It doesn't help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown-a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly-professional woman-mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice. -Dan Quayle May 19, 1992


With these words, Dan Quayle attempted to curry favor with conservatives by making a two-pronged attack on both contemporary journalism and Hollywood's "liberal" ideals. What he did, instead, was weave a media trap for himself, which he then walked right into. Not only did he word his criticism in such a way that it seemed he was attacking the fictional character herself, as opposed to the show's producers, but he, "attacked the cultural elite, if we can call them that, on their own turf, and they fought back hard." (Rushkoff, 79)

From there on, it was all downhill for a man who'd already established himself as a media clown.

At the following Emmy awards ceremony, a number of celebrities rose up in defense of single mothers, which cleverly slanted the issue. Now Dan Quayle had attacked single mothers. This feeling was characterized with the quote, "I would like to thank, in particular all the single parents out there, who, either by choice or by necessity, are raising their kids alone, don't let anybody tell you you're not a family," spoken by Diane English, "the show's producer and a good friend of the Clintons (another fact that, unfortunately for Bush the press was not so quick to pick up on)." (Rushkoff, 80)

Why had poor Dan Quayle chosen Murphy Brown as a target for projection of many modern societal ills? As in the traditional media war(which the Bush campaign fought vigorously but with a complete lack of grace that time around), there were many concealed reasons. For example the fact that many conservatives were uncomfortable with the image of Murphy Brown, therefore, by attacking that image Quayle could take advantage of "the right-wing American ambivalence about the women's rights movement,"(Rushkoff, 79) and do so without directly attacking a real person or the women's rights movement in general. Furthermore, the Democratic candidate, one William Jefferson Clinton, was, himself, raised by a single parent.

Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was yet another aspect of the Bush campaign's obsolete media manipulation techniques that eventually led to failure.

Quayle had set a precedent by taking a political stab at a fictional character, and the character herself responded to his accusations on her show. On September 21, 1992, a little over a month before Election Day, the offending snippet from Dan's speech was voiced on the Murphy Brown season premiere, and Murphy was cleverly portrayed as a victim of a thoughtless tirade against single mothers, to which she even responded on her fictional news show, FYI.

Quayle had made himself into a cardboard cut-out, real character who achieved a level of credibility bordering on fantasy. He actually interacted with a fake person, completing the illusion by sending a stuffed elephant to Murphy's fictional baby, along with a promise that he and president Bush would do everything they could to ensure the child would grow up in prosperity.

"The producers of the show thanked Quayle for his thoughtful gift, but mocked him gently at the same time, informing him that they would send the toy to a homeless shelter 'for a real child to enjoy'."(Rushkoff, 81)

sources: Media Virus! , Rushkoff, Douglas, 1994 Ballantine Books

Consumer Culture and TV Programming, Andersen, Robin, 1995 Westview Press

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