Reporter Apologizes After Fathers & Families Bombards Sacramento Paper over Article Calling Parental Alienation ‘Discredited’

In a Fathers & Families Action Alert last week, I explained that journalist R.V. Scheide of the Sacramento News & Review, a prominent California weekly, labeled Parental Alienation a “discredited, pseudoscientific malady” in his article Down by law (2/5/09). I wrote “The author of the article, R.V. Scheide, probably means well but…doesn’t know any better–write him (politely).”

Hundreds of you wrote Scheide and/or Letters to the Editor. Today, Scheide publicly apologized and wrote a (mostly) classy article in response. Below is his article in italics, interspersed with my comments –to read the full article without my commentary, click here.

Scheide writes:

Angry men of America, I feel your pain. Boy, do I ever! One little wrong turn-of-phrase and you”re fitting me for lead boots. Forgive me, my brothers! As one angry man to another, I assure you we are on the same side. To prove it, I stand ready to eat serious crow.

We appreciate that, though our intention was never to make you “eat crow”–we simply wanted to add to your knowledge about Parental Alienation.

At issue is a statement I made in my cover story two weeks ago, “Brawl in the Family’ (SN&R Feature Story, February 5). The story documented the experiences of six Sacramento’s, four men and two women, with the local family-law system. In it, I described Parental Alienation Syndrome as “a discredited, pseudoscientific malady.’ Angry men of America, I apologize for this poor choice of adjectives…

We agree–it was a “poor choice of adjectives.”

For the uninitiated, PAS describes behavior that is fairly commonplace in contentious child-custody cases: One parent consciously or unconsciously attempts to turn the child against the other parent. The child becomes preoccupied with criticizing said other parent. When there is no factual basis for the child”s persistent criticisms, then the child has been psychologically “alienated’ from that parent.

It”s worth noting that when PAS first came into vogue in the 1980s, it was thought that the alienating parent was the mother 90 percent of the time. It”s now believed–big surprise here–that fathers can be just as alienating as mothers. Nevertheless, PAS has become the legal weapon of choice for men fed up with a family-law system that grants custody to mothers far more often than it does to fathers, even when the decision obviously isn”t in the child”s best interest.

Which is why every angry man in America (or at least those with pending child-custody cases) came unglued after my story with the offending adjectives was posted on the Web sites of several men”s rights groups.

Now it’s my turn to apologize–the “offending adjectives” weren’t “posted on the Web sites of several men”s rights groups”–it was a Fathers & Families Action Alert, and I should have taken a moment to let you know the source of the protests. It was a very busy week, but you have my apologizes.

I was giving myself carpal-tunnel syndrome trying to keep up with their e-mail, before opting to write this column. Reader Alan Becker best summed up the deluge of derision:

“Many credible scientists have studied the issue in detail and they agree on the causes and effects of this horrible syndrome,’ he wrote. “Perhaps its existence doesn”t fit into your world view and that is why you deny it. Do you also deny the existence of the Holocaust? PAS is an American holocaust, a holocaust of fatherlessness for children.’

I sympathize Mr. Scheide–that’s why a year ago I instituted a policy on my blog of banning all Nazi analogies.

Like I said, Alan, I feel your pain. When I wrote that PAS is a “discredited pseudoscientific malady,’ I was not implying that such behavior doesn”t occur in many contentious custody cases. In fact, from the cases I”ve read, it appears to be the norm. However, that doesn”t make it a “syndrome,’ and neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes it as such.

Fair enough.

That”s not to say PAS isn”t worthy of scientific inquiry. As Dr. Arnold Robbins, a practicing psychiatrist from Cambridge, Mass., pointed out in an e-mail exchange, “There are many syndromes well recognized in psychiatry that are not included in the DSM…”

…It”s not that PAS is discredited or pseudoscientific, even though some scientists say it is. It seems plausible that there”s a distinct constellation of alienating behaviors in such cases that can classified as a syndrome. Still, the theory seems like a work in progress, and I asked Robbins if he thought the courtroom was an ideal place to carry out experiments.

“I am a physician,’ he wrote. “The issue for me is not what goes over in court. The issue is that PAS is tragic and painful. It should not be tolerated either when a man or a woman is the recipient. It is the worst sort of suffering and has horrible effects on the child.’

Dr. Robbins, a longtime Fathers & Families supporter and reader, is correct–beyond the horrors for targeted fathers (or mothers), Parental Alienation campaigns are agonizing for children.

Fair enough. I”m willing to grant that PAS exists. But even if it doesn”t, all the negative behaviors described by it are supposed to be considered by the court in the first place. In many if not most cases, they are not. That”s something worth getting mad about.

Very well said, Mr. Scheide.

I recommend complimenting Scheide on his new article by clicking here.

[Late note: I later spoke with Scheide–real nice guy and a good sport about the whole thing. He understands that alienating behaviors are a major problem in divorce/custody cases, which was the central point of our protest.–GS]

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