In the photograph, a young woman cradles an infant against her breast. A young man leans over and plants a tender kiss on the child's forehead.
The couple depicted are Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old pregnant daughter of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and Levi Johnston, the 18-year-old father of Bristol's baby. The child is Bristol's brother, although if you didn't bother to read the fine print in the caption, you would assume that he was the couple's child.
It's a touching photograph from the Associated Press, which, I'm sure, appeared in newspapers across the country. It's also a shameful example of how mainstream news outlets have allowed themselves to be used as tools in the Republican Party's attempts to sanitize the story of Palin's daughter's pregnancy to minimize the potential political fall-out.
Palin's parents have announced that Bristol, who is five months pregnant, and her boyfriend, will be getting married. "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child," they said, "which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family."
Johnston's mother says the two had talked about getting married before they got pregnant and that the baby was "just a bonus."
Who can blame the parents for trying to put the best face on what is obviously a disappointing and embarrassing development? Or the Republicans for trying to spin themselves out of a tight spot?
I do, however, fault the news media for the glaring double standard in its coverage. What if the Democratic Party had nominated an African-American woman for vice president and it later turned out that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter was five months pregnant?
If during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, she paraded young Kinshasa and her flustered-looking baby daddy Leroy before thousands of convention delegates and millions of TV viewers? While members of the family passed the youngest addition, a 5-month-old baby with Down syndrome, from person to person like a rag doll?
Would the media be gushingly referring to Leroy — who had described himself as an N- and a thug on his MySpace site and who said he didn't want kids — as Kinshasa's "fiance?"
What's more likely is that we would suddenly be deluged with stories about the disastrously high pregnancy rates among black teens. The vice presidential candidate and her family would be held up as examples of the dysfunction of the African-American family. Conservatives of all stripes would scream, "How dare they!"
Instead, we have the movie "Juno" come to life, only they don't put the baby up for adoption and there's a shotgun wedding in the finale.
There are many, many reasons why the thought of Sarah Palin — a heartbeat from the presidency — sets my teeth to chattering. But the fact that her daughter got pregnant is not one of them. There are unfortunately many, many parents whose teenage daughters come home one day and announce that they're in trouble. Families must confront painful, difficult choices, and it's got to be even worse under the glare of the public spotlight.
What I find interesting is that the media and society at large label unmarried black teenage girls who have babies social deviants and welfare mothers. But when it comes to unmarried white teenage girls — unless of course they happen to be the sister of the media's perennial whipping girl Britney Spears — well, their having babies is just good old wholesome traditional family values.
Perhaps the dearth of journalists of color covering the presidential campaign helps explain the double standard. At the Democratic National Convention, there were hardly any blacks in the press corps at the Pepsi Center. I felt like a fly in a vat of buttermilk, though ironically, the diversity of the Democratic delegates themselves reflects America's diversity. Unlike the GOP convention, where the television channels kept showing the same five black faces over and over.
You don't have to be black though to see the double standard in the media's handling of the Palin pregnancy. A white friend, who is a former staff writer for the New York Times, is incensed.
Why were supposedly reputable publications calling this girl's boyfriend her "fiance" — a term that conveys a level of commitment and intent — based entirely on the teen's parents' proclamations after Palin's nomination?
Running photographs designed to convey the image of the two high school seniors as the perfect picture of pre-wedded family bliss when they knew full well that if there ever is a wedding, it will be a shotgun one.
If it were a black girl, my white friend and I agree, she'd have been written off as a promiscuous hot pants on day one.
Her "fiance," meanwhile, would be just another "baby daddy."
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group-East Bay. Her column runs Wednesday in Metro and Sunday in Opinion. Contact her at email@example.com.