In reading some of the recent coverage of these Parental Kidnapping Trials, it occurred to me that many of the reporters covering these cases may not be familiar with the McMartin Preschool Case, the Wenatchee child abuse prosecutions or the Elizabeth Morgan Case. These cases were part of the child abuse hysteria of the ’80s and ’90. Most reporters that covered the McMartin Preschool case were criticized for their bungled reporting of the trial that was exposed in the Pulitzer Prize-winning series by Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw.
Here are some of my observations:
1) Spoon-Feeding by the Defense Attorney – It appears that several reporters (and they know who they are) appear to be spoon-feed by the defense attorney in these cases.
One critic wrote:
“Journalists should treat all such stories as investigative assignments. It’s not enough to report accusation and denial, charge and countercharge.”
“Conversely, when a defense attorney or therapist pronounces a child’s nightmares and loss of appetite “behavioral indicators consistent with child sexual abuse,” the reporter should elicit from the source (or an outside authority) the caveat that the same behavior is also “consistent” with a variety of other childhood traumas – pressure at school, the parents’ impending divorce.”
2) Broad Brush Reporting
The same critic wrote:
“The most biased stories often suffer from two defects. Reporters adopt the spin of their sources, which they present as fact. Then they extrapolate with a broad brush, arguing that the case they’re covering epitomizes all child abuse cases.”
“Believe the children is the battle cry of the child-abuse militants, who hold as an article of faith that a pederast lurks behind every door and blackboard,” wrote Wall Street Journal media critic Dorothy Rabinowitz.”
Here’s the link to a very old article written in 1991 by David Hechler.
I had been very critical of MacKenzie Carpenter and Allan Detrich’s controversial series in December 1997 on the Children of the Underground. This was no award winning piece of journalism. In my opinion, had Carpenter and Detrich not done the story, several of those children would not have ever been kidnapped. Both Carpenter and Detrich knew the wife of a millionaire was going into hiding so they found other protective mothers willing to kidnap their children. In my opinion, they didn’t just cover the news but they became the news photographing the parental kidnapper as she committed her crime. Allan Detrich, the photographer for the story was later suspended and the Associated Press pulled all his photos from their archives in an unrelated incident.
So in the case of Genevieve and Scott Kelley and any attempts by the media to interview adult child that was kidnapped when she was only 8 years old — it feels that some of these reporters are turning back the clock to the McMartin Preschool days. It would be irresponsible for any reporter to attempt to interview this young adult that only has a 10th grade education. It sounds like she might have been kept in a closet for the past ten years. As we’ve seen in these cases, the defendant will do everything to get the child victim’s testimony in the press and keep it away from the qualified professionals. This has been true in the past with the protective parent defense attorney in this case. We have seen other victims do anything for their kidnapper, and later recant those allegations and reunify with the other parent.
There is one thing that is different about 2015, that’s the saga of NBC suspended reporter Brian Williams. That didn’t happen in the McMartin Preschool days of the ’80s.