Right Wing Watch Online
Source Dave Anderson
Date 99/05/01/21:41

/* Written 6:52 PM May 18, 1998 by in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "Right Wing Watch Online, #2.6" ---------- */
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 17 May 1998 17:50:55 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: Right Wing Watch Online, #2.6 (fwd)

Right Wing Watch Online, #2.6

A Visit to Colorado Springs
by Matthew Freeman

For dedicated watchers of the Religious Right, Focus on the Family has
always been a bit apart from the rest of the pack. Its budget far
outstrips the other major movement organizations - six times larger
than the Christian Coalition's budget in 1997. Its media reach is far
more extensive. Its head, James Dobson, is not only not a minister,
he's a trained psychologist, a profession not always held in the
highest esteem by Religious Right leaders.

But perhaps the most striking difference is a product of those
distinctions: its message is less overtly political, and it is
offered with far greater subtlety.

That point came crashing home to me again this past Monday, when I
visited the outfit's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I've made this pilgrimage before, but not since the group opened its
new facilities on the northern edge of town. The old headquarters was
a converted bank, with the radio studio actually built into what was a
vault. The new facility is enormous, bright, clean, fresh and soft on
the eye.

On the whole, two impressions last longest. First, money just courses
through the place. It's not just a building, it's a three-building
campus, with a fourth building on the way. And from the seven miles
of oak chair-railings running throughout the campus to the high-tech
touch-me screen wall of computer monitors in the visitors center, you
can't escape the impression that a $100 million budget goes a very
long way. Second, the face Focus shows visitors is in many ways a
perfect reflection of the way it communicates in its various
broadcasts: the far-right political message is so thoroughly
submerged in the "family support" message, that you'd miss it if you
weren't listening closely.

Getting There

Mind you, the Focus on the Family headquarters is no destination
resort for most of the subscribers to this newsletter, but it's a
mighty entertaining experience. I drove from Denver - about a 75 mile
trip from Denver International Airport. And, while locals would tell
you that the wave of transplanted Californians has created a sprawling
metropolis, viewed through the eyes of an east coaster, it was quite a
different experience. The entire journey is conducted in the shadow
of the mountains - Focus's headquarters is just across the interstate
from the 14,000-foot splendor of Pike's Peak. Not too far from
Denver, the outlet malls and housing developments give way to the kind
of scenery east coast city dwellers rarely glimpse outside Ansel Adams
coffee table books.

Shortly before Colorado Springs proper, civilization pops up again.
The Air Force Academy football stadium appears from nowhere, followed
in short order by what appears to be a state road sign advising
tourists that Focus on the Family's headquarters is coming up. Focus
on the Family is a quick jaunt from the interstate.

"Boy, this must have cost a fortune!"

The Focus campus comprises three buildings, a Welcome Center, a
building called Administration, and one called Operations, all built
on 47 acres of land. The Welcome Center is a true sight to behold.
Walk through the front doors into the main lobby and display area and
you're greeted by the first of many friendly Focus employees or
volunteers, who cheerfully welcomes you and asks you to sign the guest
register. The various displays behind the welcome desk include some
of those nifty hyper-interactive displays of the sort you find in
science centers aimed at children.

A bit of a techno-geek, I spent a good deal of time playing with that
wall of computer screens, hooked up to printers on the other side of
an exhibit wall. Follow the menu to the right places and you can read
about what Dr. Dobson thinks about a broad range of issues, or read up
on the various "ministries" of Focus on the Family. Then press the
print key and wait for a little slot in the wall to yield a printout
of what you've just read.

A sample: on the subject of public education, James Dobson is quoted
defending public school teachers and administrators who are criticized
for circumstances beyond their control. "Some of [the] critics act
as though educators are deliberately failing our kids. I strongly
disagree," he says. "What goes on in our classrooms cannot be
separated from the problems occurring in society at large," he adds.
Then, continues the print-out, no longer quoting Dr. Dobson: "While
Dr. Dobson is deeply concerned about the many negative trends in our
public school system, he is very reluctant to reject public education
categorically. Despite the fact that many public schools have been
plagued by a secular philosophy and rampant drug and alcohol problems,
he personally knows many families who have met with notable success
there. Of greater significance to Dr. Dobson, however, is the fact
that many families have little choice but to enroll their children in
public education. Christian schools are often too far away or too
expensive; not all parents are able to serve as effective home
educators. In cases such as these, the public schools may provide the
only realistic option available."

It's a classic Focus on the Family message, I submit. There in 20
lines, we're told that Dr. Dobson supports teachers; that while it's
reasonable to entertain the idea of rejecting public schools
altogether, he's reluctant; that schools are dispensaries for
secularism, drugs and alcohol; that parents don't have enough
"choices." And yet, the piece stops short of delivering in Dobson's
name the hard political message all that would suggest: vouchers. At
the end of the piece, however, is a list of related "resources." It
includes pieces of writing that show no such reluctance. Included on
the list are articles and reports that bash Goals 2000 and Outcome
Based Education, slam sex education, and attack Planned Parenthood and
SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United

Near the computer wall is a 12'-high globe displaying with little
points of light Focus's various broadcast outlets around the world, a
nifty display of storyboards for one of the outfit's video properties
aimed at kids, and a display that lets you listen to that day's radio
broadcast through a telephone.

The theater is around the corner, and in it one can see a 20-minute
video on the founding of Focus on the Family. It includes tape of the
very first Focus on the Family broadcast from 1977, as well as a clip
from George Bush's appearance on the program, in which the
then-President tells Focus listeners that he loves the group's videos
for kids so much that he has three or four of them at Camp David for
the grandchildren.

The video also puts forward the party line that Focus became involved
in politics "inadvertently," and only after several presidential
administrations requested that the group involve itself in one issue
or another. (It reminded me of the way the Soviets said they were
"invited" into Afghanistan.) The point about several administrations
is illustrated on screen by separate images of Dobson with Presidents
Carter, Reagan and Bush, and then with former Vice President Dan
Quayle. In case the point is too subtle, it's followed by a video
clip cut for Focus by Ronald Reagan, in which he refers to "my
friend, Jim Dobson."

The Welcome Center also is home to a remarkable children's play area,
built around various Focus video characters. Kids can reach the play
area by trudging down the steps with their parents, or they can go up
to the third floor of the building and take a three-story twisting
slide that deposits them in a mocked-up cave in the middle of the play
area, complete with an adult-sized re-creation of a B-17 warplane.
(It's the clubhouse for a group of kids in one of Focus's video

On Tour

The formal tour of the place is conducted every hour on the hour on
weekdays, and it takes participants through the Administration
building. This day, we had an early-twenties looking tour guide, a
friendly woman who told me afterwards that she'd only been giving
tours for a few weeks, after working in the little ice cream shop near
the play area for a couple years. My group had a mix of Colorado
Springs residents and out-of-staters - two groups from Texas, one from
Maryland, one from Chicago.

The tour guide's presentation was punctuated with all kinds of
bite-sized facts: the seven miles of chair railing, the 1,300
employees and 200 to 300 volunteers, the thousands of letters received
and answered, the monthly all-staff chapel services in the
"chapel-teria," the weekly departmental prayer group meetings, and
more. The most impressive moment on the trip was the observation area
overlooking the correspondence department, a sea of dozens of cubicles
filled with staffers who receive, process and respond to the upwards
of 50,000 letters and calls that come in every week. (Their number.)
Focus says 90 percent of those are publication requests. That would
add up to about half a million publication requests a year, enough to
buy a whole lot of chair railing. The tour guide explained that all
of the names and addresses of folks who write in are stored on a
computer they call Joshua, which now holds a mailing list of four
million names. (I realize the computer's name probably comes from the
Bible, but I couldn't help thinking about the computer in War Games,
the movie that launched the careers of Ally Sheedy and Matthew
Broderick. That Joshua mistakes a simulation for the real thing and
nearly touches off a global thermonuclear war. OK, so I'm a cable

Other nice touches on the tour: we're led at one point past a display
case of the robes Dr. Dobson has worn to collect a number of honorary
degrees, one from Pepperdine, the future home of Independent Counsel
Kenneth Starr. At another point we're led past a series of pictures
of Dr. Dobson with various presidents and political luminaries (if
that's the term for Ed Meese), and a number of letters of endorsement
for Focus on the Family, mostly from various governmental bodies in

On the entire tour, the closest thing we get to a political message
comes when the tour guide tells us that some 30,000 schools have
copies of various Focus on the Family videos, and that more than six
million children have seen them in school. Unfortunately, says the
tour guide, it's against the law to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ
in public schools, and so Focus edits out some messages from the
videos before distributing to that market.

The tour ends with a giveaway of several of Focus's publications,
including magazines aimed at doctors, teachers, single-parent
families, and a newsletter for "crisis pregnancy centers." Like so
much else about the place, the publications apply a certain restraint
when it comes to politics and public policy. An article for the
teacher magazine offers suggestions on how to "handle" Halloween.
Advice includes bringing in a police officer to lecture on the
increased incidence of crime on Halloween, doing a lesson on how much
sugar is in candy, asking students to dress up as historical figures
rather than in "undesirable costumes," and otherwise taking all the
fun out of the exercise. An article in the single-parent publication
offers tips on how "to prevent homosexuality in your children," and
refers to the "modern media's mythical claim that homosexuality is
genetic and therefore something that can be inherited from a parent."
But the same article refrains from the out-and-out gay-bashing so
typical of the Religious Right, and even goes so far as to say that
"homosexuality is not `caught' from a gay parent."

A Literary Finish

After the tour, I wandered past the pictures of Focus's board of
directors (including the Christian Coalition's Don Hodel) and back to
the bookstore. When I took the tour several years ago, I had great
fun going through the shelves and identifying the various books that
right-wingers had tried to yank out of public school libraries and
classrooms. This time, I found the selection a bit tamer, at least
with respect to children's literature - that is to say that if
"Charlotte's Web" (that great proponent of animism!) was somewhere in
the store, it at least wasn't as prominently displayed as it was last
time I was in town.

With respect to the grown-ups' books, however, the same gently
political approach was in evidence: amidst the various guides on
parenting, money management for mothers, housekeeping, as well as a
variety of personal tales of spiritual reawakening, one finds a 1989
videotape promoting Operation Rescue, a series of hardball political
reports on various liberal organizations, a book arguing that America
is a "Christian nation," Robert Bork's "Slouching Towards Gomorrah,"
Richard DeVos's "Rediscovering American Values," Bill Bennett's "The
Devaluing of America," and more.

I left the place with the same view of Focus that I brought with me:
that it is different than many of its Religious right allies in
important ways, and quite similar in others. Here's a $100 million
organization that spends most of its budget on non-political work, and
yet has enough left over to be a serious political force; a group
whose rhetoric sometimes hides political messages like a toy in a box
of crackerjack, and yet communicates its political agenda with great
clarity and force.

It's an impressive enterprise, one to be admired, and one to be

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