NOREEN: Carving up community property at Focus

December 31, 2009

Talk about your divorces.

James Dobson, who gave birth to Focus on the Family and nurtured his own special baby for more than 30 years, has made it official that beginning in March, he will compete directly for listeners and cash donations with the ministry he created.

Instead of being called "Focus on the Family," it will be called "James Dobson on the Family," a 30-minute radio show to start on “numerous stations,” according to Dobson’s latest announcement.

The same message explains that although Dobson could have remained with Focus on the Family, he’s splitting off on his own “because I have felt since the turn of the century that I needed to begin passing along the leadership of the ministry to a younger generation.”

Translation: Dobson wants to pass the torch to his son, Ryan, and couldn’t do it at Focus because Ryan Dobson went through a divorce in 2001.  Ryan Dobson, 39, is reputed to be quite a skateboarder and surfer, with tattoos from here to there — not the sort of fellow who normally ascends the organizational chart at Focus on the Family. It’s apparent the elder Dobson did not conduct a national search before settling on an on-air partner.

One Focus pronouncement goes like this: “Compared to children from intact homes, children of divorce are far more likely to struggle academically, engage in drug and alcohol use and other high-risk behaviors, commit suicide, experience psychiatric problems, live in poverty, and have a greater likelihood to divorce themselves.”

Most of us in the real world understand that sometimes, a relationship can be so bad that it’s better to have no relationship at all — kind of like what’s happening between James Dobson and Focus on the Family.

Focus spokesmen have been saying the right things about the big breakup. Spokesman Gary Schneeberger acknowledged Focus frowns on divorcees in hiring decisions, but said “it really is a case-by-case situation” that never arose with Ryan Dobson because he never applied for a job with Focus.”

Schneeberger, a stand-up fellow, held to the company line that no new competition will result, but that is a steaming pile of hoo-haw.

James Dobson will pose a real threat to the existence of the organization that has been synonymous with his name. In his Facebook announcement, he was already carving into Focus on the Family’s donation base with a direct appeal for cash.

Who will win? That depends on whether Focus on the Family is a personality cult, as some critics have suggested, or whether the organization can stand on its own without Dobson.

It’s sort of like speculating what will happen to Cuba after Fidel.

One thing is sure. In this divorce, there won’t be a judge sorting out community property. That’s going to be done through radio ratings and donated cash.



Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:40 a.m. Fridays or read his blog updates at


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