Well, Dan Quayle has done it again–this time by criticizing TV character Murphy Brown and her now-infamous foray into single parenthood. It was a bonanza for cartoonists and comedians. Johnny Carson ended his 30 years on television quipping that he was thankful to Dan Quayle for giving him some of his best comic material.
My wife Patty defended Quayle at her exercise class and was laughed at. Doesn’t the Vice President have better things to do than worry about a sitcom? people said.
Well, now that everyone’s had their laugh, let’s see what’s so funny about what Quayle said. The comment that grabbed the headlines was just a passing line in a speech blaming the L.A. riots on family breakdown. Quayle then criticized the example set by TV character Murphy Brown, making single motherhood the latest in celebrity chic.
The point the Vice President was making was actually pretty serious. With the poverty rate for fatherless families running at about 34 percent, compared to only 6 percent for two-parent families, the last thing we need is more bad role models.
What’s so funny about that?
The problems of single-parent families aren’t just financial. Even with economic conditions factored out, a whopping disproportion of fatherless children drop out of school, succumb to drug addiction, and commit crimes. A recent study found a catastrophic correlation between crime and fatherless households.
There’s nothing funny about that either.
The Vice President noted that the young hoodlums who shocked the nation by rampaging through the streets of Los Angeles were mostly from fractured families. All four of the young men who savagely beat truck driver Reginald Denny had known fatherless homes.
It’s hard to laugh off those kinds of facts.
What’s really ironic that only two weeks after these events took place, the folks in Hollywood–just a few miles away–put on a program that praised single motherhood as courageous. Producers from competing networks went so far as to loan big-name anchor women and interviewers from their real-life news shows to celebrate Murphy Brown’s decision in a fictional baby shower.
Yes, all the network news departments seemed to agree that Murphy Brown was making a major social statement.
That’s why Quayle’s criticism hit so hard. And as film critic Richard Grenier put it, Hollywood was caught with its hand in the cookie jar. Right in the wake of the L.A. riots, they were supporting the very behavior that contributes to that kind of anarchy.
Quayle was raising a serious issue about what kind of responsibility a powerful medium such as television has in influencing the morals and behavior of the public.
The network’s response was to go on the defensive. They turned the whole thing into a joke. It’s an old technique and the media is master at it. Ignore the issue and attack the man.
Reason is no match for ridicule.
The scary thing is that so many people accepted the strategy and laughed along with them.
The Los Angeles riots were horrific. But if there’s anything more horrific, it’s that people in the media have lost the moral sensitivity to recognize that its major cause is family breakdown.
And that they mock and ridicule someone who tries to warn them.