A Letter to the Washington Post Executive Editor by the National Coalition for Men, DC Chapter
NATIONAL COALITION FOR MEN,
P.O. Box 1404
Rockville, Maryland 20849
December 24, 2004
Leonard Downie, Jr.
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20071
Dear Mr. Downie:
I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition for Men – DC
Chapter to express our numerous concerns with the
recent series on Maternal Homicide. The series, written by Donna
St. George and others, consists of three main articles:
December 19: “Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent
December 20: “Violence Intersects Lives of Promise”
December 21: “Mending Shattered Childhoods”
Before sharing our concerns, I will mention that others have
expressed serious reservations about this series:
Jack Shafer, Slate editor-in-chief:
THE MUDDLED MATERNAL MURDER SERIES LOSES ITS WAY
Richard Davis, vice president of Family Non-Violence Inc.:
EXPECTANT MOTHERS' REAL RISK OF VIOLENCE
Mike LaSalle, MensNewsDaily.com editor:
WOMAN STRANGLES EXPECTANT MOTHER, CUTS OUT BABY – ANDY
ROONEY UNAVAILABLE FOR COMMENT
The Maternal Homicide series contains many serious flaws, both of a
journalistic and social nature:
DOES NOT REPRESENT GOOD JOURNALISM
On nine counts, the Maternal Homicide series does not measure up to
accepted standards of good journalistic practice:
1. Gives a Distorted Picture
Research shows that women are just as likely as men to instigate
domestic violence (DV).
Law professor Linda Kelly reviewed the domestic violence research
in the Florida State University Law Review and concluded,
"leading sociologists have repeatedly found that men and
women commit violence at similar rates."
And psychologist John Archer reviewed 522 articles and concluded,
“Women were slightly more likely than men to use one or more
act of physical aggression and to use such acts more
frequently.” (Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 126, No. 5, 2000)
series never acknowledges that domestic violence is a problem that
affects men and women alike.
2. Does Not Include Relevant Context
The series focuses on 207 expectant or new mothers who were killed
each year by their boyfriends or husbands. While tragic, the series
does not mention that there were 4,022,000 -- over four million --
births in the United States in 2002.
While the articles foster the impression that maternal homicide is
widespread, statistics reveal the exact opposite: only five
one-thousandths of 1% of expectant or new mothers – that is,
0.005% – are victims of fatal domestic violence.
3. Ignores Conflicting Information
The series states most maternal homicides arise from domestic
violence. To support that thesis, Donna St. George did an in-depth
review of only 72 cases. On the basis of that review, she concludes
that "nearly 30 percent" of them were not due to domestic
St. George's “nearly 30 percent” figure is very
different from the large Massachusetts study that she cites. In
Massachusetts, 62% of maternal homicides were
related to DV.
The large discrepancy between “nearly 30 percent” and
62% seriously undermines the thesis of the articles.
Clearly the reporter's 72 cases do not consist of a representative
sample, and therefore cannot provide the basis for drawing
4. Contains Factual Errors
The “Researchers Stunned by Scope of Slayings” article
states, “In 2002, Massachusetts weighed in with a study that
also showed homicide as the top cause of maternal death, followed by
That statement is incorrect. For White non-Hispanic women, the
Massachusetts study found that motor vehicle accidents, not
homicides, were the number one cause of injury-related death.
5. Imposes Agreement When No Agreement Exists
The Sunday article states, “many experts have come to agree
that 4 percent to 8 percent of pregnant women – 160,000 to
320,000 a year – are physically hurt by husbands, boyfriends
That statement is self-evidently false. A two-fold difference in the
range of 160,000 to 320,000 DV cases a year does not represent
anything that resembles “agreement.” And given the
controversies in this field, why doesn't St. George provide the
reader with the names of her “experts”?
6. Relies on Innuendo
Sunday's article includes statements suggesting the problem may be
far worse, but provides no factual basis for that implication:
“The Unknown Toll,” “few could be sure they knew
of all or even most cases,” etc.
7. Uses Emotion-Laden Headlines
“Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent Deaths,” “Researchers
Stunned by Scope of Slayings,” and “Mending Shattered
Childhoods” are the type of headlines one would expect to find
in a supermarket tabloid, not in the
8. Provides Very Little News
The real “news” of the series can be summarized in a
single sentence: Each year 295 new or expectant mothers die from
homicides, and possibly 70% of these deaths are caused by boyfriends
That finding deserves a single 1,000-word article, not the
front-page recounting of tragic anecdotes that the series becomes
9. Represents “Red-Meat” Journalism
Fatal domestic violence against mothers is a highly emotional issue
that deserves objective and balanced journalistic treatment.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Maternal Homicide series.
DOES A DISSERVICE TO YOUR READERS
In addition to the above-listed journalistic flaws, the series does
a disservice to the
1. Leaves the Reader with the Wrong Conclusion
By failing to mention that there are over four million births each
year, the series implies that DV-related maternal deaths are
commonplace. That is an ostensibly false conclusion.
2. Promotes a Form of “Rape Hysteria”
The series becomes overwhelmed with tragic anecdotes. Women are
always depicted as victims, and men are portrayed as perpetrators.
The parallels between this series and newspaper articles in the
southern United States in the 1920s that promoted “rape
hysteria” are disturbing indeed.
3. Ignores Abusive Women Who Need Help
Women who initiate domestic violence need help. By ignoring those
women, society never focuses on assuring they can receive the
counseling and therapy they need.
In summary, the
Maternal Homicide series, in both the journalistic and social
senses, is grossly deficient.
Whether intended or not, its effect is to stereotype and vilify
ACTIONS TO TAKE
Domestic violence is an important social issue, and it deserves
balanced treatment by the Washington Post. Therefore we are
requesting that you promptly implement the three following actions:
Schedule an educational session for your reporters and editors,
to be presented by one or more of our Chapter members, on the scope,
nature, and trends of domestic violence, based on the findings of
Research and run a three-part series that features domestic
violence against men. The series should address the following
topics: research findings, how male victims are often ignored by DV
programs and services, and what male vctims can do to protect
themselves and get help.
In all future DV articles, the
should assure that your reporters and editors provide a balanced and
In closing, I know that you are dedicated to the highest ideals of
journalistic practice, and strive to assure that the
reflects the best standards of objectivity and fairness. I look
forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
The National Coalition for Men, DC Chapter