A few weeks ago, the headline read: “Alabama politician Bill Johnson caught in sperm donation scandal.”
This is what makes column-writing easy.
In the Heart of Dixie, you don’t have to hunt for inspiration. Politicians hand it to you.
The article told of how the former director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs went to New Zealand to help it recover from a deadly earthquake. While he was there, he discovered there were Kiwi women who wanted to get pregnant. So he decided to help them, as well.
As a sperm donor.
Now, under normal circumstances this would have caused no concern, and indeed might have been considered an admirable giving of one’s self to the needy, as Christian conservatives like Johnson are inclined to do. (Sorry about the pun, but they are hard to avoid in this story.)
However, circumstances were not normal.
After receiving an anonymous tip from someone who had been in contact with Johnson about a donation (another pun, sorry again, but I could have written “in touch with,” which would have been even worse), the New Zealand Herald looked into the matter in the best spirit of investigative journalism on a slow news day.
It found and reported to interested New Zealanders that Johnson had donated to at least nine women, and three were pregnant.
So what, you might ask.
Well, New Zealand is a small country, and when authorities found out the extent of this giving, they were worried that this might lead to “accidental incest” in the future.
However, this story created a stir here in Alabama for other reasons. It seems some of the women to whom Johnson donated were lesbians who wanted children. This raised all sorts of flags because Johnson had run for governor in 2010, and among the stands he boldly took was one opposing gay marriage.
That raises the obvious question: how can you be opposed to gay families when you are helping gay families in the “family way”?
Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up.
I have a circle of friends who take great delight in all the doings that make the human condition so entertaining — especially if the doings involve politicians, and especially if the politician is an Alabamian.
So, figuring to make writing this column even easier, I sent the article out and solicited their thoughts, which I planned to incorporate into a column that would pretty much write itself.
I was not disappointed.
The first to respond (and who, like the others, will not be identified) wrote, “I’ve heard of serial killers and serial adulterers, but a serial impregnator is a new one on me. What would you call such a person?” he asked. “A sperminator?”
Taking the opportunity to do a little political venting, he then wondered, “What is worse, a failed candidate for governor who knocks up three women, or an elected governor who screws an entire state?”
A journalist buddy saw in the story an opportunity for a headline-writing competition, so he sent it to others and challenged them to match or better his contributions.
Most of his entries I can’t repeat in good company. However, “Alabamian sows seeds afar” will give you an idea of the approach he took.
And soon, the headlines started coming in.
A North Carolinian offered, “Have Sperm, Will Travel,” and in reference to the reaction by Johnson’s unknowing spouse, who was shocked when she learned of the donations, “The Gift of Life, the Wrath of Wife.”
Also picking up on the controversy created at home and abroad, another contributor proposed, “Multiple Sperm Donor Sows Seeds of Discontent.”
A Georgian tried to look at the bigger picture and observed that “it’s not every day that one comes across a story that appears to compromise the intelligentsia of an entire state, but by God this one does.” Unfortunately, his best headline, which involved a play on the donor’s name, was not appropriate for a family newspaper. However, he also offered, “Spurns Lesbians in Alabama, Sperms them Down Under,” which, if you are reading it here, got past the editor.
Another journalist suggested a one-column, three-liner:
Noting how the newspaper found out about the donating, the same contestant suggested, “Guv’nor’s seed business leaks.”
Then there was “It is better to give and conceive.”
But it seems to me that the best headline may have been a real headline. The Huffington Post’s “Gay Voices” announced the New Zealand Herald’s discovery with: “Bill Johnson, Former Alabama Governor Candidate, Caught in Lesbian Sperm Donation Scandal.”
How often do you see “Alabama,” “Governor,” “Lesbian,” “Sperm” and “Scandal” all in one sentence?
That’s a first, for sure.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.