Monday, January 23, 2006

Maligning fathers

This is the latest Boston Globe article by Cathy Young. You can always visit Cathy at her blog - The Y Files.

Click on the article title to read it in full.

Maligning fathers

Excerpts:

LAST NOVEMBER, I wrote about the controversy about the Public Broadcasting Service documentary, ''Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories," which claimed that male batterers and child abusers frequently gain custody of their children in divorce cases after the mothers' claims of abuse are disbelieved by the courts. The film caused an outcry from fathers' rights groups. In response to these protests, PBS announced a 30-day review to determine whether the film met the editorial guidelines for fairness and accuracy.

Unfortunately, it seems that the review amounted to little more than a whitewash.

On Dec. 21, PBS issued a statement acknowledging that the film ''would have benefited from more in-depth treatment of the complex issues," but also concluded that ''the producers approached the topic with the open-mindedness and commitment to fairness that we require of our journalists" and that the program's claims were supported by ''extensive" research.

Connecticut Public Television, which co-produced ''Breaking the Silence," has supplied me with two detailed reports -- one from producer Dominique Lasseur, the other from Lasseur and George Washington University law professor Joan Meier, the film's lead expert -- on which PBS drew to support its conclusion. To call these reports shoddy and self-serving would be an understatement.

Defending the claim made in ''Breaking the Silence" that children are in greater danger of abuse from fathers than from mothers, Lasseur and Meier point to several limited studies that often lump together biological fathers with stepfathers and mothers' boyfriends (who, statistically, pose a far higher risk). Yet even these cherry-picked statistics show that a significant proportion of perpetrators of severe child abuse are mothers -- which makes the film's exclusive focus on abusive fathers difficult to defend.

Lasseur and Meier profess to be shocked that anyone could see the film as collectively maligning divorced fathers when it focuses only on abusive fathers in contested custody cases. Yet the film clearly suggests that if a divorcing father decides to fight for custody, chances are he's a batterer who's using the custody suit as an abuse tactic -- and that if he's accused of abuse, he's most probably guilty. And that's not prejudicial?

Notably, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler and especially Corporation for Public Broadcasting ombudsman Ken Bode have taken a far more negative view of the film than did the PBS review. On Jan. 4, Bode wrote, ''After close review including discussions and e-mail exchanges with those involved with the program or closely affected by it, I found the program to be so totally unbalanced as to fall outside the boundaries of PBS editorial standards on fairness and balance."

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