James Dobson Flirts with John McCain -- and the Press

Not so long ago, Focus on the Family chieftain James Dobson (pictured) was at risk of becoming irrelevant in regard to the 2008 presidential campaign due in part to his oft-stated dislike for both John McCain and Barack Obama, one of whom will take possession of the White House from Dobson buddy George W. Bush in a few short months. But thanks to his masterful manipulation of the media, he's positioned himself as a player anyway -- most recently by hinting that he might endorse McCain without actually doing it.

Back in June, Dobson got a startling amount of attention -- and briefly redirected the national talking points with assists from the likes of Bill O'Reilly -- for suggesting that Obama is "dragging Biblical understanding through the gutter." His method of choice: providing the content of an upcoming program to the Associated Press -- an approach that worked so well that he did it again. In a July 20 piece that appeared in many American newspapers the next day, AP scribe Eric Gorski's "Dobson Shifts Positions, May Endorse McCain" quoted a comment Dobson made for a program set to air on July 21. "I never thought I would hear myself saying this," Dobson stated in a broadcast accessible here. "While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might."

Shocking? Hardly. Dobson, who is ideologically just to the right of Genghis Khan, was never going to back Obama -- meaning that if he's to have any influence whatsoever on the next administration, he would have to extend his hand to McCain despite the antipathy he's shown toward the Arizonan in the past. Yet through the clever use of strategic leaks, Dobson got the press to publicize his alleged change of heart even though reporters and editors undoubtedly knew better -- and by resisting the urge to make a formal announcement now, he's guaranteed himself another batch of headlines when he does the inevitable in the very near future.

Admire him or abhor him, Dobson knows how to make the media do his bidding. He may argue for a greater focus on the family, but he loves the focus to be on himself every bit as much. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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