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 ‘James Dobson’

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 »

25 Democrats & 30 Republicans who should ‘go away’

Posted by James McPherson on December 6, 2008

Blogger Ben Cohen apparently got such an overwhelming response (with lots of hate mail) to a column titled “10 Republicans Who Should Go Away,” he has now offered a Democratic version.

The Democrats: Joe Lieberman, Mark Penn, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Matthews, John Dingell, Robert Rubin, Steny Hoyer and Joe Lieberman (yes, Cohen hates Lieberman so much he put him on the list twice).

The Republicans: William Kristol, Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, Dick Morris, Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Alan Greenspan, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and George Bush.

I would have rearranged the lists and bit and made a few changes, but having used this blog to criticize everyone on Cohen’s GOP list and almost everyone on the Democratic list (though often just through association, with such terms as “gutless Democratic Congress” (here, here, here and here), I can’t disagree much with Cohen’s rankings.

I might have put Lieberman on both lists, and can easily expand the Republican list to 30. Besides Lieberman, my list (alphabetically) might include Glenn Beck, Jerome Corsi, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, James Dobson, Matt Drudge, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller, Rupert Murdoch, Darragh Murphy, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove, Michael Savage and George Will.

The Democratic side is a little tougher for me to expand, perhaps in part because of personal bias but mostly because Dems haven’t had much power for quite a while. Still, even after eliminating the second mention of Lieberman, I can boost it to 25 by adding Bill Clinton, James Carville, John Edwards, Geraldine Ferraro, Al Franken, Christopher Hitchens, Jesse Jackson, Joe Klein,  Scott McClellan, Keith Olbermann, Ed Rendell, Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Jerry Springer and Jeremiah Wright.

Cohen explains his reasons for each of his 19 nominees, though I won’t bother–other than to say the folks I’ve listed are among those who in my view have offered the least during the past year or so compared to the amount of visibility they’ve received. Obviously not all of those listed are formally affilitiated with the parties I’ve placed them with–but they might as well be.

Of course your picks might be different and others might be considered, including “Joe the Plumber,” “Obama girl,” and various filmmakers, political hacks, bloggers, and TV talking heads. And thankfully, many of those listed above are likely to disappear from public view in the near future, and from memory soon after.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Favoring a Christian president–or not

Posted by James McPherson on August 19, 2008

Despite criticism leveled at John McCain for saying last year that he would prefer that the United States have a Christian president, most Americans apparently agree. Not that it matters much–despite the loons who still maintain that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, no non-Christian has mounted a serious candidacy for decades, other than perhaps Mormon Mitt Romney (a definitional issue too complicated to get into here, but which may cause interesting problems for social conservatives if McCain tabs Romney as his vice presidential nominee–see the arguments here and here).

The mixed emotions among people of faith about Romney’s candidacy point out a significant problem with the “Christian president” theme. Even those who prefer a Christian leader don’t agree is about what kind of Christian president they want. Should he (or she, assuming we’ll someday get there) be in line with John Hagee, Jeremiah Wright, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the “Jesus for President” folks, or some other version of Christianity?

Should it be someone who believes that even Christian founding fathers intended for a separation of church and state, or someone who believes that those founders intended to create a “Christian nation” (though as religious scholar Stephen J. Stein points out in a recent article in Historically Speaking, “Virtually all Protestant clergy at the time were persuaded that the Antichrist was the pope”–the leader of the same church that now provides conservatives with much of their support (along with five of the nine members of the Supreme Court)?

How does one decide which candidates–or non-candidates–are Christian enough? Heavy conservative contributor Rev. Sun Myung Moon owns the Washington Times, which has become perhaps the best-known conservative newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal. Yet Moon, who also founded the American Family Coalition and calls himself a Christian, also refers to himself and his wife as “the first couple to have the complete blessing of God, and to be able to bring forth children with no original sin.” Despite Moon’s wacky views, I don’t know of any conservative Christian candidates who refuse his money or who seek to be excluded from the Times.

Like every other regular faculty member at the university in which I teach, I am a Christian. So is one of my best friends, but we disagree on many things. The university president, in his latest quarterly message to alums and friends of the university, lists among 15 things he loves about the school: “An environment in which people who disagree with each other protect each other. I have yet to meet a faculty member on the liberal-conservative continuum who wants to silence his or her counterparts. In fact, faculty and staff members at Whitworth recognize that, ultimately, freedom to disagree provides protection for their ideas.” I can’t think of any faculty member here, though, who would make a good U.S. president.

Many conservatives hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom were “Christian presidents” who expressed their faith more often and more comfortably than conservative heroes Barry Goldwater (who fell short of the presidency, of course) and Ronald Reagan. They generally disliked Roosevelt for his practical application (government intervention) of what he saw as Christian duty, while bashing Carter for failing to apply his own Southern Baptist views strictly enough. The two worst presidents of my lifetime–and the two generally recognized as the most religious–have been Carter and George W. Bush.

One key question is how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief in Christ. One thing seems certain, however: a president who professes Christian principles and then seriously fails to live up to those principles–to me, Clinton and Bush are obvious examples–ill serves both the nation and his fellow Christians.

In addition, as I suggested yesterday with my discussion of the Saddleback Church forum, the nation also is poorly served when it stresses the faith of its president above all else. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted before the forum that Abraham Lincoln would likely fail to measure up to today’s religious standards for presidential candidates (he might also be viewed as too inexperienced and too homely to be a serious candidate, of course).

All else being equal, I’d prefer a Christian president. But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.

Added note: Somewhat related to this post (and perhaps slightly more related to yesterday’s), this al-Jazeera column offers an interesting discussion of religion in America and of evil as defined by U.S. presidential candidates. For example:

If religious interviews were done with such fanfare and influence in a Muslim country, democratic or otherwise, western and especially US media would have made mockery of such an imposition of religious fundamentalism on political process. 

For most outsiders, the US is in denial over its own “evil doing” around the world. Obama and McCain could see evil in Darfur but would not admit that the invasion and occupation of Iraq on false premises or for oil is no less an evil act.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Columnist Kathleen Parker, who takes a generally conservative position on most issues, also criticizes the Saddleback forum.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | 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 »