PBS Continues Probe into Biased Film

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On Nov. 29,
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting issued a
on the Public Broadcasting Service documentary “Breaking
the Silence: Children’s Stories.”
(The CPB oversees the tax-funding
and content of PBS.)

The documentary,
which addressed domestic violence and children, is accused of being
anti-father, factually inaccurate and politically motivated. Using
the words “slanted” and “no hint of balance,” in the report, CPB
Ombudsman Ken A. Bode
concluded, “The producers apparently do
not subscribe to the idea that an argument can be made more convincing
by giving the other side a fair presentation.”

Bode wondered
whether PBS had been used as “the launching pad for a very partisan
effort to drive public policy and law.” If so, the documentary violates
PBS’ mission
to be non-partisan and “provide multiple viewpoints.”

On Dec. 2,
PBS’s own internal ombudsman offered a separate
, “I thought this particular program had almost no balance…turning
it…into more of an advocacy, or point-of-view, presentation.”

“Breaking the
Silence” claims that U.S. divorce courts routinely award custody
of children to abusive fathers over the objection of mothers. It
states, “All over America, battered mothers are losing custody of
their children.”

The theme is
stated provocatively; a custody lawyer for mothers declares, “For
the father to win custody of the kids over and against the mother’s
will is the ultimate victory short of killing the kids.”

The documentary’s
message is clear: the family courts must be overhauled.

Critics argue
that the producers Tatge-Lasseur cherry-picked a few extreme cases
that they then presented them as typical.

But even the
"evidence" embodied by those extreme cases has been assailed.

The documentary
is accused of mischaracterization. For example, Sadia Loeliger is
featured as a heroic mom and survivor of domestic violence. But
the extensive
court documents
, findings and reports reveal Loeliger to be
guilty of multiple acts of child abuse which led to her losing custody
of two daughters.

reveal she was arrested and jailed for felony domestic
violence. No similar documents exist regarding the accused father.

The documentary
contains blatant misstatements. For example, it claims the American
Psychological Association came out against Parental Alienation Syndrome,
by which one divorced parent is said to brainwash a child against
the other. Actually, the APA takes no stand.

Indeed, Tatge-Lasseur
subsequently altered
their website
to state simply that PAS is not recognized by
the APA, a statement which is out-of-sync with the film.

The producers
are accused of misusing data. “Breaking the Silence” offers no substantiation
for its claims but Tatge-Lasseur’s website has a
resource page
. A 1990 Report of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial
Court Gender Bias Study Committee is clearly key to the claim that
abusive fathers commonly receive custody.

They found
that “fathers who actively seek custody [8.75 percent of fathers]
obtain either primary or joint physical custody over 70 percent
of the time.”

As Boston Globe
columnist Cathy Young accurately
, “This is a highly misleading claim [as used in the
documentary] which implies that men usually win custody battles
when they go to court. In fact, the majority of these cases are
uncontested – the fathers have sole or joint custody with the mother’s

Moreover, it
is not clear that a 15-year-old study conducted in one state is
relevant to today’s nationwide family court system, which has changed
dramatically over recent years.

misstatement and misapplied data are damning, but they do not add
up to the additional concern raised by Bode. Was the tax-funded
PBS used as “the launching pad for a very partisan effort to drive
public policy and law?” Other explanations for the apparent bias,
like incompetence or ideological blindness, could be to blame. The
charge of political partisanship requires a higher standard of evidence.

What would
constitute such evidence?

The accused
father claims he provided extensive proof of Loeliger’s child abuse
to Tatge-Lasseur six months before the documentary aired. If the
producers willfully ignored that proof, then they are wide open
to accusations of partisanship
and dishonesty

Feminist and
domestic violence groups organized state-by-state campaigns around
the airing of “Breaking the Silence” with the goal of changing legal

Liberal feminist
Trish Wilson offers an account of the events in Massachusetts
and in Michigan.

If PBS participated
in any of the campaigns, then it is guilty of political partisanship.

Consider the
Alaska event organized by Paige Hodson of Custody
Preparation for Moms
. Hodson announced,
“We have not yet chosen our date, but since we got the PBS affiliate’s
[KAKM] go-ahead today, we can now pick any date we want and start
planning. The local PBS station has said they will help us advertise
and promote our event because we will then in turn promote viewing
of their screening date on 10/20.”

The depth of
PBS’ (or its affiliates’) involvement in partisan politics may be
difficult to judge. An internal
PBS memo
recently leaked and circulated on the Internet instructs
PBS affiliates on how to stonewall those who call or email in protest.
PBS’ final review of the documentary is still pending, but the memo
is hardly a propitious sign.

I believe PBS
should lose all tax privileges and funding, but you need not be
a radical to want a straight answer to a simple question from a
publicly accountable agency.

Did PBS participate
in a partisan push to change the law?

8, 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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