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When accuracy is a crime 

I've been axed by Focus on the Family. Again.

That's right, after a sometimes-on, mostly off, 14-year relationship, I have been notified that never again never, ever, ever will anyone from the Christian media empire deign to be interviewed by yours truly.

I've burned all my bridges, I'm told. And my crime? I accurately quoted their spokesman.

That's right. Accurately.

Here's how it happened.

Recently, I wrote about two lesbians, Dotti Berry and Robynne Sapp, who were arrested during a peaceful protest Feb. 19 at Focus headquarters. The women, activists with the civil rights group Soulforce, refused to leave the building unless they were granted a private audience with Focus Chairman James Dobson. Specifically, they wanted to talk to him about his ministry's assertion that "a homosexual identity is something that can be overcome."

It quickly became clear the private audience was not going to happen; Colorado Springs police were called, and Berry and Sapp were hauled away.

In a subsequent phone interview, Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger repeatedly described the ministry as a large company. He underscored that it welcomes anyone who wants to come and observe its work, but there's a "protocol" to follow and reasonable people cannot expect to just waltz in and meet with Dobson.

What if, Schneeberger wondered by way of example, someone didn't like an editorial that appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent? Could they just show up on the doorstep, expecting to meet with the publisher? Nope that person, Schneeberger surmised, would be asked to leave. "That's the way any business operates."

And then Schneeberger said: "[The women] came in and wanted a private meeting with Dr. Dobson, and that's not how it works in big business. You don't go to USAA [insurance company] and ask to speak to the CEO."

Finally, I asked Schneeberger exactly what he meant by his repeated descriptions of Focus on the Family as a business a big business. Is Focus a ministry or just a big business?

Schneeberger immediately grasped the import of his own references, and amended them to include comparisons with another large Colorado Springs-based ministry, Compassion International, as well as the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Air Force Academy.

"We're a nonprofit ministry," Schneeberger said, whose objective is to reach out to and assist families.

The resulting story, published at coloradoconfidential.com, the blog site I write for, focused on the lesbians who were arrested. This, I think, is an important detail: I did not dwell on Schneeberger's own repeated references to his place of employment strictly in business code-speak. Nor did Idrive home, for example, that the massive ministry, with 1,300 employees, processes so much mail it has its own ZIP code. Or that in 2005, it reported total revenues of $138 million. Frankly, it really wasn't intended to be a big and relevant part of the story.

But I did include Schneeberger's tutorial about "how it works in big business," including his quote comparing his company to USAA insurance company.

Well, Schneeberger read that story and clearly got mad about his Big Business-R-Us comments. Maybe there were some marketing implications involved. Anyway, he fired off an e-mail:

"... I do hope the "big business' quote was worth it," Schneeberger wrote. "You knew precisely what I meant "large operation' and you went the direction you went because it gave you the chance to try to make us look bad ...

"Consider the bridge burned. That was the last time anyone from Focus will speak to you for publication.

"Like I said, I hope it was worth it."

I was, and remain, stumped. He said it. I quoted him. I was even polite enough, in my original story, not to unfairly dwell on Schneeberger's own definition which he hadn't even seemed to notice until I pointed it out to him.

Schneeberger may never talk with me again, and one thing's certain: He will probably also never describe to another reporter the multimillion-dollar company that he represents as a multimillion-dollar company.

And if he does, well, woe to the scribe who publishes, verbatim, what he says.

degette@csindy.com

  • I've been axed by Focus on the Family.

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