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James Dobson and the National Radio Hall of Fame [20 August, 2008]

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Gay groups are up in arms about the induction of James Dobson into the National Radio Hall of Fame (NRHOF) at the Museum of Broadcast Communications.  Dobson heads the anti-gay and archconservative ministry known as Focus on the Family.  Groups like Truth Wins Out (TWO) are calling for the induction to be rescinded.

I don’t care for James Dobson.  I grew up, in a fashion, in Indiana, where his type abounds, and I learned the useful trick of tuning out fundamentalists.  So the recent fracas over Dobson’s induction is a good reminder of the anti-gay poison he spreads.  But I’m baffled about this call to rescind his induction.

Dobson isn’t being honored for his anti-gay message.  He’s being honored for having “distinguished himself at the national level,” according to Bruce DuMont’s letter to Windy City Times.  The vague wording indicates the nature of the institution.  There’s a reason why it’s not called the Hall of Noteworthy Work and Clear and Discernible Influence.  A Hall of fame, by its very nature, can do no more than reflect the politics and temperament of its nominating and voting body at a given period of time.  A lot of amazing people get nominated to Halls of Fame, and just as many are questionable.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began in 1986, but only got around to inducting the seminal Velvet Underground in 1996.  The Velvet Underground, people.  Don’t even get me started on that one.

Even institutions that are ostensibly about judging quality come up with odd results.  Take, for instance, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, where nearly 6000 voting members decide on categories like Best Picture.  The results are still inconsistent: crap like Titanic, a gem like No Country for Old Men.  If you think that my opinions are subjective, you’re right.  Why pretend that judgments about the value of someone’s work are strictly apolitical and impartial?

Such institutions usually have complex sets of rules that we may or may not agree with, and which may still not give us the desired results.  But consider the opposite scenario.  An anti-war lefty broadcaster gets inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.  Right-wingers cry foul and that person’s induction is rescinded.

Why should we stoop to that level, especially when we have more significant work to do? Why not simply continue to focus our valuable time and resources on exposing Dobson’s politics? If people have issues with the nomination and election process of NRHOF, make those points clearly but be prepared: there will always be nominees we don’t like.  Let’s not go down the dangerously slippery slope of telling people that a collective vote should be cancelled.  Or have we already forgotten what it’s like to have the results of an election overturned?

Originally published in Windy City Times, 20 August, 2008

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