If a teenager were zipping around Amazon.com looking for "a reliable guide to the turbulent physical and social transitions of adolescence," would that child want to first consult a 76-year-old grandmother who's had three unsuccessful marriages?
This is a question that must never be asked if the unexpected author of the sex-and-relationships guide is Jane Fonda, an icon to liberals everywhere. Even Michelle Obama recently oozed to People magazine that Fonda was her role model for what she wants to be in her 70s, "a beautiful, engaged, politically savvy, sharp woman."
Fonda drew the same worshipful attention when she showed up on TV shows to promote her new book "Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More." She's an adult role model, a wise coach for America's youth. The Hanoi Jane who spit on our soldiers serving in Vietnam and sat behind an anti-aircraft gun that shot at our planes is long gone.
On NBC's "Today" on March 4, co-host Matt Lauer embarrassed himself pandering to the author. "I don't want to make it sound like you're old, because you're not old," said Lauer. "I am old," Fonda admitted, underlining the obsequious treatment she receives. Fonda said she didn't know enough about sex when she was a teen, and didn't know enough to teach her own children when they were teens. Suddenly, she's found all the answers.
Some of her book's message is sensible, even simplistic, but in an age when simple truths are so elusive, it's refreshing. Fonda emphasizes the need to resist a peer-pressured rush into sex. Ah, how nice. But there it ends. If the teen is ready and willing, it's a different life lesson. Now the emphasis turns to the usual libertine message pushing buckets of contraceptives and an end to any moral "hang-ups" about hookups: "Your body is not to be feared, nor should you feel shame or guilt about it, no matter what." She says teens feel shame about their bodies because America is "very puritanical on one level, and yet there's a lot of sexuality in the media."
Should that last part have been a focus of the discussion? Not in a thousand years. It is a given that sexuality in the media will never be part of the discussion on NBC's "Today" if the parent company is responsible for the reproachable product, and never mind that this network is a relentless button-pusher of sexuality, especially when millions of impressionable children are watching. Ought that not to have been a focus of the interview? Fonda wasn't about to bite the hand that pets her and tells her she's not old.
Next, she appeared on ABC's "The View," where Barbara Walters oozed about how difficult her childhood was and the co-hosts competed to see who could proclaim they admired her more. Sherri Shepherd said Fonda was her "she-ro."
In 2012, Fonda boasted that she'd found the best, most fulfilling sex she'd ever had in her life in an unmarried relationship with music producer Richard Perry. Is that the role model for children? But when the ABC hosts asked if she wanted to get married again, she emphatically said "No! Why would I?"
The funniest and yet most challenging moment of that love fest came when guest host and legal analyst Sunny Hostin wondered if the images of sexuality in the book were too graphic. ABC was wise enough to shift the camera lens away from the sexual images Hostin held up — unlike the saucy situations the Disney-owned network exploits in prime time. So a book about teenage sexuality has content too graphic for children, so graphic that even adults are shielded from it — and no one found the irony.
Try to imagine how ABC or NBC would react if Sarah Palin decided to write a book about teenager relationships. If they granted her airtime, she'd be grilled about her own life and her daughter with the teenage pregnancy. Or imagine Michele Bachmann and her therapist husband writing such a book. The set would be electric with hostility. Fonda doesn't have to worry about any of that. She-ros never do.
Editor's Note: MRC's Director of Media Analysis Tim Graham contributed to this column.