I must’ve missed the “everyone make stuff up” memo circulating through media channels this week. Thankfully, I’m just a blogger.

Tuesday, the Huffington Post published a post with the headline, Jeb Bush In 1995: Unwed Mothers Should Be Publicly Shamed. There’s just one problem though — that’s not what Jeb Bush said. Not in 1995 or otherwise.

The post focuses on a book Bush wrote called Profiles in Character. The book was published in 1995. Gawker, Wonkette, Raw Story and others then reblogged using the same, incorrect headline.

No, Jeb Bush did not say unwed mothers should be publicly shamed

Ignoring what Bush’s book said, Laura Bassett wrote at the Huffington Post:

Public shaming would be an effective way to regulate the “irresponsible behavior” of unwed mothers, misbehaving teenagers and welfare recipients, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) argued in his 1995 book Profiles in Character.

In a chapter called “The Restoration of Shame,” the likely 2016 presidential candidate made the case that restoring the art of public humiliation could help prevent pregnancies “out of wedlock.”

Here’s how the passage in question actually reads:

One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in this passage do I read “unwed mothers should be publicly shamed.” Sure, Bush talked about shame, about how the decay of the family unit was no longer shameful (and he was right), discussed that there once was a time when communities collectively “frowned on” promiscuous behavior and that it served as an effective deterrent. But not once did he say nor did he imply that unwed mothers should be scorned, shamed, and cast from polite society as HuffPo suggests.

Explaining Bush’s advocacy for punishment that embarrassed offenders for petty crimes, Bassett wrote:

Bush’s ideas about public shaming extended beyond unwed parents. He said American schools and the welfare system could use a healthy dose of shame as well. “For many, it is more shameful to work than to take public assistance — that is how backward shame has become!” he wrote, adding that the juvenile criminal justice system also “seems to be lacking in humiliation.”

In the context of present-day society we need to make kids feel shame before their friends rather than their family. The Miami Herald columnist Robert Steinback has a good idea. He suggests dressing these juveniles in frilly pink jumpsuits and making them sweep the streets of their own neighborhoods! Would these kids be so cavalier then?

I’m really not seeing the problem here.

HuffPo goes on to compare this example of shame with the horrific suicide of a thirteen-year old girl:

It’s worth pointing out that the kind of public shaming Bush described has come under fire recently in response to the growing trend of parents humiliating their children on social media to punish them. A 13-year-old girl committed suicide last month after her father posted a video of himself cutting off her long hair on YouTube because she had disobeyed him.

No, it’s not worth noting. Not in the least bit. How in the world is the tragic suicide of a young girl remotely related to silly, but effective punishments for juvenile offenders?

Context matters though, and HuffPo and sites of the same caliber routinely advocate on behalf of a shame-free world — where actions that contribute to the rapid corrosion of the family unit ought be welcomed with open arms. Speak out against that, or stand firmly for the integrity of family… You’ve just placed a target on your back.

Regardless of what you think of Governor Bush as a Republican presidential candidate, this type of reporting is the only shameful part of the equation.

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The HuffPo piece also included a portion addressing a controversial Florida law, known as the “Scarlet Letter” law.

As governor of Florida in 2001, Bush had the opportunity to test his theory on public shaming. He declined to veto a very controversial bill that required single mothers who did not know the identity of the father to publish their sexual histories in a newspaper before they could legally put their babies up for adoption. He later signed a repeal of the so-called “Scarlet Letter” law in 2003 after it was successfully challenged in court.

We reached out to Jeb Bush’s campaign who provided the following context:

The bill passed the House of Representatives 108-8 with noted liberals like Lois Frankel supporting it.

It passed the State Senate by a vote of 30-8.

Governor Bush had received assurances from the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Senator Skip Campbell, that the disclosure requirement would be fixed. He welched on that commitment.

When the repeal bill reached GJB’s desk in 2003, he signed it.


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