I just now cracked open the dead trees edition of yesterday’s L.A. Times. There is an editorial that I can’t find online titled “And as for the Seven Dwarfs . . .” [UPDATE: The link is here.] It opens:
Readers of this page may recall our cynicism at recent reports that SpongeBob SquarePants, who we thought was just a treacly cartoon sponge-person, actually has lurid designs on young children. Last month, James Dobson, Focus on the Family’s thoughtmeister, declared that SpongeBob’s penchant for holding hands with his male starfish pal and his soft and swishy, er, squishy demeanor signals that he is really a homosexual cartoon sponge. Bob, he suggested, is an unsuitable, if not alarming, role model for kids.
As far as I know, the language I have emphasized is utterly false. If there is a shred of evidence that Dobson made the declaration attributed to him in the editorial, I’ve yet to see it.
I have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary. In the only public statements of his on the subject that I am aware of, Dobson has explicitly denied accusing SpongeBob of being gay. A statement on his organization’s web site explains that Dobson objected to the video, not to SpongeBob. And Dobson addressed the issue in detail in a newsletter, accusing the media of distorting his remarks.
It’s not just Dobson or his supporters saying this. An editorial in Toon Zone, an online magazine about cartoons, savaged the New York Times for implying that Dobson had attacked SpongeBob directly:
Deliberately or not, [The New York Times] appears to have twisted Dobson’s position and imputed to him (without evidence) an argument he does not seem to have made.
Flawed as the New York Times article was, it still only implied that Dobson had accused SpongeBob of being gay. It never explicitly claims that Dobson made such a statement — unlike yesterday’s L.A. Times editorial, which directly attributes such statements to Dobson.
I blogged about this two weeks ago, criticizing Jeff Jarvis for placing his faith in the accuracy of factual assertions in L.A. Times editorials — especially about cultural issues. I am sending Jeff a note with a link to this post. I hope that, his dislike of Dobson aside, Jeff will join me in criticizing the Los Angeles Times for making assertions of fact without any evidence to back them up.
If the editors of the Los Angeles Times wish to mock Dobson’s criticism of a pro-gay video in which SpongeBob makes an appearance, they have every right to do so. But while they are entitled to their opinions, and even their (properly labeled and factually based) speculations, they are not entitled to their own facts. Unless they have some basis for saying it, they do not have the right to assert as fact that Dobson has “declared” that SpongeBob is gay.
I have written the Reader’s Representative to ask if the paper has evidence supporting the assertion in the editorial.
UPDATE 2-8-05: The paper plans to run a correction in response to my complaint.
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