How Media Made It Up (Review of Subverted, by Sue Ellen Browder)

On a recent long plane ride, I read the 2015 autobiography of journalist, Sue Ellen Browder, called Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement. As I have mentioned before, there is nothing like honest autobiography to give one healthy perspective on one’s own life, especially when the account illuminates trends of the day.


In this readable plane-ride over Ms. Browder’s life,  she begins her NYC writing career in 1970, marries and has children, and journeys arduously from promoting the philosophies of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, Betty Friedan, who authored The Feminine Mystique (1963), and Helen Gurley Brown, queenly magazine editor, to a later-in-life conversion to Jesus Christ and embrace of the Roman Catholic faith.


In the process, Ms. Browder wrestles with propaganda (which she defines as withheld truth), and how it leads people to destruction. Through her decades of writing for Cosmopolitan, the print precursor to Sex in the City T.V. series, she spins the fantasy of happy, care-free, marriage- and moral-free, urban life. She candidly describes how she thought. And why she promoted what she now decries as destroying women.


So, through this life story of worldview change, we get the dark reality of some of the culture-makers. Cosmopolitan Magazine explicitly told her to lie to support the sexual revolution narrative. And she did: “Many of the alleged ‘real people’ we wrote about in the magazine were entirely fictitious. Helen [Brown] had even written a set of writers’ guidelines suggesting it was fine for us to make up ‘experts’ to quote and to invent anecdotes about ordinary single women, whom she called ‘civilians.’” For just such an article of whole cloth fabrications (that fit the agenda of breaking down marriage and motherhood) she herself was labeled an “expert,” winning appearances on The Today Show and Oprah. (Who knew that this was how to get asked to be on Oprah?)


The reality then followed the fantasy. From the late 1960s to the 1980s, Cosmo’s circulation grew to 3 million. Their advertising revenue leapt from $600,000 to over $47 million. During that same time, the percentage of unmarried couples living together increased more than sixfold, despite numerous actual studies at the time showing the disastrous consequences of cohabitation. By 2009, the magazine was reaching over 100 million female readers.


We also learn how the great legacy of abortion we have today arose from the man, Larry Lader, the founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Besides the tireless schmoozing of this wealthy lobbyist, Lader’s influential 1966  book, Abortion moved a generation. Statistics and history in the book were similarly completely made up. Yet, Justice Harry Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court used this falsehood-riddled source to write the Roe Vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.



It is clear that Ms. Browder’s mercifully good marriage helped open her eyes to what she was doing. And years of observing the consequences around her of the philosophies she promoted primed her to consider Christianity. When the plane finally landed and she finally realized: “Our true selves emerge only when we’re part of an ever-deepening web of love,” I sighed with relief. But also with sadness for the multitudes she misled in her ambition for success.


And with a grim realization that the beast of the media still stalks us with the same steps today.



  1. Kim Florio

    I always appreciate your articles. It is encouraging to read of changes in worldview brought about by revelations of truth. As a young girl, I witnessed my mother reading Cosmopolitan and the memory of this still saddens me. These experiences are part of my salvation story at a young age. I would like to read Sue Ellen’ s autobiography as I pray for others to see the beauty of God’s design. Thank you for your work in helping us to be more thoughtful and gracious as we engage in our culture.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kim, and sharing that memory, sad as it is. I have heard a number of women say that it seemed sophisticated back then to read Cosmo, like it was telling us what was really going on. It is a standard media tactic, to attempt to make people feel like a certain viewpoint stands for “every woman” or “every man,” when it is often a viewpoint most or a vast number would disagree with. Good to be aware of this.

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