McGowan: The Travail of a Letter-Writer

January 24, 2024

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

Each morning, I read a newspaper, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), and a Gannett product, the daily paper that has many of the same articles in its Milwaukee paper as in its Indianapolis paper. As well, Gannett products have cut back on editorial commentary, especially letters to the editor. The result, as lamented by a Greenfield Reporter reporter, is that papers skew left or right, even if a comment or letter has been well researched.

On the other hand, the WSJ invites readers to share their thoughts regarding news items and commentaries. For example, the WSJ had an article entitled “How Should We Treat Abusive Mothers?” in its Jan. 20-21, 2024 edition. The WSJ invited readers to share their thoughts thus: “SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS — What do you think of the Gypsy Rose Blanchard case? Join the conversation below.”

The article reported on a horrific case of child abuse and the subsequent murder of the mother by the child. The article contained no data, so I responded to the lacuna:

“Our idealization of motherhood and reluctance to see women as abusers” is misplaced idealization and a fantasy. Most child abuse deaths involve mothers rather than fathers. Fathers, acting alone, committed 13.5 percent of child abuse deaths in 2021 and another 1.9 percent of child abuse deaths acting in concert with a non-parent. The data represent a decrease in percentage from the year 2020. Mothers, acting alone, perpetrated 29.5 percent of the child abuse fatalities and another 11 percent when acting in concert with a non-parent.  Those data show a slight increase from 2020 — would that the data be reported in the media.”

Readers of The Indiana Policy Review may recognize the data since it was published there back in September 2023.

The Wall Street Journal refrained from publishing my comment. I followed with another comment:

“Statista in June 2023 reported that In 2021, about 210,746 children in the United States were abused by their mother. Furthermore, 132,363 children were abused by their father in that year. We would serve children better were our society to deal with the data.” The WSJ allowed that comment into the conversation.

However, information from Statista, while generally reliable, is not as authoritative as information from the dot gov (.gov) e-domain. So I sent one more comment: “For people who wish to have a better grasp of the reality of child abuse, by way of more and more precise data, I recommend they visit the Department of Health and Human Services site and read chapter 4 of Child Maltreatment 2021.”

That comment was held back, too, treated similarly to the first comment. The last comment and the first comment were eventually allowed to enter the conversation.

My experience provides insight. First, unlike Gannet newspapers, the WSJ encourages discussion by readers. The discussions sometimes appear to be a brawl between people who lean left and those who lean right, but the editors attempt to keep vile language and ad hominems out. Second, the WSJ apparently does not allow data to appear in the commentary following an article unless the folks at the WSJ verify it, a policy that enhances journalistic responsibility. My third comment enabled the WSJ to track down the data. That the data finally appeared in the commentary speaks well for the WSJ.

Third, and most important, that the WSJ has little or no knowledge about the man-woman data on child abuse and child abuse fatalities shows how little our society cares about “contrary” thinking, even when it is easy to “follow the data.’” The attendant problem of policy based in ignorance is as unhealthy for our society as cruel women can be unhealthy to children.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. Citations viewable at www.inpolicy.org.



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