New York Review of Books Hits a New Low

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September 9, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Sigh.  Another month, another article that claims that, as a general rule, family courts favor fathers over mothers, and particularly so in matters of domestic violence (New York Review of Books, 9/2/20).  We see these with some frequency.  Law professor Joan Meier has made a career out of exactly that, done her best to prove her point and failed.  But the latest yellow journalism appears in what was once a respectable publication, the New York Review of Books.

The NYRB article runs to type, i.e. pure agitprop.  The writer, Natalie Pattillo, has written pretty extensively and always in the same vein.  She’s a true believer in the Church of Men are Abusers and Women Aren’t.  Predictably, her article, when it locates facts at all, cites only dodgy ones, artfully leads readers to believe that which isn’t true, quotes only those who belong to the same Church regardless of how factually compromised they are and of course manages no balance whatsoever.  The piece is about 3,500 words long and in all those words, Pattillo offers not a single quotation from anyone with an opinion different from her own.  Needless to say, as in all such articles, many pertinent facts go unmentioned

Now, the supposed raison d’être for the piece is the impact on family courts of the pandemic and lockdown in New York City.  By itself, that could have been a worthwhile article.  After all, those courts are never models of efficiency and have probably become less so given the difficulties of virtual hearings.  But Pattillo’s real aim is to convince readers that the restrictions on the courts due to COVID-19 all redound to the detriment of mothers and especially those claiming abuse.  Remarkably, she produces literally no evidence for the proposition.  Her article is a classic example of throwing mud at a wall to see if any sticks.  None does.

As is usual with articles like this one, actual facts are in short supply.  So, for example, Pattillo makes this naked assertion:

Abusers often use their children as pawns to control and punish their exes, especially if they have custodial rights, Ruth Glenn, the president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told me. 

Citation?  None.  Of course there are many pertinent facts which could have been mentioned.  For example, after decades of accumulating information about the value of fathers to children, nationally, 80% of sole/primary custody of children goes to mothers and about 12% to fathers.  Plus, over 50% of domestic violence is committed by women and about 70% is initiated by them.  More to the point, a child is twice as likely to be abused or neglected by their mother as by their father.  Those are all well-established facts that have appeared in national databases for many years.

But they obstruct the narrative Pattillo’s peddling and so receive no mention. 

What does make it into her piece are attempts to prejudice readers:

Family court has long left dangerous gaps in protection for survivors and children. In 2016, two-year-old Kyra Franchetti was killed by her biological father, Roy Eugene Rumsey, in a murder-suicide.

That is indeed an example of a heart-rending case.  But of course Pattillo was careful that the case she cited was one of a father as the wrongdoer.  There are plenty of similar cases in which a mother kills her children and sometimes herself in order to keep the kids from their father.  So why not mention one of those?  Because to do so would violate the catechism of the above-mentioned Church to which Pattillo and everyone she quotes is a devotee.

Then there’s the thoroughly outrageous claim that judges and pretty much everyone else in family courts expect more of mothers than of fathers.

These systemic flaws are intensified when judges, custody evaluators, and attorneys for the children bring their biases about what’s expected of a mother’s care, compared to a father’s, into custody cases involving domestic violence and child abuse.

Never mind the small avalanche of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  Never mind the half-dozen or so studies finding anti-father bias on the part of judges.  If the above statement were at all valid, wouldn’t we be seeing fathers with the lion’s share of child custody?  Given how much parenting fathers now do, it’s simply not possible for everyone in family court to be biased in favor of fathers and against mothers and still, year in and year out for decades, give custody to mothers.  The basic facts of the matter scream that Pattillo’s claim is the fraud it is.

And what article of this ilk would be complete without a reverential reference to Joan Meier and her 2019 study of family court outcomes?  For that matter, would such an article let readers know the true findings of Meier’s study?

Mothers who raise claims of domestic or child abuse are twice as likely to lose custody when fathers respond by claiming “parental alienation” as when fathers don’t claim alienation, according to a study that examined close to 4,400 family court cases throughout the country from 2005 to 2015 by Joan Meier, a professor of clinical law at George Washington University, and others.

To the first clause of that statement, the appropriate rejoinder is “so what?”  After all, maybe it’s barely possible that, when fathers claim alienation, it’s actually happening and, if it is, the correct response by a judge is to remove the child from the alienator.  Amazingly, Pattillo is so devout in her belief that she never considers the possibility.  In her study, Meier nowhere claimed that the judges who did change custody based on a father’s claim of alienation did so wrongly.  She never even attempted to make those calls. 

Then there’s the merely misleading aspect of her Pattillo’s statement.  Yes, Meier did analyze a little under 4,400 family court cases, but Pattillo wants her readers to believe that all of those included dueling claims of abuse (by mothers) and parental alienation (by fathers).  Not so.  In fact, just 163 of those cases – 1.8% – contained those allegations and in just half of them was a change made to custody.

I’ll have more to say on this scurrilous article next time.

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