Is Murphy Brown really a tramp?
That was the question on the front page of The New York Times on May 21, 1992.
Murphy Brown was the main character on the sitcom by that name — played by the actor Candice Bergen — and the question was as political as it was personal.
The uproar was recalled by some fans of the show this week after news that the sitcom is returning to prime time, starring Ms. Bergen, 71, in the same role.
Murphy Brown had just aired its Season 4 finale in which Ms. Brown, an unmarried news anchor, gave birth to a baby boy.
Mr. Quayle said the character was “mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice.’”
The blowback from liberals was swift, and an early skirmish in the culture war was on. Critics of the administration said it was hypocritical to condemn both abortion and single motherhood. In a fumbled response to Mr. Quayle’s remarks, the White House “first applauded, then dithered, then beat a befuddled retreat,” The Times reported.
A White House spokesman criticized the “glorification of the life of an unwed mother” on the morning after the speech. But shortly after that, he praised the show for its “pro-life values.”
And that afternoon, President Bush, besieged by Murphy Brown questions at an appearance with the prime minister of Canada, threw up his hands in frustration.
“I don’t know that much about the show,” he said. “I’ve told you, I don’t want any more questions about it.”
Murphy Brown was a divorced career woman in her 40s who had battled addictions to cigarettes and alcohol, decided to raise a child on her own and tried medical marijuana after learning she had breast cancer. Her fans saw her as an icon — an older, saltier, more modern version of Mary Tyler Moore.