Friday, January 19, 2007

Things are seldom what they seem...

I'm a Gilbert & Sullivan fan, as as any such fan can tell you, there's a G&S quotation suitable for expressing almost every worthwhile sentiment under the sun. And once again, it's so. Take this little couplet from H.M.S. Pinafore:

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream...

Remember how, a few days ago, a New York Times story revealed the shocking news that fewer than 50% of American women were living with a husband? Remember how everyone rushed to draw dire conclusions from this "fact"?

Now go read Michael Medved's blistering piece that debunks the story and reveals the agenda of the writer. Excerpts below:

On Tuesday, January 16th, 2007, the American people awoke to startling and disturbing news: for the first time ever, the majority of women in the country were living without a husband.


With all the debate and pontification about the new minority status of married women, it’s just too bad that no significant media outlet (beyond this writer, on my nationally syndicated radio show) made the single most important and salient observation about the big news--

That is, it’s not true.

The entire story (based on the work of one ax-grinding, irresponsible, agenda-driven journalist for the New York Times) has been cooked up from willful, blatant and shameful distortions. Amazingly enough, none of the most respected and purportedly responsible media authorities have taken the trouble to call him on it.

First, the truth—a truth that is easily accessible from the United States Census Bureau.

According to the most recent available figures (from 2005), a clear majority (56%) of all women over the age of 20 are currently married.

Moreover, nearly all women in this country will get married at one time or another. Among those above the age of 50 (a group that includes the celebrated Baby Boomers of the famously revolutionary ‘60’s generation), an astonishing 94% have been married at one time or another and some 79% are either currently married or widowed.

Even including the younger, supposedly “post-marriage” generation, and considering all women above the age of 30, some 61% are currently married and another 12% are widowed. In other words, nearly three-fourths (73%, a crushing majority) of all women who have reached the tender age of 30 now occupy a traditional female role as either current wives or widows – avoiding the supposedly trendy status of divorced, separated, co-habiting or single.

So how did the writer get the numbers to support his conclusions?

It’s all based on a fundamentally dishonest decision that Roberts never acknowledges in the entire course of his lengthy article. It turns out that in his analysis he chose to count some 10,154,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 as “women.” It should come as no surprise that this vast group of teenagers (yes, teenagers, most of whom live at home) are officially classified as “single.” In fact, 97% of the 15 to 19 year olds identify themselves as “never married.” The Census Bureau, by the way, doesn’t call these youngsters “women” – it labels them “females” (a far more appropriate designation).

Yet even the ridiculous inclusion of his ten million unmarried teenagers couldn’t give Sam Roberts the story he wanted to report – that most American “women” are now unmarried. As a matter of fact, the Census Bureau shows that among all females above 15 the majority (51%!) are still classified as “married.”

So the New York Times required yet another sneaky distortion to shave off that last 2% from the married majority, though this bit of statistical sleight-of-hand Sam Roberts had the decency to acknowledge. “In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military, or are institutionalized,” he writes. In other words, in his brave new majority of “women” without spouses, he includes all those thousands upon thousands of wives and mothers who are waiting and praying at home for the return of their husbands from Iraq or Afghanistan. By arbitrarily removing this 2% of all females (2,400,000 individuals) who are classified as “married/spouse absent” from the ranks of the married, and then designating as “unmarried” his millions of middle school and high school girls who are living with their parents, together with some 9 million elderly widows who have devoted much of their lives to marriage and husbands (42% of all women over 65 are widows), Roberts can finally arrive at his desired but meaningless conclusion that “most women” now “are living without a husband.” Eureka!

But hey, it's just a newspaper story, right? No big deal, right? Think again.
The endlessly repeated lies – that married people are now a minority, that most women don’t have husbands, that half of all first marriages end in divorce – exert a real world influence on young people trying to make decisions about their own intimate arrangements. The relentless media portrayal of matrimony as a wounded, collapsing, outmoded, dysfunctional institution discourages prospective husbands and wives from making the lifelong commitments on which societal health and effective childrearing depend.
It's the same sort of thing I posted on a few weeks ago: when a petty official's hamhanded insistence that the singing of Christmas carols be stopped, the act was repudiated soon afterward by her superiors, yet the deed was done; the music was stopped, and a moment that might have been, but was not, graced by a tiny sliver of the Christmas message will never come again.

And in journalism, even when apologies are made and stories are retracted (always on an obscure inside page, of course), the lie is out there, ready to deceive and demoralize for decades to come.