ON July 14, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala told a congressional hearing that TV character Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, should not have had a child out of wedlock.
There was little reaction.
Two years ago, then-Vice President Dan Quayle said the same thing. In response, Democrats and Hollywood celebrities excoriated him for allegedly denigrating single mothers. The incident, which occurred during the 1992 presidential campaign, was used by politicians and late-show hosts alike to prove once again that Dan Quayle was a dunce.
The difference is illustrative. After reading Quayle's new book, ``Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir,'' one comes away with the feeling that it has been a long time since a public figure has been so badly used by the media.
Hindsight, of course, is always 20-20. But Quayle makes a convincing case that once the press had created a dunderheaded caricature of him, it had a vested interest in maintaining that image. Immediately after George Bush nominated him as vice president, the press put forth a picture of Quayle as an empty-headed child of privilege from a fabulously rich family who used his influence to avoid serving in Vietnam. Even his name, J. Danforth Quayle, seemed to exude this aura (Dan Rather always referred to him as ``J. Danforth Quayle III'').
But as the Washington Post's David Broder and Bob Woodward pointed out in an investigative series on Quayle a few years ago - one for which they took a lot of flak from their peers - the caricature wasn't true. The family wasn't all that wealthy. No influence was used to get Quayle into the Indiana National Guard instead of the regular Army. The ``Danforth'' came from James Danforth, a friend of Quayle's father who was killed in World War II, not from any blue-blooded ancestor.
Quayle had graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and, after two terms in the House of Representatives, defeated Sen. Birch Bayh (D) of Indiana, one of the Senate's leading liberals, in 1980. No one considered him a simpleton until the days following his nomination as vice president.