Growing up, the thing I looked forward to most, every week, was the broadcast of old-time radio shows from 7-11 p.m. Sunday evenings. I grew up listening to the Jack Benny Program, The Shadow, Gunsmoke, Fibber McGee and Molly, Dragnet, Suspense, and many, many others.
My interest in old-time radio fed a growing fascination that I had about the difference between my grandparents’ generation and my own. Somehow, in those old shows, women seemed more feminine and men seemed more manly. But what really stood out were the many references to God, the practice of good manners, and an unambiguous moral fiber that was so absent from the TV shows I saw at that time in the 1980s. No one questioned the rightness or wrongness of any particular action; right was right, and wrong was evil. And evil acts were to be punished.
Just the other day, as I was driving in to work, I heard an old episode of Mr. District Attorney titled “Case of the Murderous Junkman.” The plot of the episode followed the usual formula of any of the other crime dramas of the day. A junkyard worker known as Morales asked his crooked boss, Mr. Hubbard, for the money he owed him, and when Hubbard refused, Morales threatened to go to the law. So, rather than pay Morales, Hubbard shot him with a shotgun and dumped his body. After Morales’ body was discovered, the district attorney, Paul Garrett, launched an investigation. But what struck me about this episode came toward the end. Morales’ pregnant wife had reported her husband missing, and the DA questions her but doesn’t yet tell her yet about her husband’s death. At the end of the episode, the DA collects the evidence he needs to charge Hubbard with murder, and as he is preparing to head out to Hubbard’s house, he calls his office to have his secretary drive out to take a statement from a witness. Here is the conversation that took place during that call:
Miss Miller: District Attorney’s Office.
DA, Paul Garrett: Garrett, Miss Miller. I want you to take a cab over here to the 9th precinct and take a statement from Shorty Davis. Have him sign it.
Miss Miller: Is it a confession?
DA, Paul Garrett: No, he’s not the man.
Miss Miller: Well, whoever the man is, I hope you get him soon.
DA, Paul Garrett: Why? What’s the matter?
Miss Miller: Mrs. Morales collapsed at the morgue after she identified her husband’s body. Had to take her to General Hospital. She lost the baby she was carrying, Mr. Garrett.
DA, Paul Garrett: I’ll see you later (hangs up the phone)
Police officer: What are you so mad about, Chief?
DA, Paul Garrett: I don’t want to talk about it right now.
The plot moved along a little more, as Garrett went to Hubbard’s house to charge him with murder. Garrett finds Hubbard’s wife (who had witnessed the murder) watering a patch of grass. As he points out holes in a fence consistent with shotgun pellets, Mrs. Hubbard blurts out that her husband didn’t commit murder.
Mrs. Hubbard: He didn’t kill Morales, he DIDN’T!!
DA, Paul Garrett: He committed two murders, if the truth is known, Mrs. Hubbard! Because Mrs. Morales just lost the new baby she was expecting!
Mrs. Hubbard: (sobbing) Oh . . . oh no . . .
This episode aired in 1953. No one questioned the personhood of preborn children. Even popular entertainment, such as this radio show, acknowledged the personhood of preborn children. No one listening to this show as it aired for the first time would have even batted an eye at the thought that Hubbard should be charged with two murders. But today is a completely different story. Now, not only are we fighting for the lives of preborn children, and even children who survive abortions, but it’s near impossible to charge someone with homicide if he directly causes the death of a preborn baby.
My mother was born in 1951, and by the time she was 22 years old this nation had gone from a radio show that implied a charge of murder for the indirect death of a preborn baby to the legalization of birth control, pornography, and abortion.
I pray every day that we won’t have to wait another generation before we find the moral fiber we’ve lost.
Michael Hichborn is director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project.