Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson seems unable to put his run-in with SpongeBob SquarePants behind him.
Dobson’s difficulties with the cartoon sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea began in late January. Dobson, speaking at an inauguration week banquet hosted by the Family Research Council, asked the crowd, “Does anyone here know SpongeBob?”
Dobson then went on to attack the Cartoon Network star for appearing in a pro-tolerance video that the FOF head claimed promotes homosexuality. (See “James Dobson All Wet After Run-In With SpongeBob SquarePants,” People & Events, March 2005 Church & State.)
Editorial cartoonists had a field day, and Dobson found himself on the defensive. Angered by the criticism, he ordered his supporters to bombard offending journalists with outraged e-mails.
The controversy probably would have died down by now, but Dobson keeps flying off the handle any time a prominent journalist or commentator mentions the flap. Last month, he unleashed his minions on an unlikely target: conservative Fox News Channel talk-show host Bill O’Reilly.
In a commentary on his “O’Reilly Factor” Feb. 28, O’Reilly gently criticized the attacks on SpongeBob. Although he never mentioned Dobson by name, O’Reilly said, “But equally dumb was labeling SpongeBob a gay guy. And that diminishes the valid point that America now sexualizes children at a young age, intruding on their childhood. SpongeBob is a sponge. He’s not cruising the bars in West Hollywood. Culture warriors on both sides have got to get a grip. There’s danger in fanatical policy. But paranoia makes a danger harder to illuminate. You won’t be taken seriously if you cry wolf too often. SpongeBob is no threat.”
The comments enraged Dobson. The March 1 edition of FOF’s CitizenLink charged, “His comments are a thinly veiled swipe at Focus on the Family Chairman Dr. James Dobson, who has been widely misquoted in the media for questioning the use of SpongeBob and other beloved children’s characters in a ‘tolerance’ video produced by a group with a history of advocating for pro-gay causes. Although O’Reilly’s staff has been informed in writing that the SpongeBob controversy is based solely on media spin, the ‘No Spin Zone’ can’t seem to get its facts straight.”
Continued the message, “If you object to this kind of media distortion of the truth, you may wish to let Mr. O’Reilly know.”
Although normally reluctant to back down from his stands, O’Reilly was apparently shaken by the attacks. On his March 8 program, he dismissed Dobson’s comments about SpongeBob, saying Dobson had “shrewdly” used the flap to make a point about cartoon characters promoting the gay agenda.
Overlooked in the controversy is the fact that Dobson was merely echoing other Religious Right figures who had earlier attacked SpongeBob. The first was apparently Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund. In his 2003 book The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, Sears speculated that SpongeBob might be gay, noting that his best friend, Patrick, is a pink starfish.
The attack on the allegedly pro-gay video was first launched by the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association. On Jan. 10, the AFA distributed a story by Ed Vitagliano, editor of the AFA Journal, attacking the “unprecedented” and “cunning” video for promoting “homosexual advocacy.”