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Newsweek Demonizes Dr. Dobson

In Newsweek's March 19 issue, Beliefs columnist Lisa Miller says prominent evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson, whom she calls “the religious right's standard bearer and junkyard dog,” is “mad.” 


In fact, he's more than mad, writes Miller:  “Dobson's Lear-like fury may have backfired.”  Shakespeare fans will recall that King Lear got so angry he lost his mind.  Readers can't help but picture the genial psychologist foaming at the mouth.


Miller's article centers on a letter, signed by Dr. Dobson and two dozen other prominent religious and lay leaders, complaining about an official in the Washington office of the National Association of Evangelicals.  The 25 leaders express concern because NAE Vice President of Government Relations Richard Cizik has been promoting “alarming” views on global warming and population control that sound more environmentalist than evangelical. 


The leaders suggest that Cizik is misrepresenting evangelical opinion by speaking in a “divisive and dangerous” way, and is “using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children. In their place has come a preoccupation with climate concerns that extend beyond the NAE's mandate and its own statement of purpose.”


Not much foam dripping here.  So what did Dobson, et al., write that set off Lisa Miller's hate-o-meter?  She quotes only one sentence from the letter, a portion of the concluding paragraph.


Here is the concluding paragraph of the letter in its entirety:


 “We implore the NAE board to ensure that Mr. Cizik faithfully represents the policies and commitments of the organization, including its defense of traditional values.  If he cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE.”


Miller quotes and comments on this paragraph as follows: “'If [Cizik] cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues,' said the letter, 'then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his post.'  To an outsider, the irate tone of the letter seemed odd.”


Irate tone?  What irate tone?  “We implore?”  “We respectfully suggest?” The only thing that seems odd here is Miller's characterization of the letter as “irate.” Apparently, ire is in the eye of the beholder.


One of the hallmarks of media bias, and of poor journalism, is reporters projecting their personal prejudices onto the subjects of their articles.  Lisa Miller appears so convinced that James Dobson is an angry, hateful man that she sees – and reports – seething rage where none exists.


Newsweek's parent newspaper, the Washington Post, once described evangelicals as “poor, uneducated and easy to command.”  The Post later apologized for the slur. From all appearances, anti-evangelical bias is still alive and well at the Post and at Newsweek, and a fresh apology is in order.


Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute (www.cultureandmediainstitute.org), a division of the Media Research Center.