Friday, September 15, 2006

PBS Follows Through on Commitment to Air Balanced Program

Feminist distortions finally countered: An email from Glenn Sacks:

Last October PBS aired the film "Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories" on many of its affiliates. The film portrayed fathers as batterers and child molesters who use family court machinations to wrest children away from their mothers. The film was extremely one-sided, and presented a harmful and inaccurate view of divorce and child custody cases. Moreover, the film portrayed one mother as a heroic, victimized mom, when records which we made public show that she had abused children under her care, and had lost custody for that reason.

I joined with Fathers and Families, the American Coalition for Fathers & Children, and others in a campaign to force PBS to "provide fatherhood and shared parenting advocates a meaningful opportunity to present our side of the issues." Over 10,000 of you wrote or called PBS, and both PBS's ombudsman and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's ombudsman echoed our central criticisms about the film.

In December PBS notified us that they would "commission an hour-long documentary" for the purpose of further examining the "complex and important issues" raised in the film and by our campaign. They promised the "hour-long treatment of the subject will allow ample opportunity" for those of differing views to "have their perspectives shared, challenged and debated."

Kids & Divorce: For Better or Worse, the film they commissioned in response to our campaign, aired in Boston last night, and will be airing in several dozen markets over the coming weeks. To PBS's credit, they followed through on the commitment they made last December to produce a balanced film. Moreover, PBS partially adopted the approach we suggested for the film. Earlier this year Fathers & Families wrote to Dave Iverson, the film's producer and host, and suggested that he make shared parenting the central theme of the new PBS film. We are pleased to see that Iverson took the suggestion seriously--much of Kids & Divorce concerns shared parenting.

The film made two overriding points. Much of the mainstream media (particularly left-leaning institutions, of which PBS is one) engages in divorce happy talk. However, from Kids & Divorce's opening moments the film powerfully depicts the way children suffer in divorce. Also, throughout the film it was clear that children want and need both parents, that they are very aggrieved when their parents don't get along, and that two-parent involvement is important after divorce.

The film also had its weaknesses. The film devoted much time to the ways in which conflict between parents is bad for children, but did not devote enough to why such conflicts exist. My belief is that much post-divorce conflict is because the playing field is not level, and mothers believe, often correctly, that if they push hard they can drive fathers out of their children's lives. The film focused too much on "can't we all just get along" generalities instead of on the need to protect both parents' right to have a relationship with their children.

Judicial discretion in divorce cases was defended in the film without pointing out the harm that excessive discretion can create. Shared Parenting was criticized as a "cookie cutter" or "one size fits all solution." However, Ned Holstein, president of Fathers & Families, refuted this in the film, pointing out that we already have a cookie cutter--sole custody to mom, dad gets every other weekend visitation.

Women's advocate Dr. Peter Jaffe said that Shared Parenting "coerces" women into co-parenting arrangements with their abusers. Psychologist Dr. Richard Warshak, who made several excellent points in the film, pointed out that Shared Parenting presumptions do not apply when there is domestic violence. However, nobody pointed out that the presumption of sole custody to mom coerces fathers to relinquish much of their fatherhood after a divorce.

The film also devoted much time to divorce education and collaborative law, particularly in the first half. Both of these can be good things, but their utility is limited without a level playing field.

However, I do not want to belabor the film's negatives. PBS spent a considerable amount of money on the film, and made an honest and effective effort to be balanced. The film had many positives, particularly in the second half. Some of them include:

1) The film provided a detailed and very positive depiction of a divorced couple practicing Shared Parenting, including an interview with the divorced couple's 16 year-old son and 12 year-old daughter. The boy emphasized the importance of having the love of both his parents.

2) The film made it clear that kids do not like seeing their other parent badmouthed or belittled. Three times the film quoted a young boy who thanked his mom for ceasing her badmouthing of the boy's father.

3) The film pointed out that it's important that each parent accommodate their children's desire for contact with the other parent. For example, we were told that when a child tells his or her mother that he or she misses dad, the mother's best response is a cheerful "OK, let's call him."

4) Los Angeles County Family Mediator Ernest Sanchez applauded a father who came into his court and stood up and repeatedly asserted that he was a father, "not a visitor" in his child's life. Sanchez also brought up the need to "equalize the playing field."

5) I expected a large focus on domestic violence and monster dads, and was pleasantly surprised to see that while this side was represented fairly, it was not given undue weight. In fact, Iverson said "domestic violence is a factor in only a small number of divorce cases," and this assertion was repeated later in the film.

6) In the final segments Dr. Richard Warshak was excellent, bringing home many of our movement's key points. He discussed the way custodial parents "use their extra time with their children" to turn them against or alienate them from the other parent. Warshak agreed with Jaffe that we must protect kids from domestic violence but also said we must protect them from the "emotional violence" of parental alienation. Surprisingly, Jaffe did (briefly) concede that there is too much alienating behavior by parents in divorces.

7) Underscoring the film's central message that kids need two parents, not two warring parties, one child caught in the middle of a divorce said "I don't want to vote."

8) The film showed a meeting of Fathers & Families where two dads briefly described how painful their separations from their children are. One of them is a quadriplegic who can't see his kids because of a domestic violence restraining order. Unfortunately, the filmmakers failed to point out or depict how absurd this is.

9) The film showed Ned Holstein lobbying at the Massachusetts capital and quoted him as saying that before you even get into the courtroom, you can tell which parent is going to win custody--"it's the parent wearing the skirt."

10) In the film Iowa state legislator Danny Carroll said something we hear all too rarely. Carroll never knew his father. However, he did not make the standard assumption that because dad wasn't there he must be at fault or have "abandoned" the family. Instead he explained that he didn't really know why his dad wasn't there, and speculated that if there had been a presumption for Shared Parenting when he was a child, perhaps he would have had his father in his life. He is one of the main legislative supporters of the Iowa shared parenting law, which the film discussed.

11) Our opponents often say that divorced couples can't co-parent, so it's best to give sole custody to mothers. In the film Dr. Isolina Ricci asserted that "most parents can co-parent" and emphasized the importance of co-parenting after a divorce.

12) In closing, Hofstra Law Professor Andrew Schepard accurately described the problems in divorce and family law as a "public health problem," and Warshak emphasized the need for post-divorce parenting plans which do not have a "secondary parent."

In summation, we've come a long way in a year. We never asked PBS to pull or cease airing Breaking the Silence. Instead we asserted that there is another side to these issues which merits an airing. We succeeded. Last fall on PBS dads were portrayed as evil, scheming abusers. This week dads were portrayed as an important and valued part of their children's lives. Thanks again to all who participated.


Breakfast food company Kellogg's has come under fire from animal lovers furious about a television advert showing a man riding a dog like a horse. Nearly 100 complaints have been made against the new Crunchy Nut Cornflakes advert, which shows a very small man finishing work and riding home on the back of an Irish Wolfhound. Dog lovers say the behaviour in the scene is cruel and could be copied by children.

However, no action is to be taken by the Advertising Standards Authority, which has dismissed the complaints. It says viewers would be able to spot that the scenes were computer-generated.

In the advert, the man is seen riding the dog home from work. Text at the bottom of the screen reads: "Don't try this with your dog at home." After the man arrives home, milk is poured on to a bowl of the cereal by what appears to be the dog's paw. The man is then seen sitting at his kitchen table eating it.

A spokesman for Kellogg's said the idea of their advertising campaign was to depict methods of transport that are so unfeasible they defied reality. Kellogg's said a vet was present at the shoot to ensure the well-being of the animal. It added that no one actually rode the dog.

The Advertising Standards Authority cleared the advert, providing it was shown away from programmes that children could watch.



Yesterday, three convicted animal rights extremists received prison sentences in a New Jersey courtroom ranging from four to six years. Along with their organization, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) USA, they were also ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the company their members terrorized. A fourth SHAC member was handed a three-year sentence this morning, and two more will learn their fate next week. They were convicted in March of using a website to incite threats and harassment against employees of a medical research company that uses animals. You can rest assured that SHAC sympathizers will spin these convictions as a blow to free speech. But as we wrote today in New Jersey's Home News Tribune:

Like true terror masterminds, these six took protecting lab rats past the point of earnest debate and honest persuasion, choosing instead to orchestrate a destructive crusade. Was it terrorism? You decide. The campaign included death threats, overturned cars, bombings and front-lawn midnight protests complete with chants of "Let's burn his house to the ground" ... Real people with real families were terrified ...

Dozens of organizations in this nationwide movement want what SHAC wants: an end to medical experiments using animals ... Some are familiar. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Humane Society of the United States. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Animal Liberation Front. As varied as their names and tactics are, these groups all share a common goal: "Liberating" animals, regardless of the cost to humanity.

Activist of all stripes -- no matter how twisted their ideology -- are free to engage in mature dialogue and public advocacy. This is America, after all. But yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre isn't "free speech." Neither is threatening to burn the theatre to the ground.

And just as we expect responsible citizens to abide by certain rules of democratic decency, we also expect them to express remorse for their wrong-doings. Throughout the SHAC trial and sentencing, though, all six defendants have remained disturbingly unapologetic. As one federal prosecutor told The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I'm struck by the fact that we've been through three sides of the sentencing and so far we haven't heard anyone say, "I'm sorry." And there are victims here today who perhaps would like to hear them apologize.


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