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.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders, author, and host of RadioNation on Air America Radio, has built a reputation for courageous investigative journalism coupled with compassion and a sense of humor. In writing her last book, Blue Grit, she traveled the country reporting on grassroots success stories and broadcast live to over 150 radio stations from community centers in places including Helena, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. In her television appearances (Lou Dobbs, Larry King Live,) on radio and in her many books (including Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species) and articles (The Nation and others,) Flanders calls for a new politics of fairness, equality and citizen action. Articulating the human dimension of American communities in trouble, her programs have become destinations for those seeking the skills and the will to make a difference. Flanders is a regular contributor to the Nation Magazine and CNN. Before joining Air America, where she was part of the original lineup, and hosted “The Laura Flanders Show” for three years, Flanders was the founding host of the award-winning “Your Call” weekday mornings on public radio, KALW in the Bay Area and CounterSpin, the radio show of the mediawatch group, FAIR.