David Birney: Baxter ‘No More Credible Now Than’ Before

You can’t cross-examine a book.  That’s my take on the recent dust-up between former TV actors Meredith Baxter and David Birney.  Read more about it here (Toronto Sun, 3/5/11).  Why would anyone care?  That I can’t answer, but it seems some do.

Baxter has penned a book, a memoir of sorts, in which she claims Birney was physically violent toward her during their marriage.  To no one’s surprise, least of all Baxter’s, that claim has drawn attention.  If I understand the zeitgeist correctly, it’s the only thing that’s drawn attention to the book, which leads me to the conclusion that maybe that was the point.

Whatever the case, Birney has now responded and a more complete picture of their time together has begun to emerge.

According to Birney, he got a joint custody order from the judge in their divorce case which Baxter vowed to have overturned.

“(She) conducted a relentless and brutal assault (against the shared custody in an attempt) to destroy that arrangement and replace it with herself as sole custodian.

“During that time she arrived in court repeatedly with various lawyers and several therapists, ‘recovered memories,’ accusations of abuse – a common charge in custody disputes – and tales of our life together that bore little resemblance to truth – a mean spirited process that battered us all, especially the children. The court denied her suit on every occasion.

“This current recycled version of our family story is no more credible now than it was then.”

Well, I wasn’t there in their household when they were together, so I don’t know who’s telling the truth.  After all, anyone can write a book and anyone can deny the allegations therein. 

That said, I can’t help noticing one thing: Baxter’s allegations are just that – allegations.  But everything Birney says took place in court and as such, there’s a record to be looked at to see if what he says is true.

What we all know is that her claims were investigated by the courts and their shared parenting arrangement was left intact.  That strongly suggests Birney’s got the facts on his side.

An interesting aside is how Birney uses the language of the domestic violence movement to describe Baxter’s behavior toward him and the children in court.  “Brutal assault” and “battered” are lifted directly from the vocabulary of the DV movement which is interesting and, to my mind, appropriate.

First, those words serve to convey a sense of how false allegations of violence are experienced by those on the receiving end of them.  Adults and children alike routinely say they’re “abused” by family courts that take those allegations at face value and issue TROs and custody orders based on them.  Children particularly are abused because false allegations serve to separate them from a loved and needed parent, which is, after all, the point.

Second, the verb “to batter” long ago was removed by the DV movement from its common meaning.  It’s a clever bit of sleight of hand. 

The legal concept of “battery” refers to any unconsented touching, regardless of how slight, whereas the dictionary definition of “to batter” is “to strike repeatedly with heavy blows.”  So the DV movement calls any touching “battering.”  That’s a defensible usage when speaking legally, but utterly at odds with the everyday English definition. 

As is so often the case, the DV movement never lets on about which definition of the word it’s using.  The industry is content to let people think that everything it calls domestic violence consists of repeated heavy blows, when in fact the vast majority of what’s called DV is quite minor – either completely noninjurious or resulting in only a minor cut or bruise.

So Birney’s use of DV language to rebut Baxter’s apparently false allegations of violence looks like a case of turnabout being fair play.

So, if you’re Meredith Baxter, what’s left for you to do?  Courts can be so inconvenient, particularly when they allow your opponent to have his say, and then listen to it.  It’s far better to write a book.  When you do that, no one can ask difficult questions or bring up facts that contradict your narrative.  In short, you don’t have to prove what you say.

And no one can cross-examine you.

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