Radio Show Is Dropped
Due to Paula Jones Link
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 1998; Page A20
One of the nation's largest Christian broadcasting networks is canceling a public service program sponsored by the Rutherford Institute because the Charlottesville-based law center is representing Paula Jones in her sexual harassment case against President Clinton.
A second network, VCY/America, says it, too, plans to cancel the two-minute spots, called "Freedom Under Fire," but refuses to explain why.
Moody Broadcasting Network said this week it did not want to confuse its listeners by airing material that could be interpreted as political.
"Our main mission is to present Christ and advance his cause," said spokeswoman Heidy Hartley. "We in no way want to be pitted against the Rutherford Institute."
Moody's decision means a 10 percent drop in the radio stations airing "Freedom Under Fire," said Rutherford spokeswoman Nisha Mohammed. And because the nonprofit institute relies on the spots for free publicity, Mohammed predicted the cancellations will dampen already sluggish fund-raising.
More broadly, Mohammed said the cancellations are part of a larger campaign by conservative activists to punish an outfit that sometimes strikes a surprisingly liberal tone. Recent statements by Rutherford founder John W. Whitehead on sexual harassment and gay rights have caused a stir with some of the institute's traditional allies, she said.
And Rutherford, once characterized as a "fixture on the anti-gay religious right," also decided to represent a 14-year-old boy kicked out of karate class because he has AIDS.
"We're being blackballed," she said. "The biggest thing they objected to were his views of homosexuality. That's the heart of it."
Some date the tension to Rutherford's refusal to join the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal institute formed by such conservative heavyweights as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association.
The latest dust-up was triggered by two events: the Paula Jones case and remarks Whitehead made in The Washington Post in late January.
In that article, Whitehead renounced his earlier homophobic writings as "wrong" and criticized others with similar views, saying, "A great majority of evangelicals are out to lunch on the subject. Christ would not have been that way."
Ever since then, Rutherford has been the object of a vicious whispering campaign by prominent conservatives at Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, Mohammed charged.
Spokesmen for the two groups denied that.
"John is perfectly able to make his own decisions about the cases he wants to handle," said Bauer. "I assume Rutherford opposes same-sex marriage, gay adoption and teaching the gay lifestyle in public schools; anything else we disagree on is beside the point."
Rutherford and Whitehead have come under attack from the left as well as the right lately.
Clinton supporters, citing Whitehead's ties to the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a videotape that depicts Clinton as a drug dealer, say the Jones case is merely another avenue for targeting the president.
Whitehead characterizes the Jones suit as a civil rights case, noting in one radio spot: "The right to be free from sexual harassment is one of your first liberties."
When he decided to represent Jones, the institute sent a special mailing asking for contributions. So far, the response has been disappointing.
"We thought the Jones case would cost $200,000, now we figure $300,000," Mohammed said. "We probably haven't gotten half that amount."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company