Gender newspeak at Newsweek
By Carey Roberts
Now for tonight's "Behind the News" story:
Reneging on its duty to report the news fairly and accurately, the mainstream media now resorts to fake scandals and faux-tography to keep the audience entertained and its numbers juiced up. Nowhere is that more true than at Newsweek magazine.
Remember last year when Newsweek made the claim that military interrogators at Guantanamo had flushed a Koran down the toilet? But when 25,000 pages of documents failed to support the incendiary claim, Newsweek was forced to retract the account. But not before 16 persons died during ugly anti-American riots.
Then the Valerie Plame brouhaha came along. Vice president Dick Cheney and other administration officials were accused of outing Plame, a CIA operative, to punish Bush's political enemies. Newsweek, CBS, and the rest of the mainstream media pounced on the story like horseflies drawn to barnyard manure.
But last month State Department bureaucrat Richard Armitage admitted that he was the source of the leak. Maybe the sham accusation wasn't a shining moment for investigative journalism, but it sure made for a lot of good copy.
Having elbowed their way into the competitive ranks of Glamour and the National Enquirer, the editors at Newsweek could not afford to rest on their laurels.
So recently they ran the article, "Fighting over the Kids" by reporter Sarah Childress. Everyone knows fathers gain child custody only 15% of the time. Yet Childress makes the claim that family courts are actually biased against moms.
How did Childress reach that conclusion?
Here's the logic: When battered wives ask for a divorce, their husbands try to wrangle joint custody of the kids. Then to win the sympathy of the divorce judge, they accuse the wife of parental alienation.
In support of this controversial claim, Childress trots out two surveys.
First she cites a study by Jay Silverman. But Silverman's conclusions are based on interviews with a grand total of 39 self-selected Massachusetts women. And he doesn't provide an iota of hard evidence to back up the ladies' claims. Beginning to sound like advocacy research?
Then Cal State psychology professor Geraldine Stahly weighs in with her study. But what's the name of the article? Was it ever printed in a respectable journal? Were the respondents cherry-picked to provide a pre-set answer? Let's just call it junk science.
George Orwell's classic, Nineteen Eight-Four, describes Newspeak as a lingo that does away with dodgy words like "thought" and reduces everything to polar opposites like good and ungood. This spells the eventual demise of the English language, which soon becomes known as Oldspeak.
Orwell predicts, "By 2050 – earlier, probably – all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared … Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery' when the concept of freedom has been abolished?"
Here's a good example of Newspeak a la Sarah Childress: "Although men are sometimes battered by their wives, women are the victims in the majority of abuse cases."
Childress uses the words battering and abuse to mean the same thing, when in fact true "battering" occurs in only a tiny fraction of "abuse" cases. But the problem is not just semantic sloppiness, because Childress' claim is downright false.
University of New Hampshire researcher Murray Straus recently released his latest findings about dating violence in American couples. When severe violence occurs, in 28% of cases it's a female perpetrator and 15% of the time, the man is the aggressor. For the remaining 57% of cases, both the man and the woman are mixing it up.
Ironically, even though women are more likely to be the abuser, it's wives who are more likely to level allegations of abuse that turn out to be false.
According to a report from the Independent Women's Forum, 85% of requests for protection orders are made by women. And to what end? "Everyone knows that restraining orders and orders to vacate are granted to virtually all who apply," notes Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. "In many cases, allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage."
Now, 47 states have laws on the books that require family judges to consider such allegations or findings when they make child custody decisions. [www.mediaradar.org/docs/Perverse-Incentives.pdf] When life-altering decisions are based on false or trivial allegations, it's the children who lose out.
But at Newsweek, nobody seems to be speaking out against Newspeak. And that's tonight's report. Now back to you, Katie.
Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.