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Old 02-08-2005, 06:12 AM   #1
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SpongeBob fiasco - the greater danger



SpongeBob smokescreen
by Mark Wexler
Through the years, the Religious Right has been known to champion causes that to the casual observer might seem outrageous or simply a sad diversion from the truly important moral issues of our time, such as waging an unjust war, global poverty, peace, and justice. The controversy surrounding Focus on the Family's James Dobson and SpongeBob SquarePants seems to fall in a similar vein - just another example of zealous ideology. It is important, though, that in the wake of the SpongeBob fallout we do not miss the core issues that are currently swaying in the political winds of Washington.

Beginning with of the rise of the Religious Right in the late 1970s (when political elites from the Republican Party approached Jerry Falwell to lead the Moral Majority), political centrists, leftists, and religious progressives have misunderstood and misrepresented this phenomenally well-built social movement. Words such as "radical," "silly," "extremist," and "crazy" are often used to describe the Religious Right. This lends to the wildly off-the-mark idea that the Religious Right is politically ineffective.

In actuality, the Religious Right is a strong political insider (with the Values Action Team, a group of 85+ affiliated members of Congress) and outsider (with scores of organizations that can rally grassroots actions within days) working together with startling efficiency. Let’s not focus on the SpongeBob debate, which can and will be used by the Religious Right's insider apparatus as a political smokescreen, providing cover for otherwise unpopular legislation and simultaneously throwing political opposition - not to mention the media - off course. It is vital that religious progressives, along with political centrists and leftists, instead focus on fact that the Religious Right is the lynchpin to George W. Bush's controversial bid to privatize Social Security. Christian conservatives' support for privatizing Social Security, support they are hesitant to give because of questions about privatization’s effectiveness, is contingent upon Bush's approach to their core issues.

Christian conservatives are taking credit for Bush's re-election, due to their decades-long financial and political support of GOP candidates. They are now waiting for their political payback - a conservative majority in the Supreme Court, the same-sex marriage ban amendment, sliding the clock backward on decades of civil rights laws, stripping employee rights, the overturn of the Roe decision, reinforcing economic stratification by continued regression of tax law, rolling back environmental laws, and a multitude of other moral issues.

Do not allow "SpongeBob moments" to take your eyes off the reality that the Religious Right are not outsiders looking in on the political process, but fundamental to Bush's attempts to stem the tide of years of political and social progress. There is nothing "silly" about this.

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Old 02-08-2005, 06:30 AM   #2
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Nothing like fear.....

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Old 02-08-2005, 07:16 AM   #3
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... of gay people or any imagined boogeyman to motivate those who have few else to hate or to blame for where they have wound up in life and with a government that is doing less and less and less for the working classes in this country. as social support networks and broad sense of community disappear in this ruthless age of unfettered, 19th-century capitalism, as most of the achievements of the 20th century are repealed by this administration, as people work 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart and still must apply for government assistance to get even the most basic health care, as they drive miles and miles through vast exurban wastelands with right-wing talk radio blaring in their ears, we must bait-and-switch, get them to take their eyes of what's really afflicting their lives and focus on highly emotional issues (like gay rights, like abortion, like evolution) that are utterly incidental to the real and the practical that affect everyday lives.
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Old 02-08-2005, 10:16 AM   #4
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Well they ARE crazy, but that's not to say they don't have power; they most definitely do. I mean, they pretty much got Dubya re-elected...wasn't that the big issue with Bush voters, "moral values"? I mean, who cares if we're at war and nobody has a job, it's all about moral values right?

You know, it's interesting, I saw a study (wish I had a link-sorry) that ranked the states by average IQ, and all the lower ones were "red" states, and the higher ones were the Kerry states...
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Old 02-08-2005, 10:30 AM   #5
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Isn't this just a replay of the "moral majority" scare of the '80's?
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Old 02-08-2005, 10:35 AM   #6
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Originally posted by nbcrusader
Isn't this just a replay of the "moral majority" scare of the '80's?

i wish they agreed with you.
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Old 02-08-2005, 03:09 PM   #7
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I love this editorial:


Delusions of grandeur at "Focus on the Family"

NEW YORK - Mother used to insist that there were two things you should never talk about in public: politics and religion.

Now, of course, that’s all we talk about. But the moral guidance still rings loudly all these years later, and it always makes me a reluctant conversant, even if I apologize to Mom in advance.

However, the Three-Card Monte Players at Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” have reopened the can of worms that is SpongeBobGate, and have focused not on the family but on me, and in so doing embarrassed themselves and undermined the validity of their own concerns.

Dobson, you will recall, joined the singularly inoffensive animated character “SpongeBob SquarePants” to his conspiracy theories of a “pro-homosexual” agenda, in order to get headlines. When he got those headlines, he promptly complained about getting them. Dobson, like many other exploiters of Amoral Values, ran immediately to the easiest way out of a stupid fix of his own creation: he blamed the big old ugly media.

His website asked readers to send emails of protest to me and four other reporters who had covered this foofery - it even provided them with an email-generator with which to do so. But because I responded to nearly all of those missives with something other than “I’m sorry, please don’t send me to hell,” Dobson has determined I need more exposure.

This time it is in the form of a delightful piece of fiction crafted by somebody called “Gary Schneeberger, editor,” of “Family News In Focus.” It is charmingly titled “Influencing Olbermann” and I’m vastly tickled by the compliment, and more over, by the cascade of factual errors that follows.

Schneeberger observes that I’ve “devoted six pages on (my) Web site — over two days — to savaging the men and women who sent more than 30,000 e-mails through our CitizenLink Action Center.” We’ll skip the incongruity of pages in a blog and focus on that 30,000 number. Schneeberger does not state this (it would be inconvenient) but that number is clearly a total of emails generated to me and the four other reporters targeted. That would be an average of about 6,000 apiece, and now I feel left out, because the actual number received here is less than 2,000, and that includes 10%-20% blanks and 5-10% letters supporting our coverage and denouncing “Focus On The Family” as, in the words of one correspondent, “the American Taliban.”

Still, let’s give ‘em that 6,000 figure they claim. That’s embarrassingly small for an email generating device, especially over the course of five days. Most of my blog entries induce about 1,000 hand-crafted emails, and during the post-election period the responses ran closer to 5,000 per day. If you’re setting up a spam campaign and providing people with everything up to and including cut-and-pastes to stick inside the message generator, and you can’t do better than 1,200 a day, you should give up and open a 7-11 somewhere.

I might add before I’m accused of trying to answer philosophy with addition, that Mr. Schneeberger’s piece claims the spam campaign was a success because of the “1,674 words he’s spent addressing the subject on his Web site this week.” If we’re going to calculate and reward who’s bigger, sir, you’re going to lose.

Having failed math, Mr. Schneeberger now tries extra-sensory perception.

“…When it comes to lobbying liberal journalists like Olbermann, the sad reality is that getting them to acknowledge - let alone to respond respectfully — to our point of view is the longest of long shots. Theirs is a 24/7 secular world — in most newsrooms, especially those in big cities, about the only time you hear the word ‘God’ is as the first part of somebody’s second-favorite swearword.”

Wow. Talk about creating your own reality.

My newsroom is in Secaucus, New Jersey — population 15,931.

“Focus On Family” headquarters is in Colorado Springs, Colorado — population 360,890.

And not to let the facts get in the way of FOF’s prejudice, but I happen to be a religious man. I believe in God, I pray daily, and if I’ve ever gotten any direct instructions from my maker, they were that I’ll be judged by whether I tried to help other people, or hurt them. Also, that true belief should not be worn like a policeman’s club, nor used like one. And, finally, that I’m in big trouble for helping to introduce funny catchphrases into sportscasting.

The producer of 'Countdown' — Mr. Kordick, you’ve met him here, the guy who goes on vacation and celebrities die — is not only a religious man of the finest kind, but actually sings at Church-related events out in the community. And there are many others on the staff who are similarly spiritual, although, admittedly, none of us is pushy nor self-congratulatory about it.

I might also say that I feel a little disappointed in my workplace. Mr. Schneeberger, who claims to have spent a dozen years in “secular newsrooms,” writes of all of these “God Damns” flying around the ones he knows so well. I honestly think I’ve heard that phrase used at MSNBC once or twice in the last year. I feel short-changed. Where did Schneeberger work, The Sodom and Gomorroh Picayne?

Ultimately, Schneeberger’s piece claims that I have not presented a “cogent defense” of our coverage of Dobson’s faux pas. Well, I have mentioned that we played the entire video at the center of the controversy, and read the three references in the accompanying teacher’s materials to what to do if a child asked about same-sex families (the only references to any of that in, or with the tape), in an effort to let the viewer decide if Dobson’s complaint was legitimate or laughable.

And, before we went on the air that night, we contacted Dobson’s office for a statement that might disconnect SpongeBob from the contretemps, and outlined how we intended to cover the story. We got no “that’s not right,” no “you’re demeaning Dr. Dobson,” and especially no “you’re taking Dr. Dobson’s words out of context.”

All that came after Dr. Dobson realized how much damage he’d done to his cause.

I suspect, long-term, that this is how Dr. Dobson’s followers are going to react in the next few months and years as the world around them gets increasingly tolerant and less reactionary. Several of his spammers warned of the coming Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriages (which the President many of them also claimed they personally elected used so efficiently in the campaign, but has already dropped with that “whaddya gonna do” shoulder shrug of his).

More importantly, at some point, some of these people are going to wake up to find that the great secular assault they see on their children was, in fact, a bogeyman created to hide their own bad parenting. If they can’t convince their own kids of the appropriateness of their religion and values, then the religion, the values, or the convincing, must not have been very good. Ask my folks if I was an easy sell — yet most of my tenets turn out to have been their tenets — not my teachers’, not television’s, not the secular world’s.

It goes back to the core of the Dobsonian point of view here: the fear of the “pro-Homosexual” agenda. That may be the way he delicately phrases it, but it is not shared by most of his followers who emailed me. They were clearly angry that there was no anti-homosexual agenda. And one of the most fascinating things about the studies of homosexuality in this country is that while there is still debate between the creationists and the environmentalists, I’ve never heard anything suggesting that a child is more or less likely to be gay, depending on whether he’s taught not to hate nor be intolerant, of gays.

Schneeberger finishes his piece with the hope that I’ll experience the same kind of epiphany he claims to have in 1997. “Let’s pray, if he ever does, that he comes up with the right answer — and not because it may lead to fairer reporting. But because it may lead to a redeemed life.”

Hey, guys, worry about yourselves. You’re spewing hate, while assuming that for some reason, God has chosen you and you alone in all of history to understand the mysteries of existence, when mankind’s existence is filled with ample evidence that nobody yet has been smart enough to discern an answer.

You might try keeping it simpler: did you help others, or hurt them?

I’ll be happy to be judged on the answer to that question, and if it’s a group session, I don’t expect I’ll find many members of “Focus On Family” in the “done ok” line.
And this one:


More fun with Dobson's spammers

PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA — H.L. Mencken’s biographers always note that the great cynic used to enjoy jousting with the religious extremists of his day. But he usually had to type up a letter and waste a stamp on them.

While making no undue comparisons, I should note the ease with which I can do the same: a quick hit of the reply button, and they seem largely confounded that anybody has disagreed with them, or that their leader, Dr. James Dobson, might have made a fool of himself.

This, if you haven’t read previous entries, is about the SpongeBob video controversy. Dobson, of a group called “Focus On The Family,” told a largely congressional audience of his complaint about a video and accompanying teaching materials sent to 6,000 elementary schools, by referring to its distributors as a “pro-homosexual” group. Dobson invoked SpongeBob SquarePants as the centerpiece of the video, raising the specter of the laughably infamous “Tinky-Winky” controversy of the ‘90s.

Before we first did the story on "Countdown," we contacted his group, asked for a comment and a clarification of the implication that SpongeBob was being used as part of a “pro-homosexual” effort. Dobson’s spokesperson made no effort to alter the impression, and made no complaint about our story as we outlined it to him.

Then, of course, the Krabby Patties hit the fan.

Dobson came across as a nut job, the story was picked up around the world (often with the admittedly oversimplified headline “SpongeBob is Gay?”), and Dobson immediately blamed the messengers. Suddenly it was the media that had interconnected the cartoon character with the “pro-homosexual” effort, and, of course, the media needed to be feel The Wrath. As part of his weekly newsletter, he conveniently included an e-mail generating device so that people who never saw our broadcast nor knew who I was, could spam my mailbox full of what I must say is some of the most unintentionally entertaining e-mail I’ve ever gotten.

Firstly, you wouldn’t think a member of this group could misspell “Christian,” but sure enough, one of the missives had the word as “Christain” three times. I think just about every word you could imagine was butchered at some point (and we’re not talking typos here - we’re talking about repeated identical misspellings):

Spong, Spounge, Spnge — presumably meaning “Sponge.”

Dobsin, Dobsen, Debsin, Dubsen, Dobbins — presumably Dr. Dobson.

Sevility — I’m not sure about this one. This might be “civility,” or it might refer to the city in Spain.

The best of them was not a misspelling but a Freudian slip of biblical proportions. A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote “I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent.”

Well, you have me there, Ma’am. My mistake.

The real problem with Dobson’s campaign, which produced an e-mail volume far less than the average post-election blog, was that he publicly posted my internal e-mail address (the one used for interaction with my office co-workers), not the high-volume ones we established for viewer and reader reaction. This served merely to wear out a bunch of IT folks (and me) and had the cumulative effect of a group of clowns toilet-papering my office and then saying “You agree with us now, don’t you, that you are a heathen?” The volume served only to overshadow any validity that might have been included in their complaints.

To the credit of many of them, when I informed them of this, they were mortified. I got a lot of very heartfelt apologies, as I also did when I pointed out that Dr. Dobson had taken a lot of my comments out of context, or when I suggested the writer hadn’t seen the show, nor the video in question (which is as inoffensive as a sunset).

Still, if there was one disturbing element, it was the number of emails — maybe 20 percent —which invoked Dan Rather and “what we did to him.” There is evidently a mass misunderstanding of the history of Rather’s retirement from the CBS Evening News. He was not hit by vengeful lightning, although don’t go telling that to the religious right. That his retirement was being planned last summer is an irrelevancy to them.

Even in this, though, one emailer provided mirth. “We got Tom Brokaw at ABC,” he warned, “and we can get you.”

I’ll have to drop Tom a note.

Something approaching 10 percent of the e-mailers used Dobson’s generator to send notes of thanks for exposing “Focus On The Family” for the knee-jerk reactionaries they are. One wrote in genuine fear that these people were wielding influence in the country. I wrote back, thinking of the mangled language, that a much more immediate concern was that these people are out there, driving on our highways.
I needed a good laugh!

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Old 02-08-2005, 03:17 PM   #8
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The best of them was not a misspelling but a Freudian slip of biblical proportions. A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote “I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent.”

Well, you have me there, Ma’am. My mistake.

sad, but hysterical.
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Old 02-08-2005, 09:10 PM   #9
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Originally posted by dandy

sad, but hysterical.
Yep, I loved that one too. Certainly don't want to call FOF followers intelligent. (ummm, no worries there, folks.... )

And I nearly snorted ice cream (really good ice cream, too) out my nose on this one:

I might also say that I feel a little disappointed in my workplace. Mr. Schneeberger, who claims to have spent a dozen years in “secular newsrooms,” writes of all of these “God Damns” flying around the ones he knows so well. I honestly think I’ve heard that phrase used at MSNBC once or twice in the last year. I feel short-changed. Where did Schneeberger work, The Sodom and Gomorroh Picayne?
Now that sounds like a fun place to work!

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