A couple at the "cross roads" of a "complicated" love story. That's how Diane Sawyer set up the feature on a transgendered Microsoft executive, his/her wife, and their son in the 8:00 half-hour on "Good Morning America."
The socially progressive bent of GMA was evident in the lack of context or perspective given to the family's story. No consideration was given to the glaring social issues raised. It was reported as just another human-interest story.
The five-minute feature, reported by Neal Karlinsky, explained the conflict Michael Wallent had with his identification as a male, his decision to become a female and the ramifications of that decision in his workplace and at home.
Karlinsky: Megan Wallent is a complicated woman. She's a top Microsoft executive. Parent to a newborn and husband. That's right. Husband. Only a few short months ago Megan was Michael. I have to ask and this awkward. I know you're so good about it, so forgive me if it's offensive, but are you a man or a woman?
Wallent: Well, I'm me. And I think most people would perceive me as female these days. And that's the way I present myself to the outside world.
Karlinsky: Megan is transgender, meaning she doesn't relate to the gender she was born with. To say those who have known her for years as Michael were stunned, is an understatement.
Tina Dunn (Wallent's administrative assistant): He's a guy's guy. Super into sports, hiking. I mean, what I consider a guy's guy. He was into all of the things guys are into.
Karlinsky: Going into the new year, Michael Wallent the executive who was once in charge of the entire Internet Explorer program on Windows launched an e-mail to a disbelieving staff of hundreds that he was about to undergo surgery to literally transform himself.
Male co-worker: I got to say, when I got that first e-mail, I was shocked. Not like shocked in a negative way, just shocked in a -- I had no idea.
Karlinsky detailed the surgical procedures Wallent had undergone, including facial feminization surgery, breast implants, removal of the Adam's apple and hormone treatments.
Then Karlinsky introduced Wallent's wife of two years and asked her whether she'd ever suspected anything. Her answer was no.
Before introducing Mrs. Wallent, Karlinsky had set up her reactions with these descriptors: she'd had her "world turned upside down," she was "utterly blindsided."
In his interview with her, during which her husband Megan was sitting beside her, Karlinsky asked personal questions.
Karlinsky: You had no clue until the day he told you?
Anh Wallent: No.
Karlinsky: You had been married how long at that point?
Anh Wallent: About two years.
Karlinsky: Two years. What was your reaction?
Anh Wallent: I was in tears.
Karlinsky: She says she suspected nothing, no hints at all until that moment. The couple has an 11-month-old son together. Michael broke the news last year on Mother's Day. This is a hard question. Would you have married Michael, knowing this was to come?
Anh Wallent: I don't think so. I think it would have been something that would have been hard to deal with. I mean, it's hard now, but I think -- I'm just a different person now than I was then.
Karlinsky: They're sticking together and say their marriage is recovering from the initial shock. But there are challenges. (Question to Megan) Are you attracted to men or women? Or both?
Megan Wallent: Well, I've never been attracted to men, never even one iota. And, you know, all through my transition, one of the questions that Anh and I talked about, are you going to all ever a sudden become attracted to men? Is that going to be an issue? I said no, I can't imagine that.
Karlinsky (to Anh): Are you still attracted to the person you married?
Anh Wallent: I - (she hesitates) yes.
Karlinsky: It's changed a little.
Anh Wallent: A lot.
Karlinsky reported the two are "prepared to deal with the challenges of this very unique relationship" and they "hope to spend the rest of their lives together."
In a follow up conversation with Sawyer, who commented that the story was a "reminder of the complicated nature of human biology ... and the complicated choices people have to make," Karlinsky reported that Megan Wallent has two children from a previous marriage. He said the children still call Megan "dad" and that "she knows it's a challenge for them," "doesn't believe they're being teased" but does worry about it.
And that's where GMA left it. The entire story was treated as just another human-interest story even though the subject matter was provocative, arguably counter-cultural, and has implications dealing with character, responsibility and child welfare.
GMA producers regularly call on psychologists to weigh in on issues that are far less "complicated" than this. There was no follow up on the cost to the children or the cost to the wife. Surely a man's decision to turn his wife's world "upside down," "blindside" her on Mother's Day and create "challenges" for his children merited further analysis.
And what about the marriage issue? The Wallents are now a married couple comprised of two people the state of Washington recognizes as female. That, in and of itself, presents broad social implications which were not addressed.