For the past three decades, the religious right has largely been the public face of Christianity in America. Televangelists such as Rev. Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Rev. Pat Robertson became household names by relentlessly presenting a rigid form of conservative theology. Their rise was aided by the emergence of talk radio and cable television -- which served as huge mega-phones -- and GOP leaders who blessed them as "the base."
In recent years, the moral authority of the right has been weakened by numerous political and sex scandals -- Sen. Larry Craig, Rev. Ted Haggard, Rep. Mark Foley and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, to name a few. Widespread disenchantment with George W. Bush, the right's one-time savior, has also damaged the conservative brand.
The right's relative decline has finally opened the door for mainstream religious leaders to challenge dogmatic interpretations of the Bible. Into this war over "The Word" stepped Barack Obama, a churchgoer who can communicate with religious voters in a way a politician like former Democratic nominee John Kerry never could. Obama's rare platform to present an alternative version of Christianity posed a direct threat to the religious right.
This explains the tirade by Focus on the Family's founder James Dobson, who attacked Obama for a speech he gave on religion, saying that Obama "distorted" the Bible. While the spotlight is on Obama's beliefs, the mainstream media has failed to examine the serial distortions of Dobson, who has long had a stormy relationship with the truth.
In the past two years, seven prominent scientists and authors have publicly upbraided the right wing leader for twisting or cherry picking their work.
The first researcher to step forward was New York University educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, PhD. She was upset when Dobson misused her research to claim in Time Magazine that Mary Cheney was wrong to have a child because she is a lesbian. In Sept., 2006, Gilligan responded by appearing in a video for the organization I founded, TruthWinsOut.org (TWO), and pointedly tells Dobson to "refrain from ever quoting me again."
"I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine," wrote Gilligan in a letter addressed to Dobson. "What you wrote was not truthful."
Another researcher misquoted in the Time article was Dr. Kyle Pruett, a professor of child psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. In Time, Dobson wrote:
"The fact remains that gender matters -- perhaps nowhere more than in regard to child rearing. The unique value of fathers has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because 'fathers do not mother.'
Dr. Pruett appeared in a TWO video and wrote a letter demanding that Dr. Dobson stop misrepresenting his research:
"There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions," Pruett wrote in his letter to Dobson. "On page 134 of the book you cite in your piece, I wrote, 'What we do know is that there is no reason for concern about the development or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers. It is love that binds relationships, not sex.'"
The most recent scientist to claim Double-Talk Dobson distorted his work was University of Minnesota's Gary Remafedi, M.D., M.P.H. In a letter to Dobson, dated April 28, 2008, he wrote, "I want to draw your attention to a gross misrepresentation of our research at the website of 'Focus on the Family.'"
Other leading researchers who have taken issue with Dobson's use of their work include: Dr. Robert Spitzer, Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University; Angela Phillips, Professor, Goldsmiths College in London; Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, Associate Professor, school of nursing, University of British Columbia; and Dr. Judith Stacy, Professor of Sociology, New York University. (Videos and letters to Dobson can be viewed at www.RespectMyResearch.org)
If just one professor was outraged, it could be chalked up to a misunderstanding. If two had come forward, this could be a mere coincidence. Three complaints would look suspect, but still a possibility of an honest disagreement. But, when seven leading academics from three countries (The Untied States, Canada and the United Kingdom) have stepped out of the ivory tower to publicly give Dobson failing marks, it is clear that a disturbing and deliberate pattern of deception has emerged.
Dobson's frequent misquoting of the Bible is understandable because he is neither an ordained minister, nor a theologian. His well-documented fabrications on scientific matters, however, is inexcusable considering he began his career as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. Dobson's pedigree underscores that he understands precisely what he is doing and suggests that these distortions are a premeditated attempt to twist science to conform to his conservative views.
It is time for the "liberal media" to stop treating Dobson as America's God-fearing grandfather. Until this powerful right wing leader addresses these credible accusations that he manipulated research, he should not be given a platform by the media. His weird views on homosexuality -- such as proclaiming that Sponge Bob Square Pants might be gay -- may be good for ratings. However, the media's first goal should always be accuracy -- and Dobson is incontrovertibly misapplying research to support his political views on homosexuality.
Dobson's irrational attacks on Obama reveal an angry religious right disgruntled over losing influence in a Republican party that nominated John McCain. In the coming months, this desperation will certainly fuel more wild charges and bizarre distortions of legitimate science. Based on his sordid record, when James Dobson cites research or statistics in this election cycle, news reporters have an obligation to check with the actual researchers who conducted the studies. It is time for the media to focus on the fallacies of James Dobson and refrain from mindlessly regurgitating his political science disguised as facts.
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