Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Keith Olbermann Hammers Dobson

In the aftermath of the intentional controversy over Spongebob pushing the obviously un-Christian idea of tolerance for others, Focus on the Family has been in full damage control mode. Naturally, their strategy was to attack the media for its horribly unfair portrayal of his words. Ironically, their claim is essentially this: “We weren’t attacking Spongebob, we were attacking tolerance.” Yes, they actually think that makes their position better. As part of their “blame the media” campaign, they put up email generators on their webpage to send emails to some of the prominent media people who had dared to mention the story in a disapproving manner. Keith Olbermann is among those media people who got hit with some of those emails from the denizens of righteousness; and he’s hitting back.

Olbermann gleefully eviscerates Gary Schneeberger, the editor of Family News in Focus, a publication of Dobson’s group, for his article entitled Influencing Olbermann. Of the spam mail generation campaign that they began, he writes, “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.” Ouch. In response to Schneeberger’s claim that in “big city” newsrooms “about the only time you hear the word ‘God’ is as the first part of somebody’s second-favorite swearword”, Olbermann says:

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?

Is it any wonder I love this guy? Such finely honed use of sarcasm. He does get around to addressing the substantive claims as well, pointing out the absurdity of Dobson’s campaign against the media:

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.

Even better was his earlier reaction to the emails themselves. Anyone who has been the recipient of email from the enraged and the self-righteous will immediately recognize the form. I’ve gotten them quite regularly and they are almost always filled with misspellings, fractured syntax and incoherencies. Here was Olbermann’s response:

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.

He also points out that a full 20% of the emails included the thinly veiled threat that they had forced Dan Rather to retire and they could get him too. And one letter writer informed him that, “We got Tom Brokaw at ABC and we can get you.” Honestly, can you write comedy any better than that?

Comments

  1. #1 Dave S.
    January 31, 2005

    I particularly liked this paragraph.

    “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.”

  2. #2 Uncle Kvetch
    January 31, 2005

    I enjoyed Olbermann’s latest post on this a lot. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if he hadn’t felt obligated to point out that he believes in God too.

    As for this:

    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.

    Sorry, I don’t believe that for one second.

  3. #3 Les Lane
    January 31, 2005

    For creative reflections (as opposed to authoritarian diatribes) on Spongebob see David Helvarg’s commentary in the LA Times (Jan 26).

  4. #4 SharonB
    January 31, 2005

    A noted on-air libertarian personality that I used to be a regular listener to (until he became a Republican shill), would comment that the most hateful e-mails he ever got were not from the athiests, muslims, or others… it was from people actually claiming in the hate-letters, some violent, that they were “christians.” A really sad commentary.

  5. #5 Ian Gibson
    January 31, 2005

    While we are on the subject of the butchering of language, may I snobbishly mention my instinctive sense of superiority whenever an American uses the word ‘gotten’?
    By far the most common error on both sides of the Atlantic seems to be ‘your’ for ‘you are’ – this really annoys me..

  6. #6 386sx
    January 31, 2005

    Sorry, I don’t believe that for one second.

    I’m a bit skeptical of that myself. However, I’m much more skeptical of Dobson and crew, et al., and their ill gotten gains.

  7. #7 GeneralZod
    February 1, 2005

    Hey Ian,
    I agree 100% with you on your/you’re. Not sure how it is in England (I am assuming that’s where you are), but you should come to Ohio, and hear every other sentence end with “at”. “Where’ he at?” “Where are my keys at?”, etc. It is quite awful.
    Cheerio.

  8. #8 cal godot
    February 1, 2005

    The MSNBC newsroom(s), like most newsrooms these days, are very professional, corporate work environs, where the use of profanity is discouraged, if not outright prohibited by office rules of conduct.

    Additionally, note that Olbermann is talking about what he has *heard* in the last year, not what was *said* – an arcane point, perhaps, but legitimate.

  9. #9 Uncle Kvetch
    February 2, 2005

    The MSNBC newsroom(s), like most newsrooms these days, are very professional, corporate work environs, where the use of profanity is discouraged, if not outright prohibited by office rules of conduct.

    Cal, you’re probably right; I spoke too soon. My view is colored by the fact that I work in a very small law firm where the GD’s and F-words fly in positively Mametian proportions, and I instinctively think of a newsroom as a similar environment. Of course it’s possible that larger, more bureaucratized law firms, like corporate newsrooms, explicitly discourage this kind of thing–hostile work environment and so on.

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