First was the column in the Wall Street Journal that argued that Mister Rogers helped spawn a generation of brats. Then there was an equally preposterous Fox News story. It's official: Conservatives have run out of villains.
The late Fred Rogers spread the message -- which for some reason is controversial now -- that children are special. He never taught selfishness. In fact, neither the Journal nor Fox News could produce any evidence that he did. Even the author of a book cited to back up their argument doesn't blame Rogers for the growing selfishness of today's youth.
"The MTV show 'My Super Sweet Sixteen' has done 100 times more to normalize narcissism than Mr. Rogers ever did," writes San Diego State University Psychology Professor Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before." Mr. Rogers' show also emphasizes many things that are the complete opposite of narcissism: Gentleness, caring for others, and the value of community."
The Journal argued that "what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself." Ironically, that was exactly the message that Rogers preached.
"He certainly didn't want to be giving children messages that were narcissistic," said Hedda Sharapan, who started working with Rogers in 1965, in an interview. "Young children need affirmation. The security of being loved is essential for moving forward."
In addition, she pointed out that secure children develop self-control and self-discipline. As fans of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood -- which included me when I was a toddler -- could observe, those were qualities the television show host had in abundance.
"Instant gratification, and entitlement -- that's the antithesis of Mister Rogers," she said. "He always hung up his sweater. He always fed the fish. The stories were never solved easily or even within the half hour. The theme carried across the whole week."
Rogers, whose program still gets about 2 million viewers a month, chose his words very carefully. When he started his program, he told his young viewers that "I like you you just as you are." By the late 1970s, he changed that to "people can like you just because you are you," Sharapan said.
Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister who died in 2003, should be a hero for people who profess to care about family values.