Another Perspective

Missing

Why is the public no longer informed of the social condition of those who make news?

By 6.26.02

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"The divorced mother of three..."

She is missing, has been for some time, and no one is looking for her, certainly not in the new style books of modern newspapers. Now she is a "single parent" and it doesn't matter to editors how she got that way or how she came to bear three children, if in fact she herself bore them. The "Mr. and Mrs." style of informing readers of the social condition of those who make news is disappearing. Marital status no longer matters. An occasional "Ms." gets thrown in. But by and large, children, like Topsy, just appear in news copy.

It is part of the homogenization of society in which there shall be no distinctions at all one day. Same sex partners won't have to be identified as such, not because whatever got them in the paper has nothing to do with their sexual preference, but because sexuality itself is being submerged in the blender. It may matter only to the mortality tables of insurers whether the subject is male or female because the latter live longer.

This will make the reporters' job much easier. Just come back with a name. If the given name is Joseph, chances are the subject was male, at least in an anatomical sense, and readers will know that. If Joseph and Gina were killed in an automobile accident and three children with them were hurt, does it really matter that the couple was married and those survivors are the fruit of their union? Not really. Maybe they were "living together" and the munchkins were the result of some prior experiences. And -- well, you get the point. What business is it of yours anyway what people do or did in the confines of their own, or even somebody else's, bedroom? The important thing is the wreck, the make, year, and model of the car and, for the truly nit-picking, who was driving.

Time was if a child's parents were not married he was a bastard. (Now we are prone to say "they" were a bastard, bending grammar to fit the new asexual form.) Today, he is a member of a single parent family. That's better, isn't it?

Television, with its even more relaxed style book (so relaxed it probably doesn't have one), enjoys not having to deal in the social niceties. On the soon-forgotten Nickelodeon program, "My Family Is Different," devoted to chastising Americans who still scunner at the thought of men living as spouses with men and raising children, or women doing the same, there appeared a New York City fireman who professed to be homosexual and to have three children who were occasionally jibed by other children over their father's sexual orientation. New York City Firemen are of course among the currently adored of America because of their valor during the World Trade Center disaster and his presence in the studio had to be calculated to add stature to the basic argument which was "it's okay." In keeping with the "keep 'em guessing 'cause it's none of their business anyway" policies described herein, the hostess never asked how it was he came to have three children. Had he come to homosexuality later in life? Or, were they the other guy's? In vitro? In hoc signo ignoramous. But it might have added texture to the simplistic argument that it's bad for children to tease other children about adult behavior they cannot control if we knew something of the fireman's journey to where he finds himself today, in a same sex relationship and with children. The argument can be made and has been that that was not really the object of the show, anyway, that it was in truth an advertisement for homosexuality, employing children as the foil.

But we digress. The blender turns and having turned moves on and not all your piety or wit can untangle a shred of it. Unless some editor somewhere someday says, "Wait a minute. Let's tell it as it is. Let's revive Mr. and Mrs. Or Miss, if that's the case. As long as matrimony is a legal status conferring certain standing, let this newspaper hew to that."

It is possible that somewhere in the stacks the "divorced mother of three" will be found: not simply a "single parent" but a person with a place and time on the page of life.

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.