PBS Film Ignites Fathers' Rights Debate

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A father is
demanding a public retraction from the Public Broadcasting System
and threatening to sue for libel after the network broadcast a show
that he says wrongly portrayed him as an abusive husband and father.

Dr. Scott Loeliger
says the producers of the show ignored extensive court findings,
records and testimony that he claims prove it was his ex-wife, and
not he, who abused their daughter and her half-sister. (See copies
of court documents, testimonials, expert reports, etc.

Loeliger, a
medical doctor in Northern California, says he provided documentation
of the mother’s abuse to a co-producer of the show, “Breaking the
Silence: Children’s Stories,” six months before it aired, and that
his pleas to have his case removed from the show were ignored.

Aired by PBS
on Oct. 20, the much-publicized
presents “children and battered mothers [who] tell
their stories of abuse at home and continued trauma within the courts,”
which allegedly return children to abusive parents.

A spokeswoman
for PBS, Director of Corporate Communications Jan McNamara, says
the accuracy of “Breaking the Silence” is under “official review.”

In the show,
Loeliger’s daughter, identified as Amina, now 16, says: “My father
has a way of making important people…[believe]…he is a good
father and he has never done anything wrong and that I am almost
crazy and abusive.”

But Loeliger
says Amina’s mother lost custody of Amina and her half-sister on
Aug. 19, 1998, when a Tulare County, Calif., juvenile court found
her liable for eight counts of child abuse, including physical abuse.

Loeliger received
full custody of Amina in 1998; a torturous custody battle ensued
over the next six years until, at Amina’s request, full custody
was returned to the mother in 2004.

Last April,
the father provided documentation of his ex-wife’s abuse to co-producer
Dominique Lasseur of Tatge-Lasseur, a New York-based production

Five letters
ensued, two from Loeliger’s attorney, Dennis Roberts.

Loeliger demanded
the removal of the segment with Amina and her mother. Lasseur responded
by email, “whatever may have happened in…” Amina’s…”early childhood,
the courts at this time are not persuaded by your arguments and
have awarded physical custody…to her mother.”

Lasseur gave
assurance that real names would not be used and extended a disclaimer
to Loeliger, who refused to be interviewed for the documentary.
The father explained, “I didn’t want to be on national TV ‘outing’
my daughter as a liar or debating about her life.”

The disclaimer
is displayed at the end of the segment featuring Amina and her mother.
It reads, “Amina’s father…contends that her mother deliberately
alienated her from him. He is trying to regain physical custody
of her through court proceedings.”

The controversy
is broader than one father’s protest.

The show argues
against what has become a cause clbre in the father’s rights movement:
Parental Alienation
(PAS). PAS is said to occur when one parent willfully
causes a child to become indifferent or hateful towards the other
parent. Father’s rights advocates point to PAS to explain the hostility
and accusations expressed by some children toward alienated parents,
usually fathers.

Critics of
the fathers’ rights movement and “Breaking the Silence” contend
that PAS does not exist as a valid psychiatric syndrome.

National radio
host Glenn Sacks launched a campaign to protest what he called the
film’s “extremely one-sided” “harmful and inaccurate view of divorce
and child custody cases.”

In an article
entitled “PBS
Declares War on Dads”
, Sacks not only disputed the premise of
the documentary – that courts assign custody to abusive fathers
– but also its use of statistics. PBS has reportedly received over
6,000 protest calls, emails and letters.

Women’s rights
organizations have launched a counter-effort.
The National Organization for Women advised
their membership to send emails of support to PBS, noting, “Your
emails are especially important, as we know that PBS is being flooded
with emails from bogus ‘fathers’ rights’ activists opposing the
airing of the film.”

The documentary’s
ultimate credibility may hinge on one question: does it incorrectly
portray Amina’s mother as an heroic mom instead of a child abuser?

argument that he and the mother have been misrepresented has precedent.
Loeliger says he first learned of the accusations of his abuse through
a Jan. 20, 2005 Davis
Enterprise article
titled “Teen Turns Tug-of-War Lessons
Into Message.” It claimed that Loeliger had verbally and physically
abused his daughter.

On April 5,
the Enterprise published a retraction and an apology to Loeliger,
stating that the story “contained many factual inaccuracies.”

The stakes
on a comparable apology from PBS are high.

Amina has become
one of the public faces of child abuse promoted by organizations
such as the Courageous
Kids Network
(CKN), a California group that endorsed “Breaking
the Silence.” CKN is self-described as “a growing group of young
people, whose childhood was shattered by biased and inhumane court
rulings, which forced us to live with our abusive parent, while
restricting or sometimes completely eliminating contact with our
loving and protective parent.”

Such advocates
point to “Breaking the Silence” as a reason to reform the family
court system. But Loeliger and father’s rights advocates demand
verification for the stories and statistics upon which future policy
may be based.

Both sides
are in eloquent agreement on one point: they wish to protect children.

12, 2005

McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

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