For the first time ever I watched an entire “Phil Donahue Show” on TV, and it was a classic. The topic of the day, “crack babies,” followed up sensational reports in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal on the latest social problem to terrify the American public.

First, the Post reporters were brought out to explain the problem: Between one and four million babies have been born to users of the drug “crack,” an exceptionally potent form of cocaine. The babies, born addicted and underweight, often develop severe physical and emotional problems.

The oldest of these offspring are now entering the first-grade classrooms of public schools, which have a hard enough time handling “normal” children. Crack children have an impossibly low attention span, exhibit hostile behavior, and show few signs of a moral conscience.

In short, the United States is being invaded from within by a large group of young citizens who will further strain health and education resources, and who give every indication of one day adding to the burdens of juvenile and adult detention centers. The reporters predicted that crack children would become the number-one social problem in the United States.

No Hickory Sticks

Donahue’s producers had managed to persuade two crack mothers—one black, one white—to appear on the show, and after the Post reporters outlined the scope of the problem, Donahue introduced the two. Audience tension visibly increased. The middle-class, mostly female spectators, who had just heard that drug users were unleashing a plague on their society, now had a chance to face down in person two real-life carriers of that plague.

The white crack mother seemed on drugs at that very moment. Slumping down in her chair behind the protective shield ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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