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Some violence is not 'news.' (Pundit Watch)(violence against women and children)

I am writing this at 1:00 a.m., long past my bedtime. I cannot sleep because of the nightly news. ABC featured an interview with a young woman from the former Yugoslavia who had been raped repeatedly by seven Serbian soldiers. But this was not the worst for her. She watched them take away her four-year-old daughter. When the little girl was returned, she was naked, blood streaming down between her legs.

I have a four-year-old daughter and I have been sickened and haunted all evening.

Later, on the local news, I watched the arraignment of a man who, in defiance of a restraining order, was accused of going to his former girlfriend's house and burning her alive, leaving her eleven-month-old child an orphan.

It seems that no matter how extravagant and profligate violence against women and their children becomes, an attitude of neglect and dismissal dominates the media discourse about what's to be done. Nowhere do we see the extent of the upper-middle-class, conservative, white, male bias of the media more clearly than when it comes to taking violence against women seriously.

Macho strutting by the neocon pundits sets the agenda for discussions about domestic and foreign policy. Just the other day, Fred "Blow-'em-Away" Barnes argued for "a preemptive strike" against nuclear facilities in North Korea that we aren't even sure exist. Barnes and the rest of the boys celebrated the arming of Nicaraguan contras, invading Panama, and bombing Iraq as necessary and patriotic. But save the women - especially the Muslim women of former Yugoslavia - from mass rape? Hey, wait a minute. The terrain is hilly and it's really complicated. Talk about domestic violence in the United States? Hey, that's private stuff.

This particular form of gender ideology masquerading as judgment and expertise sets the pundits' priorities about what is - and is not - important to place in the foreground each week. "Manly" topics, like Bill Clinton's budget proposals and what "we" should do about Russia, dominate the talk shows, while other issues of desperate concern to women and children are consistently ignored or deprecated.

Let's take two ongoing stories recently in the headlines: domestic violence in the United States and the proliferation of guns - both national crises of epidemic proportions. According to the FBI, a woman is battered by her husband or boyfriend every eighteen seconds in America; at least 1.13 million women reported being victims of domestic violence in 1991. Thirty per cent of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. It turns out that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the worst days of the year to be a woman: To cite just one city, calls to battered women's shelters in the Los Angeles area doubled in the aftermath of the 1991 and 1992 Super Bowls.

To try to raise public awareness about the problem, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) persuaded NBC to air a public-service announcement on domestic violence during the Super Bowl telecast. The backlash was swift and sure. The Washington Post, which had featured only two front-page stories on domestic violence in the previous four years, gave front-page space to Ken Rigle, who ridiculed the need for such a PSA and dismissed FAIR as a bunch of "causists [who] show up wherever the most TV lenses are focused." Alan Dershowitz, in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, derided FAIR activists as "zealots" and "self-proclaimed women's advocates" whose assertions about the relationship between Super Bowl Sunday and domestic violence were "false," a charge echoed by The Wall Street Journal. You will hardly be surprised to learn that Rush Limbaugh berated the PSA as "a bunch of feminist bilge." The TV pundits remained mute, as if domestic violence either doesn't exist or doesn't matter.

You might think that the murder of Dr. David Gunn by "right-to-life" zealot Michael Griffin and the armed confrontation, involving an arsenal of high-caliber weapons, between David Koresh and his followers and a battalion of lawen-forcement officials in Waco, Texas, might get the pundits to discuss the new battle over guns. After all, during the same period, the New Jersey legislature fought back efforts to repeal the state's ban on semiautomatic assault weapons. In Virginia, where you used to be able to fill up a U-Haul in a one-stop shopping spree for guns, citizens are now restricted to purchasing one firearm per month. NRA-backed bills in Texas and Missouri would allow people to carry concealed weapons. Only Michael Wines, writing for the "Week in Review" section of The New York Times, put all these events together in an analysis of a critically important trend, the new war over guns. Once again, the TV pundits averted their gaze.

The sorry fact is that there is a sick, symbiotic relationship between violence and the news media. Conflict - and the more dramatic and lethal the better - is one of the fundamental criteria for whether a story is newsworthy. The proliferation of guns provides the news industry with an assured supply of stories. So does violence against women - as long as it's public, the woman is white, and there's a rape, mutilation, or murder involved.

This doesn't mean that all, or even most, journalists are opposed to gun control, or that they condone domestic violence. But it does mean they are implicated in a system that seeks to profit from a prurient and sensationalized representation of the victimization of women. More often than not, reporters focus on the woman who is battered, not the batterer, and ask why she doesn't leave instead of why he beats her. Each assault stands alone in the news, each woman a lonely, pathetic spectacle. Individually, their stories are welcome fodder for the news mill. But collectively, violence against women and children - and the mind-set that begets it - are ignored or minimized by the pundits as comparatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Maybe this is why the pundits don't tell us that every single day in this country, fourteen children are killed with guns, or that America has three times as many animal shelters as it has shelters for battered women. And maybe it's one reason why trying to save little girls and their mothers, like the ones I saw on TV from Bosnia, is deemed foolhardy and impossible.
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Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Date:May 1, 1993
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