When one of the country's most prominent evangelical leaders uses the word "fruitcake" to describe a leading presidential contender's interpretation of the Constitution, you're guaranteed to get headlines. You're not guaranteed to get context. Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who also said on his radio program Tuesday that Sen. Barack Obama was distorting the Bible, has gotten increasingly political in recent years. Earlier in this cycle he announced he would not support Sen. John McCain for president. And now he has criticized Obama as well.
Of the many stories written about the kerfuffle, one by CNN's Chris Mooney was particularly good. Mooney didn't just explain that Dobson's negative comments were in response to a 2006 speech Obama gave to the liberal Christian group Call to Renewal, he quoted from that speech:
In the speech, Obama suggested that it would be impractical to govern based solely on the word of the Bible, noting that some passages suggest slavery is permissible and eating shellfish is disgraceful.
"Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy?" Obama asked in the speech. "Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount?
"So before we get carried away, let's read our Bible now," Obama said, to cheers. "Folks haven't been reading their Bible."
He also called Jesus' Sermon on the Mount "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application."
In the comments aired Tuesday, Dobson said Obama should not be referencing antiquated dietary codes and passages from the Old Testament that are no longer relevant to the teachings of the New Testament.
"I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology," Dobson said, adding that Obama is "dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."
There is certainly much more that could be said about both Obama's and Dobson's exegesis, but for a first-day reaction story, this is pretty well done.
It may seem like Reporting 101 but many other outlets, including Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and The Guardian, only summarized what Obama said in the earlier speech. It was all sizzle and no steak.
The ever-reliable Eric Gorski of the Associated Press also quoted from both Obama's 2006 speech and Dobson's Tuesday program. It's a shame that more reporters can't provide this simple but necessary context for news consumers.
As always, keep comments focused on media coverage rather than your love for/dislike of Dobson, Obama, fruitcake, etc.