Debunking the `Day of Dread' for Women; Data Lacking for Claim of Domestic Violence Surge

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Debunking the `Day of Dread' for Women; Data Lacking for Claim of Domestic Violence Surge After Super Bowl Byline: Ken Ringle 01/31/93 THE WASHINGTON POST As the beer cools and the testosterone surges on this mega-day of professional football, a network of feminist activists has orchestrated a national campaign to ask males to stop beating their wives and girlfriends after the Super Bowl. In an effort to combat what the Associated Press and CBS have labeled a "day of dread" for women, the organizers have prevailed on NBC, broadcaster of the Super Bowl, to air a public service announcement against wife-beating before tonight's big game. "Domestic violence is a crime," the announcer intones. Despite their dramatic claims, none of the activists appears to have any evidence that a link actually exists between football and wife-beating. Yet the concept has gained such credence that their campaign has rolled on anyway, unabated. Last week, it produced:A news conference near Super Bowl Central in Pasadena, Calif., declaring Super Bowl Sunday "the biggest day of the year for violence against women." An interview on "Good Morning America" in which Denver psychiatrist Lenore Walker claimed to have compiled a 10-year record of violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays. A story in the Boston Globe declaring that women's shelters and violence hot lines are "flooded with more calls from victims {on Super Bowl Sunday} than any day of the year." Announcement of a nationwide phone bank to field calls about domestic violence during the Super Bowl and seek funds for the phone bank, by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog group with an active feminist wing. A public relations mailing from Dobisky Associates in Keene, N.H., warning at-risk women: "Don't remain alone with him during the game." Some experts on domestic violence, however, are dubious. "You're dealing in an area where there's a lot more folklore than fact," said David Silber, chairman of the Department of Psychology at George Washington University and a longtime scholar of domestic violence. "I know of no study documenting any such link" between football and/or Super Bowls and domestic violence. "And I know the literature very well." "I don't think anybody has any systematic data on any of this," said Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist and author of "Battered Women Who Kill." Yet Ewing is quoted in the release from Dobisky Associates declaring "Super Bowl Sunday is one day in the year when hot lines, shelters and other agencies that work with battered women get the most reports and complaints of domestic violence." "I never said that," Ewing said. "I don't know that to be true." Told of Ewing's response, Frank Dobisky acknowledged that the quote should have read "one of the days of the year." That could mean one of many days in the year. The news conference in Pasadena Thursday cited a study purporting to document a link between domestic violence in Northern Virginia and games played by the Washington Redskins in 1988-89. According to an AP story on the conference, Sheila Kuehl, managing lawyer of the California Women's Law Center, said a study by sociologists at Old Dominion University in Norfolk found police reports of beatings and hospital admissions in Northern Virginia rose 40 percent after games won by the Washington Redskins during those years. But when asked about that assertion, Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion and one of the authors of that study, said "that's not what we found at all. " One of the most notable findings, she said, was that an increase of emergency room admissions "was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general, nor with watching a team lose." When they looked at win days alone, however, they found that the number of women admitted for gunshot wounds, stabbings, assaults, falls, lacerations and wounds from being hit by objects was slightly higher than average. But certainly not 40 percent. "These are interesting but very tentative findings, suggesting what violence there is from males after football may spring not from a feeling of defensive insecurity, which you'd associate with a loss, but from the sense of empowerment following a win. We found that significant. But it certainly doesn't support what those women are saying in Pasadena," Katz said. Kuehl, who described the study at the news conference in Pasadena, could not be reached at her office. She later returned the call but did not leave a number where she could be reached. Linda Mitchell of FAIR, who appeared at the news conference with Kuehl and made similar links between domestic violence and Super Bowl Sunday, said she recognized at the time that Kuehl was misrepresenting the Old Dominion study. Did she, as a representative of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, challenge her colleague? "I wouldn't do that in front of the media," Mitchell said. "She has a right to report it as she wants." And what of psychiatrist Walker, who made the case on "Good Morning America" for the link between domestic violence and football? She was out of town when called Friday, but her office referred callers to Michael Lindsey, a Denver psychotherapist and authority on battered women. "I haven't been any more successful than you in tracking down any of this," Lindsey said. And the Boston Globe article, citing "one study of women's shelters out west" that "showed a 40 percent climb in calls" to shelters and hot lines on Super Bowl Sunday? Globe reporter Lynda Gorov said she never saw the study but had been told about it by FAIR. FAIR's Mitchell said the authority on it was Walker. Walker's office referred callers to Lindsey. "You think," Lindsey asked, "maybe we have one of these myth things here?" Could be. Part of what's going on, apparently, is the twin phenomena of media convergence and media orchestration, in which causists show up wherever the most TV lenses are focused, hoping to piggyback their message out to a global audience of millions. Said author/psychologist Ewing: "It's true there may be an agenda on the part of some people to have this issue put forward just now. They can force NBC to put on those {public service} spots." In her appearance on "Good Morning America" with Walker, FAIR Women's Desk coordinator Laura Flanders said NBC's broadcast of the public service spot was the result of a "nationwide campaign" mobilized by FAIR and groups like the Women's Action Coalition and "national and statewide anti-domestic violence coalitions." However, NBC spokesman Curt Block said the anti-abuse coalition was "only one of many groups hoping to get their message out to the very large Super Bowl audience" and said NBC made the decision to help them "because their cause is a good one" and not because of any link, real or imagined, between domestic violence and football. As for the anecdotal evidence of such a link that the advocates cite, Ewing said, "I think the best you could do would be to go to some women's shelters and ask people." Dan Byrne, coordinator for domestic violence at the House of Ruth here in the District, said "we've never run any figures" on such things after the Super Bowl or Redskins games. If there had been the sort of major yearly increase feminist critics of the Super Bowl were describing, wouldn't it have come to his attention? "Well, yes." And had it? "No." Grace Osini, educational coordinator at the District shelter called My Sister's Place, said flatly that her shelter has noted "no increase at all" in calls or admissions after either the Super Bowl or any other football game. "I'm a sociologist myself," she said. "When I heard those figures on television, they didn't add up to me either." "You know," Lindsey said, "I hate this. I've devoted 14 years of my life trying to bring to the public's attention the very serious problem of battered women. And when people make crazy statements like this, the credibility of the whole cause can go right out the window." Football's Day of Dread 02/05/93 WALL STREET JOURNAL It was not unlike Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" -- the radio broadcast whose report of an invasion from another planet produced panic among gulled listeners. But this time it wasn't the public that panicked. Shortly before Super Bowl Sunday, word went forth from a devoutly progressive media "watchdog" group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) that on the big football day wives and girlfriends en masse could expect to be battered and assaulted by the man of the house. And indeed, NBC broadcast a somber public service spot before the game, announcing that "domestic violence is a crime." Word went forth also that "studies" existed, proving that woman-battering by football-crazed husbands and boyfriends rose by an astounding 40% on Super Bowl Sundays -- that battered women's shelters were besieged on this day by calls for help. Thus, FAIR's specter of shelters' staffs grimly awaiting the blood-drenched tides of victims seeking refuge from males run amok during the Bills and Cowboys game. All these pronouncements were received as sacred writ by an entirely credulous army of journalists. We are talking here, after all, about the toughest investigative battalions. But feed them a story about mass victimization and how the women of the nation have to go into hiding on a certain Sunday of the year, and they have no questions. In addition to the air time given this myth by NBC, ABC and CBS, the Boston Globe reported, "Domestic violence hot lines light up as game kicks off. . . ." The San Francisco Examiner recorded the reflections of a woman remembering how she walked down a San Francisco street having "this feeling of dread" during a game, because there were sure to be so many battered women that night. Michael Collier of the Oakland Tribune wrote with evident assurance that the Super Bowl causes "boyfriends, husbands and fathers" who watch the game to "explode like mad linemen leaving girlfriends, wives and children beaten." A Toronto Star writer instructed readers that "the Super Bowl's most brutal hits will occur in living rooms across Canada and the United States." The list of media believers who embraced the story goes on and on. The Super Bowl ring, however, goes to an exceedingly anxious Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times: "A big game electrifies the rec-room with violent action and sexy advertising, heightening male-female tensions, creating a climate of aggression. . . . Someone shut up that kid or someone's going to get pounded." There was one exception to all this. The Washington Post's Ken Ringle decided to look into the Day of Dread story. He pursued an arcane reporting technique that has apparently slipped from favor: Mr. Ringle called up the source of the original story to ask if it were true. The basis for the FAIR activists' sensational assertions about Super Bowl Sunday was an Old Dominion University study that, they said, concluded that beatings and hospital admissions rose 40% after Washington Redskins' football victories. "That's not what we found at all," Professor Janet Katz, one of the authors of the study, told Mr. Ringle. There were some "very tentative findings" about women receiving treatment after televised football games, but the study "certainly doesn't support what these women are saying," the professor concluded. FAIR's publicists, Dobisky Associates, also quoted forensic psychologist Charles Patrick Ewing as having declared Super Bowl Sunday a day when agencies get most reports of domestic battering and violence. Mr. Ewing told the Post: "I never said that." Further, "I don't know that to be true." David Silber, the chairman of the psychology department at George Washington University and an expert on domestic violence told the Post's reporter: "I know of no study documenting any such link" between domestic violence and football. "And I know the literature very well." FAIR representative Linda Mitchell said that she recognized during a Super Bowl news conference that an attorney for the California Women's Law Center was misrepresenting the Old Dominion study. But this member of a media watchdog group devoted to "fairness and accuracy" hadn't corrected her colleague's statements, believing that "she has a right to report it as she wants." There's some fear that this fiasco has hurt the credibility of efforts to curtail the beating of spouses. Not so. It has mainly hurt the relationship between groups like FAIR and reporters whose sympathies get in the way of doing their jobs right. A skeptical eye When feminists cite figures, better recheck facts 07/10/94 ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS MEMO: Christina Hoff Sommers is professor of philosophy at Clark University. This article, which first appeared in the National Review, is adapted from her book ``Who Stole Feminism?'' (Simon & Schuster). In Revolution from Within, Gloria Steinem informed her readers that "in this country alone . . . about 150,000 females die of anorexia each year." That is more than three times the annual number of auto fatalities. Steinem refers readers to Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth, where one again finds the statistic, along with the author's outrage. "How," Wolf asks, "would America react to the mass self-immolation by hunger of its favorite sons?" Where did Wolf get her figures? Her source is Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease by Joan Brumberg, former director of women's studies at Cornell University. She, too, is fully aware of the political significance of the startling statistic. She points out that the women who study eating problems "seek to demonstrate that these disorders are an inevitable consequence of a misogynistic society that demeans women . . . by objectifying their bodies." Brumberg, in turn, attributes the figure to the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association. I called the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association and spoke to Dr. Diane Mickley, its president. "We were misquoted," she said. In a 1985 newsletter the association had referred to 150,000 to 200,000 sufferers (not fatalities) of anorexia nervosa. What is the correct morbidity rate? Most experts are reluctant to give exact figures, but Thomas Dunn of the Division of Vital Statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics reports that in 1991 there were 54 deaths from anorexia nervosa and no deaths from bulimia. The deaths of these young women are a tragedy, certainly, but in a country of 100 million adult females, such numbers are hardly evidence of "mass self-immolation." Yet now the false figure, supporting the view that our "sexist society" demeans women by objectifying their bodies, is widely accepted as true. Will Steinem advise her readers of the egregious statistical error? Will it even matter? By now, the 150,000 figure has made it into college textbooks. The anorexia "crisis" is only one example of the kind of provocative but inaccurate information being purveyed by women about "women's issues." On Nov. 4, 1992, Deborah Louis, president of the National Women's Studies Association, sent a message to the Women's Studies Electronic Bulletin Board: "According to (the) last March of Dimes report, domestic violence (vs. pregnant women) is now responsible for more birth defects than all other causes combined. Personally this strikes me as the most disgusting piece of data I've seen in a long while." This was, indeed, unsettling news. But it seemed implausible. I called the March of Dimes to get a copy of the report. A spokeswoman denied any knowledge of it. I did a search and found that - study or no study - journalists around the country were citing it. I called the March of Dimes again. Andrea Ziltzer of their media relations department told me that the rumor was spinning out of control. When I finally reached Jeanne McDowell, who had written the Time article, the first thing she said was, "That was an error." She sounded genuinely sorry and embarrassed. She explained that she is always careful about checking sources, but this time, for some reason, she had not. An official retraction finally appeared in the magazine on Dec. 6, 1993. I asked McDowell about her source. She had relied on information given her by the San Francisco Family Violence Prevention Fund, which had obtained it from Sarah Buel, a founder of the domestic-violence advocacy project at Harvard Law School. She in turn had obtained it from Caroline Whitehead, a maternal nurse and child-care specialist in Raleigh, N.C. I called Whitehead. "It blows my mind. It is not true," she said. The whole mix-up began, she explained, when she introduced Sarah Buel as a speaker at a 1989 conference for nurses and social workers. In presenting her, Whitehead mentioned that according to some March of Dimes research she had seen, more women are screened for birth defects than are ever screened for domestic battery. Whitehead had said nothing at all about battery causing birth defects. "Sarah misunderstood me," she said. I called Buel and told her that it seemed she had misheard Caroline Whitehead. She was surprised. "Oh, I must have misunderstood her. I'll have to give her a call. She is my source." She thanked me for having informed her of the error, pointing out that she had been about to repeat it yet again in a new article. Why was everybody so credulous? Battery responsible for more birth defects than all other causes combined? More than genetic disorders such as spina bifida, Down's syndrome, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemia? More than congenital heart disorders? More than alcohol, crack or AIDS - more than all these things combined? Where were the fact-checkers, the editors, the skeptical journalists? To that question we must add another: Why are certain feminists so eager to put men in a bad light? I shall try to answer both these questions. American feminism is currently dominated by a group of women who seek to persuade the public that American women are not the free creatures we think we are. The leaders and theorists of the women's movement believe that our society is best described as a patriarchy, a "male hegemony," in which the dominant gender works to keep women cowering and submissive. Believing that women are virtually under siege, the "gender feminists" naturally seek recruits to their side of the gender war. They seek support. They seek vindication. tion. They seek ammunition. They are constantly on the lookout for the smoking gun, the telling fact that will drive home how profoundly the system is rigged against women. It is not enough to remind us that many brutal and selfish men harm women. They must persuade us that the system itself sanctions male brutality. Thus gender-feminist ideology holds that physical menace toward women is the norm. Gloria Steinem's portrait of male-female intimacy under patriarchy is typical: "Patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself . . . The most dangerous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home." Steinem's description of the dangers women face in their own home is reminiscent of the Super Bowl hoax of January 1993. Here is the chronology: On Jan. 27, a news conference was called in Pasadena, Calif., site of the forthcoming Super Bowl game, by a coalition of women's groups. At the news conference, reporters were informed that Super Bowl Sunday "is the biggest day of the year for violence against women." Forty percent more women would be battered on that day, said Sheila Kuehl of the California Women's Law Center, citing a study done at Virginia's Old Dominion University. On Jan. 28, Lenore Walker, a Denver psychologist and author of The Battered Woman, appeared on Good Morning America claiming to have compiled a 10-year record showing a sharp increase in violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays. And on Jan. 29, a story in the Boston Globe reported that women's shelter and hotlines are "flooded with more calls from victims (on Super Bowl Sunday) than on any other day of the year." In this roiling sea of media credulity was a lone island of professional integrity. Ken Ringle, a Washington Post staff writer, took the time to call around. When he asked Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion and one of the principal authors of the study cited by Kuehl, about the connection between violence and football games, she said: "That's not what we found at all." Instead, she told him, they had found that an increase in emergency-room admissions "was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general." Despite Ringle's expose, however, the Super Bowl "statistic" will be with us for a while, doing its divisive work of generating fear and resentment. In the book How to Make the World a Better Place for Women in Five Minutes a Day, a comment under the heading "Did You Know?" informs readers that "Super Bowl Sunday is the most violent day of the year, with the highest reported number of domestic battering cases." How a belief in that misandrist canard can make the world a better place for women is not explained.


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