Harry Reid: Smoke, mirrors and misandry
By Paul Elam
On February 22, Senator Harry Reid stood on the senate floor, telling fellow legislators and the American people that we needed to pass the new jobs bill because "Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive." Of course he added for the benefit of his female constituents that "Women aren't abusive most of the time."
The subtext here is clear. We don't need to create jobs because American men are suffering from unemployment and are finding it tough to provide security for their families. We need jobs so those abusers-waiting-to-happen don't take out their frustrations on their wives by beating the crap out of them. If that's the case, perhaps we should just divert VAWA funding to the jobs bill and kill two birds with one stone. Or is that expression too violent?
Thing is, of course, Reid is entirely out of line. Domestic violence is roughly a 50-50 proposition; a now well known fact that is commonly ignored for the sake of political expedience and bloated government programs. It's a matter not so shocking in our political system. Politicians lie for money and votes, and we have come to expect as much without getting too troubled over it.
We do, however, expect their lies to have at least a vague resemblance to the truth. And when they don't, we can usually expect the media to check things out and play gotcha for the sake of making their own money. We can expect them to do some truth mining on just about everything politicians say, from statements about the need for bailout money to the particulars of health care reform. Everything, that is, except in the realm of socio-sexual politics.
But the conduct of both politicians and the mainstream media following Reid's gaffe are leave more questions than answers.
Like many concerned citizens, I contacted Reid's Washington office and spoke with his press office about his statement. They would not discuss it over the phone but asked for my email address, and sure enough within a couple of minutes I got an email claiming that Reid was accurate, citing a 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on domestic violence.
The only problem is that the study didn't support Reid's claims at all. In fact, it contradicts him entirely. I had to run it down myself because the link they sent me went to a "page not found" message. I suppose that explains why they didn't read it carefully, or perhaps they didn't expect me to.
While the study confirms that financial stress (unemployment) is one variable in predictors of domestic violence, it doesn't assert anywhere that the violence correlates any more in men than it does in women. It is a generic analysis of factors that exacerbate problems of violence in the home, but, don't even mention gender, much less support Reid's claims.
His press office is simply waving a piece of paper and saying "We have documentation!" And they do. Documentation of Reid's unquestionable skills with smoke and mirrors.
Being the intrepid investigator that I am, I decided to go one giant step further than Reid's office and actually look for some facts. What I found was that Reid has no support for his statement at all. The one study that comes closest is a 2004 report by the National Institute for Justice. They found that the risk of intimate partner violence goes up for women incrementally with each period of repeated unemployment by their male partners.
But in the politically rich environment of "justice" studies, there are other factors that elucidate matters more clearly than the study itself.
That last one is a matter of some significance. Unemployment is caused by a number of reasons other than a bad economy. Mental illness, alcoholism and drug abuse among others, all known to have an impact on the incidence of violence. Chronic unemployment, even in a bad economy, is usually indicative of other overarching difficulties. So attributing it to intimate partner violence without the consideration of other factors is like offering the following
That outlandish and myopic conclusion is, scientifically speaking, no less valid at all than Harry Reid's statements. This is why the National Institute for Justice Study couldn't, with any credibility, generalize their findings to men. It is the same reason Harry can't either. Unless he is just trying to increase his chances for reelection and doesn't care how he gets there.
Were Reed the only culprit, this would be a slam dunk for the truth. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Elements on the media are now coordinating to help Reid spin the story away from what he said into a different dialogue.
CNN nationally televised proof of that when they broadcast a "fact check" on Reid's comments, the night after he addressed the senate, and supported his claims. They did so by waving the same study by the CDC, which they, like Reid, either didn't bother to read or didn't mind that the study wasn't supportive of his position. Apparently their research into the matter consisted of a phone call to Reid's press office, and retrieving a shopworn rubber stamp from a correspondents desk drawer.
CNN offered a little extra help in the process. They switched the focus of the message, citing that financial stress did result in increased domestic violence, but they seamlessly pulled back from pinning that on men when drawing their conclusion. In doing so they validated Reid without even addressing what he said.
Players in the print media have followed suit as well. In a glaring example of playing fast and loose with headlines, the Las Vegas Sun, who has given Reid glowing editorial endorsement, announces that "Domestic Violence Workers Find Truth in Harry Reid's Jobless Comments."
The story under that headline was straight out of the CNN playbook, with some added refinement. And it appears that the Sun assumes readers won't be any more interested in the content of their articles than the average CNN viewer is interested in the factual conclusions of a CDC study on domestic violence. For within the body of that article the truth starts to raise it's inconvenient head, making the headline read, in retrospect, like the shameless snow job that it is.
First a telling quote for the paper from Reid himself. He says, in defense of his remarks, "I'm just telling you what two people working in the field say every day. There is no question that people being out of work causes more people to be involved in domestic violence."
Aye, there's the rub. So it's people now who commit domestic violence. Heck, they don't even commit it, they become involved in it. This is where Reid continues with what CNN started and begins to further remold the story himself. Caught with his political pants down, uttering a bald falsehood, he now joins the enlightened and informed intelligentsia, addressing domestic violence in oh so open minded gender neutral terms. Smart fella', that Harry, unless you are paying attention.
The rest of the Sun article reveals more.
Maria Outcalt, a spokesperson for SafeNet, a domestic violence outreach group, is quoted in the article as saying "People that are not abusive are not all of the sudden going to become abusive because they lose their job. Abusive behavior is not just because somebody is having a hard time."
Another quote was provided by Sue Meuschke, the director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence. "The economy doesn't cause domestic violence, but certainly economic conditions can impact the circumstances."
In all the quotes, including one that directly affirmed Reid's remarks, all the language was sex neutral.
It has all the appearances of a massively organized spin machine. The focus is being taken off the sexist and unsupported remarks by Reid, and reframed into a sexless dialogue designed to diffuse reactions to what he actually said. Reid and the media are doing the two step together, and counting on the public not to notice that they changed the tune in the middle of the dance.
And it may be a desperate last move for Reid. For the first time since taking office, his senate seat is not secure. He is lagging in polls, and come the next election, he could be out of a job.
Perhaps his wife should contact a shelter and make her escape plan now.