Homicide Takes Toll of Great 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.

The
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.

The
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 journalism.

As
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.

The
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 problems.

Even
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.”

This
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 average.

But
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.”

What
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.

It
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.

This
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 “stalking.”

Even
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.

The
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 fascism.”

A
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.

For
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 documentaries.

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.

This
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 Post.

January
7, 2005

Stephen
Baskerville
[send him mail]
is a political scientist at Howard University and president of the
American Coalition for Fathers and Children.

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