The selection of Focus on the Family, with Dr. James Dobson, into the National Radio Hall of Fame ( NRHOF ) has created controversy, led to two full-page Chicago Tribune ads and caused great pain to many in the gay community.
To better understand the controversy, people need to better understand the nomination and induction process of the NRHOF.
Since 1992, the steering committee of the NRHOF in Chicago ( a project of the Museum of Broadcast Communications ) has nominated individuals and programs for induction based on a criteria of on-air tenure and broadcast accomplishment.
Historically, these ballot nominations are mailed to dues-paying members of the museum and hundreds of established leaders of the radio industry for voting—and the actual induction. If you were not included in these two groups, you could not vote.
Earlier this year some steering committee members thought that requiring voters to be 'dues-paying [ m ] useum members' was too restrictive—too much like a membership enhancement program—than a fair way to assess a nominee's popular support. So, the steering committee recommended a change to an online voting process, believing such a change would expand the voting base and raise greater visibility of the NRHOF and bring greater weight to its eventual inductees.
Since voting began in 1992, the NRHOF Steering Committee has never taken a nominee's political or religious views into consideration when making a nomination. Radio is an industry predicated on free speech—Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Howard Stern ( who were nominated in the same category ) do not see the world the same way. Past Radio Hall of Famers Franklin D. Roosevelt and Rush Limbaugh have provided different tones and messages via the airwaves … and Paul Harvey is different from Garrison Keillor.
The steering committee has also never encouraged or discouraged any nominee from campaigning for votes. Oscar Award voting is frequently preceded by a full-page ad campaign seeking support for a particular nominee.
Focus on the Family led such a public online effort to turn out 'its' vote. The committee is aware that other nominees did the same thing, and there is nothing wrong with such an exercise. Howard Stern urged his listeners not to vote for him.
In 2008, anyone who chose to vote online could have done so. Over 50,000 people voted for Focus on the Family—the largest vote total in NRHOF history. The vote easily out distanced its nearest competitor.
The 2008 public online voting period opened with a national publicity campaign May 1 and it ended July 15. On July 9—six days before the voting ended—the NRHOF received the first indication of any displeasure in the nomination of Focus on the Family. An obvious e-mail campaign led by Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out suggested the steering committee withdraw the nomination, characterizing the words and beliefs of Focus founder Dr. James Dobson as hate speech and bigoted. They said the NRHOF was 'endorsing' Dobson's views. We are not. Why did Besen wait until the end of the voting process to speak out?
On July 17 the steering committee obtained the final results from its independent online vote-tabulating service—and it showed that Focus on the Family finished first in its category. The steering committee discussed the protest but ratified the vote.
Some recent irate e-mails have suggested all previous Radio Hall of Fame inductees will be tarnished by the addition of Focus on the Family. Does anyone really believe that any fair-minded person will think less of fellow inductees Edward R. Murrow, Norman Corwin, Susan Stamberg, Tom Joyner, Richard Durham, Bob Edwards or All Things Considered?
Do these irate people believe in free speech and freedom of religion?
Several gay-rights organizations now are leading a protest of the Radio Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 8. They have privately vowed to punish me personally and the Museum of Broadcast Communications ( MBC ) as an institution. Their goal is to shut off donations to our effort to build a new MBC in Chicago. They know that fiscal times are tough and they want to be the final nail in the museum's coffin. Shame on them!
Protesters should know that the NRHOF Steering Committee will review its voting process before the next selection period. A review was always part of our plan. I will personally urge a change in open online balloting. But for the integrity of the process, the results for 2008 will stand, with protests noted.
As a broadcaster; journalist; chairman of the NRHOF; and founder and president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, I have been a public figure in Chicago for over four decades, and always treated the gay and lesbian community and its leaders fairly and objectively. My second wife, the late Kathy Osterman, championed gay rights. Kathy is an inductee into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame.
I am fully aware of the pain Focus on the Family has caused in the gay community; I have also read and heard about how the Focus on the Family broadcasts have helped people over the past three decades. But the Radio Hall of Fame induction is not about political or religious philosophy—or my personal opinion.
National Radio Hall of Fame
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Rather than just respond to the call for protest, I made an effort to read your open letter responding to the concerns of the LGBT community regarding the induction of James Dobson to the National Radio Hall of Fame. However, your justifications do not hold water.
First, using your logic, it would be entirely understandable for your German counterpart to induct Josef Goebbels—regardless of viewpoint, an even more effective communicator and orator than Dobson.
Secondly, Dobson contributes nothing to the airwaves except to provide a seemingly safe, 'blessed by God' place to be prejudiced. Disregarding Dobson's ignorance of Christ's message ( how ironic! ) , he has never been a broadcasting figure of any significance except to voice intolerance and bigotry, carefully cloaked in 'religion' in order to allow him to more fully vent intolerance—no doubt to guarantee a 'two-fer' in constitutional protection.
Third, you observe in your open letter, 'Does anyone really believe that any fair-minded person will think less of fellow inductees Edward R. Murrow, Norman Corwin, Susan Stamberg, Tom Joyner, Richard Durham, Bob Edwards or All Things Considered?' Hardly. That is not their concern. What should concern you is that you have made the award, at best, meaningless and, at worst, an embarrassment. At a time when the Museum of Broadcast Communications ( MBC ) is attempting to raise funds to complete its new home, rendering your 'highest award' a subject of ridicule ( and upsetting a group of people with, statistically speaking, both high disposable income levels as well as a generous tradition of philanthropy ) is hardly quality stewardship of the MBC dream.
Fourth, you promise, 'Protesters should know that the NRHOF Steering Committee will review its voting process before the next selection period.' Whether it is $10 billion a month in Iraq, a governor unwilling to compromise on anything or Wall Street's shell games, do you really believe the appropriate response is to say, 'We did not make a mistake—but we may change it in the future?' We as a nation—not just the LGBT community—are not exactly predisposed to view favorably someone who cannot own up to an error. Your rather painfully convoluted explanation of the voting process could best be summarized by 'We screwed up and let the process be seized by a narrow special interest intending to use our award to gain credibility.' Again, while Focus and Dobson will no doubt trumpet this award, I hardly think Garrison Keillor will have it on the center of his mantel.
Fifth, I certainly agree with those opposed to donating to a place that intends to permanently honor this individual. Mr. DuMont, this is not about a fundraiser, or an isolated evening as a one-off event; your institution will be permanently enshrining a 'person' whose greatest contribution to this nation is hate speech. That, sir, is a fact, and it is unavoidable. ( If you seek to disagree, I suggest that you simply Google 'James Dobson' and let the evidence speak for itself. )
Finally—and it pains me to say this, for I have always respected you, and still have the greatest admiration and respect for your late beloved wife—I cannot believe that she would not have counseled some other course.
You ( rather dismissively and emotionally, I observe ) ask, 'Do these irate people believe in free speech and freedom of religion?' Yes. And your argument is completely disingenuous. We are not arguing whether Dobson has the right to be heard; unfortunately, constitutionally, he does. Our disagreement is with you and the museum, who apparently believe that his 'accomplishments' should be permanently honored. That is simply impossible for us to fathom: a museum supposedly dedicated to 'freedom' celebrating one who would deny it. And until you and the board realize your own hypocrisy—instead of attempting to foist this off as pressure tactics from a 'special-interest' group—I will make sure that every individual I know is aware of MBC's actions and my fervent desire that such an organization receive no further support ( whether of individual, corporate or governmental origin ) .
St. Charles, IL
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School of thought
Dear Mayor Daley:
My primary concern for writing this open letter is to ask if the Chicago Public School System is large enough to encompass the safety concerns of LGBT students, and their families. The School for Social Justice Pride Campus certainly is not a solution to the pandemic of violence directed at LGBT high school students; however, it is a step in the right direction. The conception of the school was not to remove opportunities from straight students, but to expand those opportunities for everyone. It is an immediate response to a very real problem. As a mayor of this world-class city that hopes the host the 2016 World Olympics, our hope is that you will emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences.
The Rainbow Sash Movement supports the School for Social Justice Pride Campus, and I encourage both you and the Chicago School Board to make this proposal a reality. As a fellow person of faith we are called to promote the common good, by providing for the health, welfare and dignity of every student. We believe by promoting an environment where our differences are celebrated and not feared the Pride Campus will jump-start a seismic shift in how we view this problem in our city's educational institutions.
Rainbow Sash Movement