Jennifer Aniston, Murphy Brown and Single Motherhood: Is O'Reilly the New Quayle?

08/12/2010 12:25 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What synapse snapped in the loofah-scrubbed mind of Bill O'Reilly to take to task one of America's sweethearts, Jennifer Aniston, for her simple statement in support of the possibilities of single motherhood? A statement that, reduced to its basics, acknowledges that women can choose to have babies (gasp!) without the need for intimate male participation?

Nearly twenty years ago -- 1992, to be exact -- we saw the first iteration of this neanderthal-speak when Dan Quayle decided to whack a fictional television character, Murphy Brown (played by the indomitable Candice Bergen) for choosing to have a child on her own (though Murphy was supposedly impregnated the, um, old-fashioned way). But while times have changed the rhetoric has not. Compare:

Quayle: Murphy Brown was "mocking the importance of fathers."

O'Reilly: Aniston was"diminishing the role of the dad" and "throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that hey, you don't need a guy, you don't need a dad." (Uh, Bill, what 12 and 13 year-olds do you know who talk about having children through a sperm bank?)

Quayle: Was speaking in the context of a "poverty of values" that led to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

O'Reilly: Aniston's statement was "destructive to our society." No reference to any particular example, just a generalized prediction of the demise of American culture due to the influence of a single American actress.

History must not be O'Reilly's strong suit, because he should remember how well Quayle did by picking on a well-liked fictional character viewed by 38 million Americans, versus a well-liked real-life person/actress whose movies have been seen by millions of Americans and whose finale of Friends was seen by 59 million Americans. Then-President Bush, fighting for his re-election life with Bill Clinton, would not publicly endorse Quayle's statement. Finally, Quayle had to issue a statement that he had "the greatest respect" for single motherdom. Let's see how many GOP candidates rush to condemn Jen and endorse O'Reilly. Oh, wait, I already hear Limbaugh warming up his vocal cords.

The arrogance of O'Reilly and the wrecking crew at Fox doesn't seem to get the stupidity and insensitivity of this statement. As available as self-chosen single motherhood has been for decades, I don't see American society suffering as a result. This is the same reductionist argument used against same-sex marriage or anything that doesn't comport with some outdated Ozzie and Harriet notion of American life. It didn't fly in 1992, and it has even less traction in 2010.

If O'Reilly and the Fox Gang are so concerned about the American family, why do they serve as the mouthpiece for politicians and candidates who support cuts in health care for children, who back policies that reduce food stamps and aid for pregnant mothers and school lunch programs? Out of concern for the future of our country, perhaps O'Reilly and Fox should stop shilling for a GOP whose legislative agenda would give millions in tax breaks and benefits to the richest Americans paid off the backs of generations yet unborn.

In fact, one could say that tax cuts for the rich allow many single, financially well-to-do women the choice of embracing single motherhood sans the participation of a man. But it would be wrong to generalize, condemn, or criticize what drives anyone -- man or woman, man and woman, same-sex couple -- to start a family. The choice to have a child is one that goes beyond mere financial means. And it goes beyond sperm banks and childbirth -- would O'Reilly also condemn single women who adopt deserving and needy children as well? And would it be so wrong for 12 or 13 year-olds to know that all kids are entitled to a loving, caring, supportive relationship, even if it is with a single parent?

O'Reilly seems to be missing an irony and a sensitivity chip beneath all that pancake makeup. And as careful as O'Reilly is about his image, I would think the last person O'Reilly wants to be seen shoulder-to-shoulder with on a high-definition split-screen is Dan Quayle.

Then again, I haven't seen Bill spell "potato."