TEENAGE PREGNANCY ISSUE
The woman who left the message on my phone clearly had an agenda, but masked it with a question: So, are you guys going to cover the pregnancy of Governor Palin's daughter ... like you cover the pregnancy of black teenagers?
That was her question ... simple, but full of complex layers .. and loaded with accusations.
She was clearly suggesting: You guys (news reporters) will run all these stories about black teenagers getting pregnant, but when it comes to a white middle or upper class family ... you go silent.
I called back and got her answering machine, but I assured her ... black teen pregnancies are not covered just for the sake of embarrassing them or fostering stereotypes. I also assured her that we would cover the Palin case.
I also said .. that all of us should be concerned about ALL teenage pregnancies.
To state the basic fact: Governor Palin's 17 year old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. It comes as a revelation with yet undetermined effects. By the way, Time's Nathan Thornburgh noted that Bristol's pregnancy was an "open secret" in the governor's hometown.
The revelation is raising several questions about the coverage of this obviously very private affair ... which I stress DOES NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVE THE CANDIDATE.
The revelation is also raising SERIOUS questions about an issue that truly deserves coverage and scrutiny: Teenage Pregnancy.
Let's deal with that most important issue first, and then we'll return to the coverage of Governor Palin's daughter.
One of the latest surveys (as reported by Child Trends DataBank) ... actually shows that pregnancy rates among adolescent females have steadily dropped during the past decade (based on figures from 2000).
It went from 116.3 per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 ... to 84.5 per 1000 teens.
Still, it is a number that has dramatic consequences for the teen mother, her family ... and certainly the baby. It might or might not affect the father.
Sources state 35% of such pregnancies end in abortion.
Based on reported information .. there is a disproportionate difference when you compare race and ethnicity.
Non-Hispanic white teen pregnancy rates are: 56.9 to 1000 teens. Black non-Hispanic teen pregnancy rates are dramatically higher: 151 per 1000 teens; the same applies to Hispanic teens: 132 per 1000.
Read those numbers again. They are frightening.
It's really no consolation that teenage birth rates were 50% higher in the late 1950s. Current numbers remain a sad commentary on our times.
Now, regarding the news coverage of Governor Palin's daughter.
Kelly McBride, with the Poynter Institute ( a news ethics group) says: You can't get away from the fact that there are incredibly sensationalist elements to this story.
I agree. I also agree that it is a story to be reported ... but that's not to say it should become a main element.
Bristol is a teenager who made a bad decision that is now very public.
How many in our country ... in our own families ... have faced this same issue? In our case, it just didn't become national news.
Senator Obama has said he believes that children of candidates should be off-limits.
That's a good idea ... but as standard news organizations ... tabloids and bloggers ... battle to get "THE STORY" ... that's not reality.
Unfortunately, when a man or woman steps into political office ... all members of the family are in the spotlight.
Still, unless a crime is involved ... news organizations should strike a balance when reporting on the failings of family members ... especially children.
In such cases ... reporting ... does not mean ... crusading.