often hear on the left.

    The AP Style term these days is pro-abortion rights, with an emphasis on the legal right to abortion.