Does James Dobson Get Enough Exorcise?
From Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org:
Maybe, just maybe, there is something about the charged atmosphere that surrounds evangelical Alpha Males that makes the pens and audio recorders of mainstream journalists go bonkers.
Or maybe not. Do you remember that hilarious correction in Newsweek last February, the one attached to the story about the excellent debate team at the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University? Here is a flashback:
In the original version of this report, Newsweek misquoted Falwell as referring to “assault ministry.” In fact, Falwell was referring to “a salt ministry” — a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says “Ye are the salt of the earth.” We regret the error.
That was one of the LOL gaffes that inspired a post or two that led me to write a Scripps Howard News Service column that evolved into a lecture at USA Today that then turned into an op-ed piece in that newspaper’s Monday religion series.
Sometimes you just have to laugh, unless you are the reporter watching the copy desk fire up a correction for one of your stories.
This brings me to the latest howler, which was sent in by GetReligion reader Diane Fitzsimmons. This mistake was so huge that it even made it into the Rocky Mountain News headline: “Dobson: Haggard not a hypocrite, just in need of exorcism.”
I hope you weren’t drinking coffee when you read that one! So what, you ask, did reporter Hector Gutierrez write?
Let’s go to the correction box:
This story incorrectly stated that James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, believes people who don’t practice what they preach should undergo an exorcism. His quote, in a TV interview about reaction to the firing of evangelical leader Ted Haggard for “sexual immorality,” was: “Everybody gets exercised (worked up about it) when something like this happens, and for good reason.”
And here is what that looked like in the story:
Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, told CNN’s Larry King Live that evangelicals are not perfect, and when they don’t practice what they preach they need to undergo an exorcism.
“Well, he obviously was, again, at war with himself,” said Dobson, a child psychologist and Christian media advocate.
The question that Dobson supporters will ask is this: Why did the journalist hear the word “exorcism” in that quotation? “Everybody gets exercised when something like this happens” is a perfectly ordinary use of a common phrase. Why would someone think that a man like Dobson - a conservative with advanced degrees from mainstream institutions, such as his doctorate from the University of Southern California in child development - believes that sinful people automatically need to line up for exorcisms?
I suspect that the reason the reporter got it wrong is that the press has a template for Conservative Christians, and their brains process what’s actually said in a way that fits it to the template. Conservative Christians are right-wing nut jobs, so “a salt ministry” becomes “assault ministry.” Conservative Christians are preoccupied with sin (especially sex) and think they’re surrounded by demons out to get them, hence “exercised” becomes “exorcised.”
Everyone has a weltanschauung, or worldview – a framework of understanding through which they interpret the world around them. However, rational people (including rational Christians) are always adjusting that worldview to better match reality. Irrational people insist on fitting events to their worldview at any cost, even when the worldview obviously fails to make sense anymore. Paranoids only view the world through the lens of their psychosis – everything is hammered into shape to fit the storyline. To a lesser degree, that’s how you can interview a guy like James Dobson and see only what your preconceptions tell you ought to be there. In an ordinary citizen, it is simply sad; in a reporter, it is dereliction of duty.