It’s Super Bowl season, another year, another scandal. This year’s outburst over CBS’s $3 million Focus on the Family ad has revived the mythology around another Super Bowl ad, that one involving domestic violence. As a player in that story, I’ve come to anticipate game season: the domestic violence Super Bowl so-called “hoax” is one right-wing media-manufactured vampire that just won’t die.
Let me lay out the facts one more time. Shortly before the start of the Super Bowl on NBC in 1993, viewers saw a public service announcement that warned: “Domestic violence is a crime.” The 30 second moment (worth roughly $500,000 to advertisers) was the result of many weeks of work by FAIR, the media watch group where I co-directed the Women’s Desk, and a coalition of anti-violence groups in negotiations with executives at NBC and NBC Sports.
License-holders to the biggest-revenue producing broadcast of the year, the networks, at the time, were required to air a free PSA every year. They’d never aired one on domestic violence. Workers at women’s shelters, and some journalists, had long reported that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the year’s worst days for violence against women in the home. FAIR hoped that the broadcast of an anti-violence PSA on Super Sunday, in front of the biggest TV audience of the year, would sound a wake-up call for the media, and it did. Helpful stories about a generally undercovered topic flooded the airwaves and hit the press for days before the game.
But a handful of reporters and editors decided to “debunk” the story. The “debunkers,” led by Ken Ringle of the Washington Post, (1/31/93), claimed that FAIR had slanted the facts and claimed that “national studies” linked Super Bowl Sunday to increased assaults. Similar stories ran almost simultaneously on the AP, the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal.
Let me say it one more time. That wasn’t FAIR’s claim. In fact, FAIR made the point repeatedly that domestic violence is understudied and under-reported. Critics charged that the coalition was forced to “acknowledge” that its evidence was largely “anecdotal.” But “anecdotal” was our word: I used it in countless interviews calling out for more reporting.
In the Washington Post, Ringle painted a picture of a feminist mob strong-arming the networks with myth and false statistics. And that claim was quickly picked up by and amplified by professional anti-feminists Christina Hoff Sommers, the Independent Women’s Forum and on and on….
But it was Ringle who distorted the facts. Washington Post readers to this day probably don’t know that of the four experts cited by Ringle, only one agreed with the article’s thesis. Ringle quoted psychotherapist Michael Lindsey to defend his point that the Super Bowl PSA campaign was misguided: “You know I hate this,” Ringle quoted Lindsey saying. But Lindsey told FAIR that he was referring to Ringle’s line of questioning, not the anti-battering campaign. “He was really hostile,” Lindsey added. On the same day as Ringle’s “debunking” story, Lindsey was quoted in the New York Times, saying, “The PSA will save lives.”
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.