Fam­ily ad­vice from Abby con­tains mixed mes­sages on sex­u­al­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Shelley Wid­halm

Dear Abby’s pen is dou­ble-edged: One side dis­penses her solid, home­spun ad­vice; the other, ac­cord­ing to crit­ics, pro­motes a fad­dish, post-tra­di­tional, any­thing-goes approach to sex­ual moral­ity.

The Cul­ture and Me­dia In­sti­tute, a di­vi­sion of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter in Alexan­dria, Va., an­a­lyzed the 365 Dear Abby col­umns writ­ten in 2007 by Jeanne Phillips — daugh­ter of the orig­i­nal writer, Pauline Phillips, who dis­pensed ad­vice un­der the pen name Abi­gail Van Buren from 1956 un­til her re­tire­ment in 2002. They found that 30 per­cent of the col­umns dealt with sex and that of those, more than 50 per­cent re­jected tra­di­tional moral­ity, the view that sex should be lim­ited to mar­riage be­tween one man and one wo­man.

“Abby has flown un­der the radar for years dis­pens­ing rad­i­cal ad­vice on mat­ters of sex­ual moral­ity while en­joy­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for hard-nosed, com­mon-sense ad­vice,” says Robert Knight, di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tute. “We

thought peo­ple ought to know there’s a pat­tern here that’s con­sis­tent through­out her ca­reer.”

Dear Abby is the most widely syn­di­cated news­pa­per col­umn in the world, dis­trib­uted to 1,400 news­pa­pers world­wide, with a read­er­ship of more than 110 mil­lion peo­ple, as stated in Dear Abby’s bio at www.uex­press.com, the Web site for Uni­ver­sal Press Syn­di­cate, an in­de­pen­dent news­pa­per syn­di­cate based in Kansas City, Mo.

“Dear Abby’s pop­u­lar­ity and reader re­spect are well-es­tab­lished,” says Kathie Kerr, as­sis­tant vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the syn­di­cate, in an e-mail in­ter­view. “She is not afraid to take up an is­sue or ex­plore an al­ter­na­tive way of look­ing at a mod­ern-day prob­lem, of­ten cit­ing ex­perts and ex­plain­ing the facts. She does have her own opin­ion on top­ics, and she’s not afraid to talk about them, which is what ad­vice colum­nists do.”

Ms. Phillips de­clined a re­quest for a phone in­ter­view; Ms. Kerr says the syn­di­cate han­dles all ques­tions about the con­tent of her col­umns.

Ms. Phillips “en­joys a tremen­dous plat­form to pro­mote her be­liefs on ev­ery­thing from wed­ding eti­quette to han­dling the crazy un­cle in the at­tic,” as stated in the ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary of the in­sti­tute’s re­port, “Down a Dark Abby,” pub­lished ear­lier this year.

“Dear Abby, over­all, dis­penses good ad­vice on most other mat­ters,” Mr. Knight says, “but when it comes to sex, she is a dis­ci­ple of the sex­ual revo­lu­tion, which ba­si­cally says if it feels good, do it.”

Dear Abby, which be­gan pro­mot­ing the sex­ual revo­lu­tion in the 1970s, en­dorses gay mar­riage, en­cour­ages sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion from cross-dress­ing to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and re­fuses to crit­i­cize sex out­side mar­riage, even teen sex, Mr. Knight says.

“Dear Abby is one of the most trusted ad­vice colum­nists in the world and right­fully so,” says Steve Ralls, spokesman for Par­ents, Fam­i­lies and Friends of Les­bians and Gays (PFLAG), a na­tional non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion head­quar­tered in Wash­ing­ton with more than 200,000 mem­bers and sup­port­ers. “She gives her read­ers prac­ti­cal ad­vice about real-world is­sues, and she en­cour­ages her read­ers, for ex­am­ple, to em­brace their chil­dren and have hon­est con­ver­sa­tions with them about crit­i­cal is­sues.”

The in­sti­tute re­searched the Dear Abby col­umns to de­ter­mine whether the sex­ual per­mis­sive­ness seen in the 2007 col­umns was a re­cent de­vel­op­ment or a long-stand­ing tra­di­tion.

The in­sti­tute re­viewed the col­umns re­lated to sex and rela- tion­ships that turned up from a Nexis search and those on the Dear Abby Web site, which has col­umns on file back to 1995, along with the col­umns in the 1981 book “The Best of Dear Abby,” the re­port says.

“She gives bad ad­vice on sex, and peo­ple ought to be fore­warned that she’s not an author­ity,” Mr. Knight says.

The in­sti­tute wants her col­umns to carry a dis­claimer stat­ing that they should be con­sid­ered en­ter­tain­ment only, Mr. Knight says, adding that the in­sti­tute has re­ceived 4,000 e-mails ask­ing for the dis­claimer.

Pro­mot­ing a lib­eral view­point, par­tic­u­larly on is­sues of hu­man sex­u­al­ity, is a con­cern for or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, a pub­lic pol­icy or­ga­ni­za­tion in North­west that pro­motes a Judeo-Chris­tian world­view, says Peter Sprigg, vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy.

“She is sup­posed to be sup­port- ing an un­bi­ased point of view,” Mr. Sprigg says. “Abby rests her cred­i­bil­ity on the fact she re­lies on prom­i­nent or­ga­ni­za­tions as sources of in­for­ma­tion. The prob­lem is, some of th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions aren’t un­bi­ased.”

Ms. Kerr dis­agrees, say­ing that Dear Abby does not push her own po­lit­i­cal agenda on the pub­lic.

“That kind of ad­vice colum­nist doesn’t last long,” she says. “She’s never held her­self up to be any­thing more than what she is — a writer who thinks she owes it to her read­ers to an­swer their ques­tions openly and hon­estly.”

Dear Abby is a cham­pion for equal­ity and fair­ness, Mr. Ralls says, adding that PFLAG hon­ored Ms. Phillips in 2007 with the Straight for Equal­ity Award, given to a het­ero­sex­ual ally of gays and les­bians.

“We were proud to work very closely with her when she an­nounced her sup­port for same-sex mar­riage,” he says.

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