Mass Media Funk is a commentary on mass media stories about the scientific, the paranormal, the supernatural, and anything else that yanks at my eyebrows.

Robert Todd Carroll

ęcopyright 2007






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October 8, 1995. "Who is abusing the children of Wenatchee?" by Armin Brott (Knight-Ridder News Service Columnist) in The Sacramento Bee, Forum, tells a pathetic story, too often repeated in recent years. The United States Supreme Court has recently (Nov. 1994) refused to hear an appeal of Bill and Kathy Swan who have spent 50 months in prison and had their daughter taken away from them based on the hearsay testimony of day-care workers. The children did not testify and there was no physical evidence of abuse. The court did not comment on their refusal to hear the appeal but in 1990 they ruled that defendants can be convicted of child abuse without confronting their accusers when there is assurance of the reliability of the hearsay testimony. Such a broad ruling opens the door to abuse by overzealous prosecutors and other alleged defenders of children. Professor Charles Nesson of Harvard, an expert on the law of evidence who submitted a brief supporting the appeal, called the Court's refusal to hear the appeal "the most extreme example of erosion [of the constitutional guarantee that criminal defendants have a right to confront witnesses against them] of which I am aware. It seems that the Court is saying that people can be convicted of child abuse without making a reasonable effort to discover whether the abuse even happened. Hearsay evidence from a "reliable source" is all that is needed. The emotional nature of this issue probably guarantees that clear thinking and fairness will be subordinated to the desire to defend innocent children.

The Supreme Court ruling also opens the door for overzealous prosecutors and law enforcement who are prone to the same kinds of misguided abuses as the trauma-search therapists. These trauma- search cops have destroyed more than one community, including pastoral Wenatchee in rural Washington state. There, a local group has formed to fight back against trauma-search cops and therapists. The group calls itself Concerned Citizens for Legal Accountability, but it is much more than that. It is a kind of WWW clearinghouse for stories of legal and psychological abuse by police, child protective services and therapists. The people of Wenatchee realize that what happened to their community could happen anywhere in America. All it takes is one zealous cop--in this case Detective Bob Perez--to get things started and he can turn a troubled youth's lies and fantasies into a sex ring involving 30 to 50 children led in orgies in church by a local Pentecostal pastor and his wife. It is good news that Pastor Robert Roberson and his wife, Connie, were found innocent of all charges in December 1995. The bad news is that their lives and the lives of many children have been damaged by a crusading cop and his accomplices in Child Protective Services and the District Attorney's office. Perez and Gary Riesen, prosecuting attorney, have charged more than 80 adults with having weekly orgies with children. More than 25 have pleaded guilty to various offenses, though some, like the Rev. Roberson and his wife, have fought the charges, risking imprisonment and loss of their children. Eleven people have been convicted after trials; fifteen plea bargained, though most of them have since recanted. Many of those charged are illiterate and on welfare. Five are developmentally disabled, two have severe emotional problems, two have physical disabilities and two others are mentally ill. "These conditions don't exclude the possibility that all are guilty of child abuse, but they certainly underscore the fact that Perez and his cohorts have been prosecuting some vulnerable people." [Brott, Bee]

Unlike the Swans, who lost their daughter and have been imprisoned for more than four years, the Wenatchee witchhunt did not begin with charges from a mentally ill day care worker. In Wenatchee they began with charges from a 15-year old girl with an IQ of 60 who tried to kill her foster father because he wouldn't let her have sex with her boyfriend in the house. By the time Perez finished interrogating the troubled teen, she had accused her foster father of years of sexual abuse. She later recanted her charges. Then Perez went after her 10-year old foster sister and by the time he was finished interrogating her she had identified 22 places where she said she'd been molested, including Pastor Roberson's church. Roberson made the mistake of speaking publicly about Perez and his methods of interrogation. Five days after his public denunciation of the detective's tactics, Roberson and his wife were in jail on charges of running weekly orgies in their church.

One would think that with all those convictions, there must be some truth to Perez's accusations. However, besides his word for it and the testimony of children who been interrogated by Perez, the evidence for a child abuse ring is non-existent. Perez keeps no notes and has no audio or video tapes of any of his interrogations. Perhaps he learned from the McMartin trials that such tapes can be damaging as they are likely to show zealous cops and therapists leading on and coercing children into tales of abuse. Plus, there is the testimony of the children who have refused to go along with him. One says he threatened to arrest her mother if the child didn't admit she'd been abused. Another claims that he made her lie. Another was tracked down in California by Perez himself, brought back to Washington and placed in a mental facility in Idaho where she was given "treatment" because she wouldn't testify that her parents had abused her. When she kept denying that she'd been abused she was told by the "counselors" that she was in denial and that she'd "come around soon." [Brott, Bee]

Prosecutor Riesen notes: "look at the convictions we've got. If Perez wasn't going by the book, the courts would have had something to say about it." [Brott, Bee] The courts may have something to say about it eventually, but I wouldn't count on it being right. No judge wants to appear to be a friend of child abusers. Few crimes are more repulsive than child abuse. I'm sure Perez and Riesen come off as saintly guardians of children battling the evil abusers because they really believe that is what they are. And they are not alone in their delusion: they are joined by physicians, nurses, day care workers, social workers, judges and juries. Evidence doesn't matter here. The children are what matter. And, yes, it is the children who are being abused here, but they are not the only ones. It should terrify anyone in this society to realize that they could be next in line to be guilty even if proven innocent and that they and their children might be next to be abused by a legal system gone crazy.

In California, the first and, as far as I know, only criminal trial based on recovered memory was that of George Franklin Sr. Dr. Lenore Terr was the prosecution's expert witness. In 1990, Franklin was found guilty of murdering a child twenty years earlier. The main witness against him was his 30-year-old daughter, Eileen Lipsker, who said she repressed the memory of the murder until one day when she had a "flashback" while looking into her own daughter's eyes. Suddenly, she said, she remembered her father molesting her 8-year-old girl friend and smashing the child's skull with a rock. Eileen had told Terr that as a child she had torn out her hair, creating a bloody bald spot on her head. In her book, Unchained Memories, Terr writes: "Most likely, young Eileen unconsciously set out to duplicate the horrible wound she had seen on Susan Nason's head." Eileen's mother Leah Franklin, however, says she does not remember seeing a bald spot on her daughter's hair during her childhood years when she combed, braided and cut her child's hair. Leah Franklin also says she gave prosecutors more than forty photographs of Eileen as a child and that none of them showed any hair problems.

Eileen Lipsker also said that she now remembers her father threatening to kill her if she told anyone about his crime. She now also claims to remember that her father sexually abused her numerous times. She says that she learned to protect herself by "forgetting" what had happened. Maybe. Or maybe the idea of being abused and forgetting it were suggested to her by her therapist during a hypnosis session. "In August 1989, Eileen confided in her brother that she was in therapy and had been hypnotized. The next day, she told her brother that while she was under hypnosis she had visualized her father killing Susan Nason. In September 1989, Eileen told her mother about the memory, confiding that it had come back to her during a hypnotherapy session." She later recanted the hypnosis story. [Loftus]

Defense lawyers argued that the daughter could have unconsciously fabricated the whole story out of anger and fear of her father. They even suggested she may have made up everything for the $500,000 book and movie deal she's signed. Maybe. In any case, Franklin's conviction was overturned in 1995 on the grounds that the jury had been prevented hearing testimony that the source of nearly every detail which Eileen remembered about the murder could have been newspaper accounts readily accessible to her. Elizabeth Loftus concluded

I have little doubt that Eileen Franklin believes with every cell of her being that her father murdered Susan Nason. But I believe there is a very real possibility that the whole concoction was spun not from solid facts but from the vaporous breezes of wishes, dreams, fears, desires. Eileen's mind, operating independently of reality, went about its business of collecting ambiguities and inconsistencies and wrapping them up into a sensible package, revealing to her in one blinding moment of insight a coherent picture of the past that was nevertheless completely and utterly false.

In short, it is likely that Eileen's memory is a confabulation based upon newspaper accounts, possible discussions of those accounts which she overheard or participated in, and her own fears and desires perhaps given a big boost by therapy which included hypnosis, and finally reinforced by a distinguished expert.

March 2, 1995.The Associated Press (AP) reports that a California state appellate court, the 4th District Court of Appeals in Santa Ana, has ruled that consumers may no longer sue for property damages stemming from invisible power emissions.

March 18, 1993. The Wall Street Journal ("Chiropractors Seeking to Expand Practices Take Aim at Children," by Timothy K. Smith p. A4) reports on a chiropractor who had treated a five-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister for mastoiditis. The boy's infection had invaded his skull; the girl's was so severe that part of her face was paralyzed and pus was pressing against her brain. The children's parents were using a chiropractor as their primary care doctor. The doctor of chiropractic correctly diagnosed the ear infections and tried to cure the children by manipulating the bones of their spines. Because they were not treated with antibiotics, the girl is now deaf in one ear and the boy is still under observation for neurological damage. The author reports on the systematic efforts of chiropractors to recruit children as patients. One company, Peter Pan Potential, holds seminars for chiropractors to teach them how to get more children as patients. Their advertisements for chiropractors in trade magazines tell the chiropractors to "Do your part to change the perception of chiropractic with patients who aren't negative or skeptical--they're children!"

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) responded to this article with a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal (March 22, 1993, p. A11). The ACA ad stated that "It deeply regrets and condemns the unfortunate, although isolated, conduct reported by The Wall Street Journal." To its credit, the ACA didn't deny that some chiropractors are dangerous quacks. The ad further stated that "Chiropractic manipulation is not a substitute for routine vaccinations, and our Association considers any contrary suggestion to be unethical, unprofessional and wrong." The ad made no comment on the practice of treating day old babies for spinal misalignment.

The Smith article notes that chiropractic colleges are accredited and their services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and some private insurance plans. This gives chiropractic an "authoritative resonance" which other non-traditional treatments do not have. The same article in the Wall Street Journal which describes these children gives an account of children with cancer who have been treated by chiropractors who made inappropriate diagnoses which "resulted in delay of correct medical diagnoses and treatment."

Dr. John Bolton, a San Francisco pediatrician, put it best when he said, "It's criminal to tell kids not to get immunizations because somehow cracking their backs can prevent infectious disease. It's not reportable as child abuse, although it's certainly abusive."

Dr. Jennifer Peet thinks differently. She and her husband founded The Baby Adjusters in 1992, a chiropractic clinic mainly for children. She says her clinic adjusts the spines of 150-200 people a day, most of them children and some of them infants. "We check them when they're 24 hours old. Very gently, it's almost just a tapping, we push the bone back into alignment." She claims she's cured infections, asthma and allergies. She's written a book, has a newsletter, pamphlets and posters, gives lectures and sells audio taps. Next she hopes to start a magazine. Soon, no doubt she'll be on the talk shows. She'll be recognized as an "expert" and quoted by others like her who will also write books and quote each other and reinforce their non-sense until it all has the ring of verisimilitude about it.

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Robert Todd Carroll

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