Journalists live and die by a standard often called the Cheerios test. That is, how will a story play over breakfast? Specifically, will graphic details and/or language render an average reader sick to her stomach, unable to chew and swallow?
I have pushed the limit on this test and must give props to my colleagues Angela Couloumbis and Amy Worden today for their artful handling of this front-page story about Harrisburg's most bizarre bureaucrat.
I refer to the brief, righteous reign of Robert W. Patterson, a $104,470 official at the Department of Public Welfare who moonlighted at a conservative faith-based journal, where he wrote stories about semen as a mental health elixir for women.
Yes, that guy. The one who likened sperm to a no-cost and plentiful antidepressant and said women who take birth control pills do so at the risk of winding up spinsters.
Patterson, my colleagues explained, was hired in October by Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander as a special assistant. In addition to his duties lording over millions of poor Pennsylvanians, Patterson had a side job: He edited The Family in America, a journal published by a Midwestern research center that promotes the "natural human family" and opposes abortion, divorce and homosexuality.
In the journal, Patterson has weighed in on everything from what he called "misguided" programs that grew out of the 1960s War on Poverty - programs now administered by DPW - to what he described as a woman's ideal role in society: married and at home raising children, the story explained.
For instance, he wrote about research that he said showed that if women wanted to find "Mr. Right," they should shun birth control pills; and if they wanted to improve their mood, they should not insist that their men wear condoms lest they miss out on beneficial chemicals found in semen.
I have not had the privilege of meeting this shining star of state government, but he must be the only public official in modern history to argue that condoms are the enemy.
I am also super-interested in finding therapists who prescribe unprotected sex for depressed female patients. Anyone? Anyone?
Patterson, my colleagues found, also wrote that "semen-exposed women" [his phrase, fabulous isn't it?] perform better on concentration and cognitive tasks. If that's an established fact of science, why aren't parents injecting girls with the good stuff before crucial standardized tests and the SATs?
And, not to question Patterson's homophobic street cred, but women aren't the only people who can "absorb" semen. So can't gay men benefit from this miracle drug, too?
The Corbett administration quickly accepted Patterson's resignation after my colleagues began poking around. No one would say why such a luminary was hired for a six-figure state post, but let's not forget that Alexander himself has had an, er, notable tenure.
The DPW chief seems to see his job as punishing the poor, booting more than 150,000 people -- including 88,000 children -- off medical assistance and imposing an asset test on Pennsylvanians who receive food stamps.
While I'm thinking about it, Corbett also made a curious choice in his health commissioner Eli Avila, he of the badge, jacket and super-sized ego.
So what is it: Is the governor running a state or a circus? Wherever does he find these fellas?
-- Monica Yant Kinney