Monday, November 21, 2005

PBS's negative picture of fathers

Boston.com

Cathy Young has weighed in on the PBS "documentary" Breaking the Silence.

Cathy also has her own blog, The Y Files, and you can see her post directly related to PBS here.

PBS's negative picture of fathers
By Cathy Young

Excerpts:

The film's point is simple: Children in America are routinely ripped from their mothers and given to fathers who are batterers or molesters. The women's claims of abuse are not believed by the courts and are even held against them when mothers are suspected of manufacturing false charges as a divorce strategy.

To fathers' groups, ''Breaking the Silence" is blatant antidad propaganda. In a campaign led by the Boston-based Fathers and Families, PBS has been bombarded with thousands of calls and letters. It is now conducting a 30-day review of the research used in the film.

There is no question that our legal system fails children all too often. But the PBS documentary presents a skewed and sensationalist picture.

The website of the film's producers, Tatge/Lasseur productions, lists two sources for these claims: a study of 39 abused women involved in custody litigation in Massachusetts, and the 1990 report of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Study Committee which states that fathers who actively seek custody obtain primary or joint physical custody over 70 percent of the time.

But the 70 percent figure was not limited to domestic violence cases. It is also highly misleading, since it doesn't separate custody disputes from cases in which the father gets custody by mutual consent. In contested custody cases, mothers are two to four times more likely to prevail.

Lasseur told me that if he had encountered cases in which an abusive mother was awarded custody of the children, he would have reported on them. I asked about the claim on a battered men's advocacy site that a man named Tom Gallen had approached him with exactly such a case. Lasseur conceded that Gallen had a well-documented story but explained that, relying on his ''instinct as a producer," he felt that Gallen wouldn't be the right person to use.

The filmmakers contend that their only concern was the well-being of children. Yet, if the film contributes to a climate in which fathers who seek custody are tagged as suspected abusers, it could endanger children as well. PBS should rectify this bias by presenting programs with a different point of view.

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