New York Times Clumsily Compares Polygamist of 'Sister Wives' to Lovable Dad in 'Father Knows Best'

On the front page of Thursday’s New York Times, reporter John Schwartz clumsily compared a very prim Fifties sitcom with the reality-show polygamist Kody Brown, who just won a court ruling in Utah in favor of their four-wife life as displayed on the TLC reality show "Sister Wives." 

“In their first interview since the decision in that case, they presented a family whose polygamy is more ‘Father Knows Best’ than fundamentalist patriarchy,” wrote Schwartz, just like a TLC publicist.

Schwartz paints a picture of Kody Brown fighting with all four wives about whether the eldest daughter can get her ears pierced. Earrings are immodest, he says. See how traditionalist they can make him sound? But the wives win out, so Schwartz then repeated the sitcom analogy:

A recent afternoon with the family here suggested that Mr. Brown is far from the domineering figure of past polygamy horror stories like Warren Jeffs, the leader of another fundamentalist group who is serving a life sentence for child sexual abuse. Mr. Brown comes off more as a beleaguered sitcom father facing the challenges of scheduling family time split 21 ways...

“My wives were all fighting me here,” he recalled.

“We’re advocating for our daughter,” Meri clarified.

“Everything is a negotiation,” Mr. Brown said, as the retelling of the story became animated, with interruptions and whoops of laughter. He offered a proposal: “I’ll let you pierce them tonight if you promise you won’t get a tattoo until you’re 26.” She responded, “That’s too long!” He fell back to a final offer: tomorrow, and 25. She agreed.

The Times isn't exactly in line with feminists who believe polygamy is a formula for female subordination. They're in line with loosening whatever traditions the "family values" lobby on the Right believes in. They always want to add "modern" to "family," even if a man with many wives is quite ancient. The Times let them explain how boring they are:

They do not “go weird” in the bedroom, as Meri, another wife, has put it; their sexual relations are separate. “These are wholesome, individual marriages,” Robyn said. “It’s actually pretty boring.”

Late in the story, after the earrings, there's a brief nod to a debate:


Opponents of polygamy say that the Browns obscure the true damage that their lifestyle involves.

Kristyn Decker left an unhappy polygamist marriage and now leads the organization Sound Choices Coalition; she is also a second cousin by blood and an aunt by marriage to Christine Brown, one of the wives.

“Polygamy is harmful,” she said. “It’s very coercive, and it’s spiritual blackmail.” The Browns, she said, “are a very rare family.”

But that comes long after the Kody Knows Best propaganda.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis