10. News Media Masks spousal Violence in the” Language of Love”

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Source: USA TODAY, Date: 3/10/94, Title: “Crimes against women: Media part of problem for masking violence in the language of love,” Author: Ann Jones

SYNOPSIS: A man guns down his former wife and her new boyfriend; reporters call it a “love triangle.”

A man shoots and kills several co-workers, including a woman who refused to date him; the press reports a “tragedy of spurned love.”

A man kidnaps his estranged wife, rapes her, accuses her of an imaginary affair, and chokes her to death; a reporter writes that he “made love to his wife,” then stran­gled her when “overcome with jealous passion.”

A New York City cop drags his ex-­girlfriend out of police headquarters where she works, shoots her four times, killing her, then kills himself; the New York Post headlines it: “Tragedy of a Lovesick Cop.”

Ann Jones, journalism professor and author of Next Time, She’ll be Dead: Battering and How to Stop It, charges that the media are part of the problem by masking violence in the language of love. She says, “This slipshod reporting has real consequences in the lives of real men and women. It affirms a bat­terer’s most common excuse for assault: “I did it because I love you so much.”‘

Noting that every 12 seconds in this country, some man batters his current or former wife or girlfriend, Jones says that battering is cur­rently the leading cause of injury to American women, sending more than one million to doctors offices or emergency rooms every year for treatment.

According to Jones it also drives women into the streets with a reported 50 percent of homeless women and kids fleeing from male violence; it figures in one quarter of all suicide attempts by women, one half of all suicide attempts by black women; and, according to the American Medical Association, it also injures fetuses in utero: 37 per­cent of all obstetric patients are battered during pregnancy.

Yet, as Jones points out, bat­tering, the most frequently com­mitted crime in America, is conspicuously missing from the current national debate on crime. The press, she adds, could go a long way toward providing accurate information and setting a serious tone for public discussion of this issue. “Instead it often fails to cover crimes against women at all.”

SSU Censored Researcher: Paul Giusto

COMMENTS: “The problem is not simply that male violence against wives and girlfriends is underexposed,” author Ann Jones charged. “We read the grim head­lines all the time. The problem is, as I argued in my op-ed piece and at greater length in my book Next Time She’ll Be Dead, that the cov­erage is so wrongheaded.

“This year the subject euphe­mistically called “domestic violence’ got a lot of inches and air time, thanks to the murder of Nicole Brown, or rather what the press likes to call “the tragedy of O.J. Simpson.’ That case was the most reported story on television; and both Time and Newsweek ran cover stories on “domestic violence.’ Unfortunately, most of the cov­erage was hopelessly outdated, focusing on individual psychology (Freudian masochism no less!), `love’ and jealousy, and the victim’s personal life. This despite the fact that Nicole Brown’s story provides a textbook example of how police, prosecutors, and judges routinely violate women’s civil rights by denying them protection from assault by intimate partners­ surely a newsworthy issue. You’d think that at least African ­American reporters would recog­nize civil rights violations when they see them, but often they focused on “the race card’ and ignored the “women’s issue’ alto­gether. (Once again the interests of women and the interests of African Americans were pitted against each other, as though sexism and racism do not go hand in hand.)

“The coverage was biased in the extreme, relying on the same old (mostly male) sources. Apart from Ms. magazine, none of the coverage I read or saw cited a single advocate for battered women or feminist authority on the subject-(God forbid they should talk to a femi­nist!).

“How is the public supposed to choose effective solutions if it doesn’t know what’s really going on? Model programs to combat “domestic violence’ are working effectively in Duluth, Minnesota, San Francisco and San Diego, California, Quincy, Massachusetts, and many other cities. But as long as the general public thinks of wife beating and murder as isolated crimes of passion-mere “private’ violence-they have no basis to devise or even recognize social poli­cies that might be effective in ending violence. As things stand now, battering takes a huge eco­nomic toll in lost productivity and staggering costs of health care, law enforcement, social services, and so on. Evidence also suggests that the violence plaguing America’s streets is learned first in violent homes. In my view, the press is obliged to let the general public know what all these isolated “crimes of passion’ add up to, how deeply this violence affects the quality of our society, and what some communities are doing to stop it.”

Jones said that no one benefits from the lack of media coverage “because battering takes such a toll on the whole .society, including the future generation. But insofar as battering intimidates women, it serves the interests of male domi­nance and all the macho boys who are still into that. Especially those in power. When we view lethal assault as romantic, men literally get away with murder. And so does the criminal justice system that refuses to hold them to account. “This issue suffers particularly from our peculiarly American ten­dency to see everything in terms of personal psychology. The standard TV talk show on battering, for example, features a sobbing woman recounting the horrible things her husband or boyfriend did to her, followed by a psychologist explaining why the woman “let’ him do it. When have you seen a show-or an article-that asked police officers or judges or elected officials to describe what they do to stop violence against women, and how you can help? Wouldn’t that be enlightening?”