James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Focus on the Family’

Colorado Rocky Mountain sigh

Posted by James McPherson on February 27, 2009

Colorado saw two potential major changes today in media. One is sad and a reflection of many current media problems that bode ill for all of us. The other is overdue, and doesn’t yet go far enough.

First, the sad: The Rocky Mountain News, which began publication as Colorado’s first newspaper in 1859, put out its final issue today. You can see the final front page here:

final-rocky-mtn-news

Rocky” won four Pulitzer Prizes in its history, the last of those for a photographer who helped produce best multimedia presentation I’ve ever seen about the human cost of war. The newspaper’s history, of course, began before the war that claimed the most American lives and probably the nation’s best president.

Now the newspaper shuts its doors during our most fiscally expensive war ever, and just after the departure of a commander in chief whom I think is destined to be ranked as one of the nation’s worst presidents (I will agree with George W. Bush, however, that it’s too early to rank him in historical terms).

Denver will now be like most American cities, a one-newspaper town (not counting free weeklies or suburban papers, which have different roles). The Rocky Mountain News was killed by the same thing that is killing and crippling newspapers (and now local television stations–I was interviewed on that topic by a wire service yesterday) all over the country: higher costs and lower revenues. One of my students has produced a blog that has chronicled many of the problems.

Ironically, as several media professionals pointed out to a group of students I took to New York and Washington, D.C., in January, the demand for news remains as high as ever. The problem is that people want to read (and now watch) the news on their own schedule, from a variety of sources, without paying anything for it. Few consider or care that the “free” news they read is subsidized by subscribers and advertisers for the non-web versions of those same media outlets. When the major newspapers and broadcast stations die, their web operations die, too. (For example, I have no idea whether some of the links above will work after today.)

The result of fewer and smaller newspapers is less potential oversight. We can’t go to all of the city council and county commission meetings and legislative hearings, even if we want to. We don’t have the time or knowledge to investigate unsafe business practices, government corruption, or the best and worst hospitals and schools. Increasingly we find that there’s no one else to do it for us, either.

Our own voice also shrinks, as newspapers disappear. I occasionally write letters to my local paper. More people will read that letter than will come to this blog in the course of an entire month.

Speaking of voices, that brings me to the second potential big media event in Colorado today: just potential, because James Dobson’s will not disappear from the airwaves right away, but he is stepping down as chairman of Focus on the Family. As I’ve written previously, I don’t understand why Dobson has the following that he does, considering his lack of qualifications. I hope his retirement as chairman is just a first step in the fading from view of the neocon of child development.

Posted in History, Journalism, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Killing youth

Posted by James McPherson on January 2, 2009

When does a kid stop being a kid? When he agrees to become a suicide bomber? When she kills her parents or grandparents? When he joins the military or she starts to drive?

Maybe when he has sex with his high school or junior high teacher, or she “marries” a much-older man? When he graduates from high school or she has her first baby–or agrees to sell the baby photos to the highest bidder?

Or maybe when he or she decides never to watch another “reality show” such as “The Bachelor” or any of its seemingly hundreds of even sleazier video offspring? Have the people who were so up in arms about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction ever seen “Double Shot of Love”?

I find it interesting that the more horrible the crime against youngsters, the more we want to protect them, but the more horrible the crime they commit (an indication of less maturity, not more), the more likely we are to want to see them charged as adults.

We also may have a double standard when it comes to gender (though Slate’s William Saleton has offered evidence to the contrary). Girls, who mature faster than boys, may be more likely to be treated as victims–as they should be–when they engage in sexual relationships with older men. For teenage boys seduced by older women, however, some laugh off the act as a “rite of passage” or the harmless fulfillment of fantasy (though perhaps unfortunate if she happens to turn out to be a Nazi war criminal).

Like other parents and teachers, I worry that our children are growing up too fast. Some people blame the media, though even Focus on the Family admits that with home schooling your children and keeping them away from television, “Still, there’s no way to protect them completely from the perversion of the world.”

Perversion aside (and my definition of the term often differs from that of Focus on the Family) maybe we ought to teach our kids–and ourselves–more about the world as it is: not a dark and scary place where everyone who steps outside is likely to be raped or murdered (the picture portrayed by much of local television news and entertainment), one where everyone ought to be having sex with everyone else (the apparent view of much of the rest entertainment television), or a Disneyfied version in which love always conquers all.

Let kids be kids, when we can. Let the rest of us be kids from time to time, too. But let’s grow up about it, shall we?

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

God’s will and praying for rain

Posted by James McPherson on August 31, 2008

A brief but disturbing post: Do you suppose that Stuart Shepard believes that God intends to punish those affected by Hurricane Gustav, including the more than 75 people killed so far? That Pat Robertson-style idea seems to be Shepard’s message with the latter part of his recent edition of “Stoplight.”

Incidentally, I agree with the GOP decision to scale back its convention because of the hurricane, and with Barack Obama’s call for his supporters to volunteer help the victims. Oh, and Stuart, in answer to your question: Yes, what you were proposing would be wrong. And unlike a few wackier liberals, as I wrote a couple of days ago, I had hoped the GOP convention would be able to proceed without problems so the Republicans could get their message out. I’m convinced that message, if heard clearly, will be what keeps most American voters from casting ballots for John McCain.

Below are Shepard’s video (since pulled from the Focus on the Family Web site) and a CNN video that provides a bit more info about it.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Interpreting the relevance of the Religious Right

Posted by James McPherson on June 25, 2008

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson this week accused Barack Obama of willfully distorting the Bible and of having a “fruitcake interpretation” of the U.S. Constitution. It became the day’s lead political story for several media organizations. My question–a question I ask myself regularly when I see media coverage choices–why?

Of course I can’t imagine why a supposed audience of 220 million daily worldwide radio listeners pay any attention to Dobson (apparently prompting Christianity Today to call him “the most influential evangelical leader in America”), but they do.  Many, it seems, hope he can tell them how to raise their kids. Dobson has a Ph.D. in child development and became famous primarily because of his books and “pro-family” organization. Like most television evangelists, he is at least as good at promoting himself as promoting the Lord. Dobson’s first bestseller was Dare to Discipline, and he became popular largely because he was more pro-discipline than most other family experts of the 1970s. He favors corporal punishment, but only when administered by parents who don’t want to do it but know they must for the greater good. Consider him the neocon of child development.

Dobson has no apparent education or experience in policy making, but because he is perceived to have political influence–mostly because of his political action committee, the Family Research Council–politicians and the media also care what he says. Obama quickly responded, as did his national director of religious affairs (I wonder if Ronald Reagan felt compelled to have one of those), saying Obama was “committed to reaching out to people of faith and standing up for American families.”

Because families is the code word that shows you care, of course. All the best religious conservatives know it. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Conservative Christian organizations also devote much of their energy to attacking the “liberal media,” though for those organizations “liberal” usually refers not to a political view but to the acceptance or promotion of activities deemed antibiblical and morally repugnant such as homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, drug use, abortion, or violence. Those groups focus mainly on entertainment but sometimes include the news media (which, as discussed, have focused increasingly on entertainment themselves). Much of the focus for Christian groups centers on “protecting the traditional family,” despite the fact that, as one religion professor points out, “this ‘remembered family’ is a fairly recent development, one that came about with the industrialization and concomitant urbanization of America. . . . Previously, women and men had been much more co-workers in the unified task of maintaining a home.” Examples of the profamily emphasis include James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s American Family Coalition, and Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, which calls itself “America’s largest pro-family action site.” Dobson also founded a think tank/lobbying organization called the Family Research Council, which has editorialized in favor of eliminating government funding of PBS, in part because viewers were “fed up with the liberal bias.” Morality in Media, a religious media watchdog that boasts the slogan “Promoting a Decent Society Through Law,” has accused 60 Minutes and the New York Times of promoting pornography. More recently, with the help of a one-million-dollar Templeton Foundation grant, the Media Research Council spawned the Culture and Media Institute to “focus on the media’s relentless assault on faith, traditional values and personal responsibility.”

 
 
 
 

 

Dobson also has expressed dissatisfaction with John McCain, saying he would not vote for him, despite McCain’s efforts to reach out to the religious conservatives that he once unfortunately called (along with religious extremists on the left) “agents of intolerance.” In that 2004 speech, though, he did compliment Dobson, who “has devoted his life to rebuilding America’s families.” (He also managed to use the word “friends” nine times; he seems to use that word more than anyone who isn’t a salesman or a Quaker.)

Apparently both Obama and McCain have expressed a willingness if not a desire to meet with Dobson, but the good doctor will only do so on his own terms, as noted in recent reports. “McCain also has not met with Dobson. A McCain campaign staffer offered Dobson a meeting with McCain recently in Denver … Dobson declined because he prefers that candidates visit the Focus on the Family campus to learn more about the organization.”

This might be the perfect time for both candidates to ignore the Religious Right and stop giving it undue influence. After all, religious conservatives are themselves split by this election. As I noted in the same book mentioned above:

In 2007 prominent social conservatives split their endorsements for a 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Pat Robertson endorsed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who previously had supported gay rights and abortion rights. Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation, endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who also had once supported abortion rights and whose Mormon religion was considered a cult by some conservative Christians. Bob Jones III also endorsed Romney. After dropping his own short-lived presidential bid, conservative Kansas Senator Sam Brownback endorsed fellow senator John McCain. The National Right to Life Committee endorsed former Senator and “Law and Order” television actor Fred Thompson.

 

 

 

Another indication that this may be a good time to start ignoring the extremists on either side of religious arguments is a just-released survey of more than 35,000 Americans. It shows that most Americans are both religious and fairly moderate in their religious views. “Most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith,” the Pew Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life reported. “A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.”

Of course, James Dobson would probably say most of those folks were willfully distorting the Bible with fruitcake interpretations.

(Followup notes: The Huffington Post’s Frank Schaeffer suggests that “Dr. Dobson has just handed Obama victory,” while this site offers a side-by-side comparison of what Obama actually said versus what Dobson claims he said.)

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »