Spellings Slashes, Dobson Stews
The Family Research Council and Focus on the Family are requesting that supporters send a note of thanks to Margaret Spellings, President Bush's new Secretary of Education, for having the courage to bust Buster Baxter and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Immediately after taking over the helm from Rod Paige, Spelling took time out of her busy schedule to personally put Postcards from Buster -- a PBS program that features a cartoon bunny visiting and interacting with real-life people from the Red States and the Blue States -- on notice that it best bag those visits with gays and lesbians. “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode,” she wrote in a letter to PBS.
“The series,” the Guardian reported, is “designed to show the diversity of the modern family to primary school children, [and] is produced with $100m of federal funding.” The program “has a mandate to promote tolerance.” The federally funded PBS pulled an episode of the show entitled “Sugartime” after Spellings condemned it for visiting with children whose parents are lesbians. The program was produced by Boston's WGBH and was scheduled for distribution to its 350 affiliates. WGBH-TV said it would distribute the episode to interested stations.
Let's get this straight: as of this writing, no one has yet accused the bunny of being gay. But Buster Baxter is objectionable to the new Education Secretary, because he serves as an enabler of the gay agenda. And Spellings has a legion of right wing supporters.
According to Tony Perkins' Washington Update, Spellings “notified the network this week that federal grant money could not be used for an episode, dealing with the maple syrup industry in Vermont, in which the audience is introduced to a lesbian couple and the children they are raising.” Perkins writes that Spellings “said that given the controversy over homosexuality, it was inappropriate to use federal funds to ‘to introduce this kind of subject matter to children.’”
Perkins: “Because homosexual couples raising children are only a tiny percentage of Vermont's population, it's obviously no coincidence that they were highlighted in this episode. Nor is it accidental that cartoon characters are chosen to make the message appealing to kids. But it's only in a make-believe world that a homosexual couple can be equated to a married mom and dad. Mrs. Spellings is to be commended for blocking the use of taxpayer money for such propaganda.”
Andrea Lafferty, the executive director and daughter of the Rev. Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition, a right-wing network of church groups, claimed that “the majority of Americans” believe homosexuality is “inappropriate and immoral and invalid.” Lafferty told MSNBC's Scarborough Country that, “The American people in California voted overwhelmingly against homosexual marriage. Other states have done that as well, not just conservative states. The American people don't want their children mixed into this subject. ... The position that I've taken -- the position that the Secretary of Education has taken -- is a mainstream position.”
CitizenLink, an online publication of Focus on the Family, the multi-million dollar mega-ministry run by Dr. James Dobson, is encouraging readers to send Spellings a heartfelt thanks. Dr. Dobson has been all over the news since Dubya's November victory. In a letter to constituents Dr. Dobson warned Senate Democrats that they would be targeted for defeat if they stood in the way of President Bush's judicial nominees.
And, only a few weeks back, Dr. Dobson lambasted a video remake of “We Are Family” -- organized by the We Are Family Foundation -- for using television characters popular with young children to promote tolerance and diversity -- in other words, the “gay agenda.”
Dr. Dobson's lingering SpongeBob dilemma
Although the first attack on the video, and the participation of the very popular character, SpongeBob SquarePants, came from Ed Vitagliano, writing in the Rev. Donald Wildmon's Mississippi-based American Family Association's magazine AFA Journal, Dr. Dobson took much of the flack when the New York Times reported that during a pre-inaugural dinner he exposed the squishy television character for being a shill for the gay agenda.
Infuriated by being made an object of national derision, Dr. Dobson and FotF has mounted a campaign to bombard his antagonists with e-mail. In an Action Alert entitled “Set the Media Straight on SpongeBob” Dr. Dobson urged supporters to straighten out reporters who distorted his comments about SpongeBob. According to the Action Alert, “Dr. Dobson has been mocked for saying that a group calling itself the We Are Family Foundation is using a video on ‘tolerance’ -- one which features popular cartoon characters like SpongeBob SquarePants -- to potentially teach children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality. Instead of reporting those concerns accurately, though, reporters have twisted the story to say Dr. Dobson has suggested SpongeBob is gay.”
Focus on the Family urged supporters to send e-mail to five major offenders:
* New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, "who sarcastically wrote Dr. Dobson had done 'the country a service be reminding us to watch out for the dark side of lovable but malleable sponges.'"
* Today show anchor Matt Lauer, “who suggested that ‘Focus has made a mistake and really doesn't want to apologize for it.’”
* MSNBC.com columnist Michael Ventre, “who called Christians ‘creepy, rigid, arrogant, cruel, know-it-all, pompous, obnoxious and treacherous -- better know by the acronym CRACKPOT.’” He added: “They are giving Jesus Christ a bad name.”
* “Crossfire” host James Carville, who said: “How stupid am I? I thought these (tolerance and diversity) were actual virtues.”
* MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, who said: “If the folks at Focus on the Family are right, it could make you, your children or maybe your furniture gay. Or tolerant.”
(For the record, SpongeBob's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, 43, recently told Reuters that he has no other agenda than trying to be entertaining. “It doesn't have anything to do with what we're trying to do,” Hillenburg said. “We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual. We're just trying to be funny and this has got nothing to do with the show.” A marine-science-teacher-turned-animator, Hillenburg, who lives in Hollywood and is married with a 6-year-old son, told Reuters that he thinks there are “more important issues to worry about.”)
While Margaret Spellings has promised to review the promotional tactics used by the Department of Education, she has yet to ask Armstrong Williams -- the conservative African American commentator who received nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the Department of Education to shill for President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act -- for our money back.
Spellings’ take down of Baxter Bunny and PBS is playing well with fundamentalist Christian groups. However, it raises serious questions about her agenda as Education Secretary. Is this manufactured tussle with a cartoon bunny a harbinger of how she will deal with other more critical issues involving the education department and the gay community?
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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