Takes Toll of GreatÂ Newspapers
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"Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent Deaths." With this
front-page headline atop a three-page spread in its Sunday edition,
the Washington Post initiates a three-part series describing
not so much a serious social problem as the further decline of
liberal journalism, as a once-great newspaper descends to the ranks
of the gutter press.
credibility of news organizations like the Post is already in
tatters by revelations of either gullibility or mendacity. Now the
Post seems to think it can salvage its reputation by posing
as the champion of (what else?) pregnant mothers and children. The
ploy is brilliant in its way: clothing an ideologically driven hate
campaign in the cloak of compassion for motherhood. Perhaps they are
acting on the advice of Adolph Hitler, who suggested that if you are
going to tell a lie, you are less likely to get caught telling a big
one. At least one conservative news organization swallowed it:
LifeSiteNews.com took the Post's left spin and re-spun it
right: "The men who fathered the unborn children killed with their
mothers are often the perpetrators of the homicides, after they have
insisted on abortions but their partners have refused."
Anyone who sees this as a defense of motherhood is as
gullible as Dan Rather. It is an appeal to emotion and fear, an
effort to terrify women away from motherhood by suggesting a
"convergence of pregnancy and homicide" that does not exist. Already
the series is creating hysteria on Internet forums.
Post acknowledges it has not a shred of evidence that pregnant women
are in any more danger of murder than anyone else. Its material is
entirely anecdotal. Each installment consists of three pages of
lurid, gruesome stories, with the names of alleged victims displayed
in BOLD CAPITALS, like a war memorial. "Researchers Stunned By Scope
of Slayings," it announces. This is Jerry Springer
Jack Shafer points out in Slate, the first word in the headline is a
suspect journalistic crutch for creating the appearance of news
where none exists: How many is "many"? The Post concedes that
"the cases are not commonplace compared with other homicides, but
are more frequent than most people know." Arguing against what "most
people know" (as if a Post reporter can be privy to the
thoughts of millions) is another trick for sensationalizing the
mundane into the illusion of news.
Though nameless researchers are invoked to lend the cachet of
social science, the story is based on the Post's own
compilation of 1,367 maternal homicides over 14 years, less than a
hundred a year throughout the United States, of which it estimates
seventy are pregnancy-related.
Census Bureau reports that 3.8 million women gave birth during 2002.
If seventy were murdered during this year, a pregnant woman in
America has about a one in 54,000 chance of being murdered.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, during 2002 there
were 6 murder victims per 100,000 population, so the average
American had a one in 17,000 chance of being a victim. It would
appear that pregnant women are more than three times as safe as the
average American. To deal with this, the Post suggests
tripling the documented cases; even so, pregnant women are still
safer than average.
Moreover, despite what the paper insinuates, the victims are
not spread evenly among the population. As Richard Davis of Family
Nonviolence Inc. points out, most victims live with heightened risk
factors such as disadvantaged neighborhoods, financial stress, or
partners with a history of violence, criminality, or psychological
more questionable, the reader must wade through this massive article
to discover that half the "pregnant" women were not, in fact,
pregnant. This supposed slaughter of innocents is based on "an
expanded definition of what qualifies as deaths associated with
pregnancy up to 12 months postpartum."
is cooking the books on a grand scale. First, it doubles the
population from which the cases were drawn, so a woman's risk factor
in this expanded group is actually between one in 38,000 and one in
108,000, less than one-half to one-sixth the national
more seriously, it suggests we are seeing something completely
different from what the Post fervently wants us to see.
Apparently able to read to people's thoughts, the Post often
reiterates that expectant fathers are perpetrating this mayhem to
evade the responsibilities of fatherhood. "When husbands or
boyfriends attack pregnant partners, it usually has to do with an
unwillingness to deal with fatherhood, marriage, child support, or
public scandal," we are told. "If she goes away, the problem goes
away." But this makes no sense. Most perpetrators are arrested,
convicted of murder, and sentenced to decades in prison. As Davis
remarks, "The problem does not go away."
the "expanded definition" indicates is that most are already fathers
who are more likely trying to exercise, not evade, the
responsibilities of fatherhood. What the Post is clothing in
sympathy for pregnant women is much more likely to be violence over
custody and children forcibly separated from their fathers. A
significant moral difference separates a man who kills to avoid
fatherhood from a father who kills because someone has taken away or
otherwise interfered with his children. Justified or not, a
completely different dynamic is at work.
is fairly clear that what we are really seeing here is part of a
much larger phenomenon of truly serious dimensions that the
Post both ignores and distorts: divorce-related violence.
Drexel University researchers, seeking a correlation between
homicide and unemployment, found instead that "the most powerful
predictor of homicide rates in the United States are the divorce
rates." Most of this is directly connected with custody of children.
"Judges and lawyers nationwide agree," reports the California Law
Week, "that family law is the most dangerous area in which to
practice." Dakota County Minnesota District Attorney James Backstrom
attests that family court produces far more violence than criminal
court. "We're most concerned about the people in family court the
child support and divorce cases," he says. "They pose a greater risk
than the criminal defendants."
While fathers are demonized in this series, they are far from
the only ones becoming violent. Only days earlier, the Post
itself reported on a mother convicted of trying to murder her
husband "to gain custody of two young boys." Of course, the Laci
Peterson case is presented as typical. Yet the day before the series
ran, headlines were dominated by a pregnant woman killed by another
woman. Such cases are not mentioned in the series. The killers are
apparently all (in capital letters with ungrammatical but dramatic
stops) "Husbands. Boyfriends. Lovers."
Further complicating the violence, as Davis points out, "Data
document that one in four domestic violence homicides is actually a
homicide/suicide. When the homicide involves both the children and
spouse, approximately half of those homicides result in a
homicide/suicide." This too suggests a strong connection with
custody disputes. The sharp increase in male suicide is largely
custody-related, as psychologist Augustine Kposowa has documented in
the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
kind of distortion has become a pattern at the Post. In April
2003, the paper reported that "one out of every three women"
experiences domestic violence. But the Post's definition of
"violence" is curious. The victims were "abused verbally, mentally,
emotionally, and-or physically by their partners." So most of this
domestic "violence," it turns out, is not actually violent. It is
verbal, mental, and emotional ("or" physical). In other words, it is
a violation of no law and not criminal but whatever the "victim"
says it is. In fact, no evidence indicates that women are the only
or even the primary victims of domestic violence, and a quarter
century of academic research attests they are not. It is well
established that most domestic violence arises during divorce and
child custody. An intact family is the safest place for women and
children. In another meaningless statistic, the Post claimed,
"Child abuse occurs in 70% of families that experience domestic
violence." It is firmly established that child abuse takes place
overwhelmingly in the homes of single mothers; in other words, a
father is the natural protector of his children. The Post
also claimed that "More than 503,400 women in the United States are
stalked by an intimate partner each year." But the US Justice
Department defines stalking as any "nonconsensual communication."
Legally, according to DOJ, a father trying to phone his children is
more scurrilous, just before Fathers' Day 2001 the Post launched a
gratuitous attack on separated fathers with a similar front-page
spread on some that allegedly became violent. By ranging through
twelve states the Post managed to find twelve violent
fathers, most of whom had their children taken away before they
became violent. The Post falsely tried to create the
appearance of an epidemic of violence by fathers where none existed.
The fact that the Post must manufacture its case with lurid
anecdotes and misleading statistics is itself a strong indication
that it has none.
Post is far from unique among once-reputable news
organizations. In April 2003, PBS broadcast a tedious seven-hour
documentary, which faithfully parroted one government cliché after
another but never questioned the government's official line on
domestic violence, which is that it is perpetrated only by men
against women. "Whatever the woman says is what we believe," the
film approvingly shows one police officer saying as a man is led
away in handcuffs. At about the same time, the BBC broadcast an
astounding ten-day blitz on domestic violence that Melanie Phillips
of the Daily Mail called "a propaganda onslaught...with men
targeted for attack here by what might be described as gender
few years ago, bumper stickers were common in the Washington area
reading, "I don't believe the Post." Recall that it was the
Post that initiated the current wave of journalistic hoaxes
with "Jimmy's World," Janet Cooke's Pulitzer Prize-winning but
fabricated tale of an 8-year-old heroine addict. Post
reporter Donna St. George is more subtle but no less mendacious and
probably far more destructive.
the consequences are not harmless. Similar selective use of evidence
is used not only by journalists but by courts in custody proceedings
throughout the United States, where fathers are accused of
"violence" that everyone in the courtroom knows did not take place.
These men lose their children, homes, savings, and future earnings,
and they are incarcerated all without trial and with little
semblance of due process. Now they are even ordered to sign
confessions on pain of incarceration. No one even denies this is
taking place. Domestic violence hysterics only insist that, as
always, the end justifies the means. No news organization exposes
these miscarriages of justice in nine-page spreads or seven-hour
Expect to see more reporting like this. The aim is to renew
funding for the Violence Against Women Act, a massive expansion of
federal police power that not only permits officials to trample
federalist principles and Bill of Rights protections but provides
generous financial incentives for them to do so.
reporting fulfills the worst stereotype of hysterical women, and
illustrates the damage they can do in positions of public trust. By
publishing this pretentious spectacle, the Post declares
itself to be a newspaper for such women. It is a well-known
principle that when any institution becomes associated primarily
with women, men will abandon it in droves. Myriad news sources are
now available for men and women who prefer the truth. The
Post is already said to be losing 4,000 subscribers a month.
I suggest it is time men and honest women simply refuse to buy,
read, or pay further credence to any reports of the Washington
January 7, 2005
Stephen Baskerville [send him
mail] is a political scientist at Howard
University and president of the American Coalition for Fathers and
Copyright © 2005 Stephen Baskerville