Hanna Rosin: A lesson in propaganda

Slate magazine, that bastion of free speech (as long as you agree with them), gave us the lowdown on men’s status in the family court in a link to one of their articles:

Men’s Rights Activists Say The Courts Are Against Them. They’re Wrong

Of course, when I clicked on the link I got a modified headline:

The perception that family law is unfair to fathers is not exactly true.

Interestingly, the title on the link says:


Make any sense of that?

You’re not supposed to. The intention is to twist, turn, and deceive in order to manipulate the emotions. There is no intention to inform the mind.

The author of the actual article, Hanna Rosin, is a deft hand herself at this type of propaganda. It is important to understand and expose this emotional manipulation, in order to counter it with some effectiveness. While her article addresses the U.S. family court system, this discussion is equally relevant in Australia, the U.K., Canada, and elsewhere.

That Rosin must rely on such dishonest methods to disguise the truth about the courts is one of the best indications of corruption I can think of.

She begins by discussing the recent court case of Jason Patric that has received quite some publicity.

Last week the actor Jason Patric went to court to “fight ’til I’m dead,” as he put it, to see his 4-year-old son.

So, here we have a man going through the courts to see if he can get access to his son. In the next sentence, Rosin shifts the ground in a number of key areas.

Since then, Patric has become a hero to frustrated fathers everywhere who are alienated from their ex-wives and girlfriends.

Note here that Patric’s case has been raised from the personal to the political. It is no longer a question of the man (Patric) getting to see the boy (his son). Patric is now a champion for fathers. But they are not just ordinary fathers. These are frustrated fathers (scary).

But also Patric’s purpose has changed. His issue, because we now understand he represents the bitter fathers, is that he is alienated from his ex.

Does he want to get back with her or get back at her? That question is implied but left unanswered to raise the tension. Clearly, however, trying to see his son was just a cheap ruse.

It’s also worth noting that this is the only time the child gets mentioned. Clearly, his best interests count for nought. By ignoring this supposedly fundamental guiding light in modern family law, Rosin implicitly acknowledges that the “best interests of the child” has never been anything more than a smoke screen for feminist lobbyists.

Patric is part of a movement of vigilante fathers who challenge the assumption that mothers should have any more rights than they do.

In one paragraph, Patric has moved from individual man trying to see his son, through a kind of accidental hero phase, to being a signed-up, card-carrying member of a movement. This allows the implication that he was a member of this group before he started his legal action. Therefore, his asking to see his son becomes even more deceitful. Instead, his allegiance is to this movement and its aims to dominate women.

But also notice that the nature of the group has also changed. No longer merely “frustrated,” they have now taken to venting that frustration by taking the law into their own hands (even more scary). And the purpose of these outlaw types has also changed. Even getting back at their ex is only one wicked piece in their evil master plan.

Without saying what more rights feminists are demanding, Rosin tells us that these villains don’t want women to have them. The implication is that any single right for women is one too many.

But the real problem with all of this, it seems, is that the “broader public” also believe that men are getting a raw deal. Who are this “broader public”? It is that uneducated, unthinking, common-as-muck crowd that are not feminists but sadly are allowed to vote.

In case we are not sure who it is the “broader public” (misguided as they are) are siding with, a direct reference is made to Michael Kimmel’s book Angry White Men.

And the focus of the growing, aggressive, and threatening mob?

It used to be that women had to worry about men disappearing after they got pregnant or divorced. Now, some women have the opposite problem.

Forget Patric and his frustrated band of men (we’ve already forgotten Patric’s son). Women are the real victims here. It was bad then. It’s bad now. Only the complaint has changed.

Note here the rewriting of history. Gone is the time when the father would keep the children. During most of the 1800s, for example, this would have been the norm.  Also banished from history are those pregnancies where half the males in the village would be candidates for fatherhood.

Similarly, gone are the women who left babies to die in the forest or on someone else’s doorstep, with the father unconsulted and perhaps even unaware of the pregnancy.

Erased from more recent memory are women who lied about being on the pill so they could trap a man. Into the void, too, go the men who did not want the woman to have an abortion.

Rosin then goes on to sow the seeds of doubt about the raw deal for men so that we may save those victims of the patriarchy.

But is this actually true? “There’s a real perception—even women share it—that courts are unfair to fathers,” says Ira Ellman, a custody expert at Arizona State University.

You say, “The sky is blue.” I ask, “But is this actually true?” See how sophisticated I sound? We could then spend the rest of our lives wondering if my blue is the same as your blue. And if it was not, what could that mean for green?

But if there were a large group of fathers who did get fantastic treatment by the courts, Rosin would not be teasing out the issue in this way. She would instead jump straight to the facts and statistics that would prove her point.

There are no details from the expert as to why this “perception” is incorrect. Is the expert a feminist? Yes. Surprised? Not me.

But in fact the great revolution in family court over the past 40 years or so has been the movement away from the presumption that mothers should be the main, or even sole, caretakers for their children.

Ah, yes. You would do well to brush up on your Orwell here. This is the part where O’Brien asks Smith how many fingers he is holding up.

We are to ignore that Rosin has just told us of the angry vigilantes and how they are taking away women’s rights. We are to ignore that Rosin told us that women are the ones who really suffer.

Now we are to believe that the “revolution” was not just a revolution but a great one. And the presumption that mothers should keep their children has gone. It is now, by implication, fair.

Propaganda is not effective if it is not mesmerising. Rosin takes us to the next level with this little reality shuffle:

Individual cases like Patric’s may raise novel legal issues, but on the whole, courts are fair to men, particularly men who can afford a decent lawyer.

See? Patric has transformed from vigilante poster boy to a side-show. The great revolution, undocumented until now, has gone against women and … courts are therefore fair to men. No warning, no lead-up, no evidence. Just emotional manipulation and then, when everyone is in a panic, just slide in a statement pretending it is as obvious as the sky is blue.

And even more, there are those men who get fairer than fair, by forking out for a “decent” lawyer. Note the implication here that some men might be getting a poor result because they are not paying enough. It’s their own fault, the cheapskates.

Now, Rosin delves into some statistics. After all, someone who shows you where their facts come from has to be genuine, don’t they?

Not Rosin, I’m afraid. Again, her dishonesty has the sophisticated subtlety of the true propagandist. First she tells us of how, in the 1980s, men’s rights activists (MRAs) had a point. Not a big enough point to go into details, but a point nonetheless.

Then she brings us up to date, showing why these vigilantes have got it all wrong:

According to one of the most thorough surveys of child custody outcomes, which looked at Wisconsin between 1996 and 2007, the percentage of divorce cases in which the mother got sole custody dropped from 60.4 to 45.7 percent while the percentage of equal shared custody cases, in just that decade, doubled from 15.8 to 30.5.

Now, technically, her figures are correct. However, if you understand how they report child custody cases in Wisconsin (and who doesn’t?), you would know that these figures are less than half of the story. She is counting on most people’s eyes to glaze over at the mention of statistics. Only a very few would take the trouble to follow the link and check out the figures.

The key word here is divorced. The Wisconsin study has three categories of custody cases. These are divorced, adjudicated paternity, and voluntary acknowledged paternity. It is from the first category that Rosin got her figures. The divorced category makes up 43.6% of the total.

So, when we add all three categories together, that “dropped to 45.7%” was actually 67.9% of mothers getting sole custody. For equal custody, that “doubled” figure of 30.5% turns out to be 17.5% when we include the other two categories.

And the figure she couldn’t bring herself to tell you? Fathers got sole custody in a massive 4.5% of all custody decisions.

But, in terms of “balance” and “fair,” weren’t we talking about the court favouring mothers over fathers? The above figures concern sole custody. So, let us now consider all of the figures for that last year, 2007, that Rosin claims herald a new beginning for fair treatment for fathers.

Overall, the mother was awarded sole or major custody in more than 75% of the cases. Less than one-fifth, 18%, of the cases had an equal arrangement.

It is Rosin’s assessment that men should be satisfied with their fair treatment now that they have almost 7% of all custody cases awarded in their favour.

A major factor in men getting what Rosin insists in calling a fair deal is because:

… more recently judges have been catching up to the law.

We’ve had vigilantes, second-grade lawyers, cheap men, and poor men. Now it’s the judges who’ve been asleep at the wheel. How many fingers is she holding up?

Personally, I think it’s just one middle finger.

So now, Rosin turns the question around again.

The real inequality in family courts these days is not based on gender, but on income.

A few paragraphs ago, men were getting a fair deal, with high-income men getting a better than fair deal, so who is getting this “real inequality”?

Wealthy men have successfully fought against proposed reforms that would have forced them to pay more child support. With elite, college educated men, “it’s outrageous how little they can end up paying in child support in some cases,” says Ellman, the Arizona State professor.

How outrageous is this “little” these men of undisclosed wealth pay? So outrageous that it seems that neither Ellman nor Rosin could bring themselves to say. But we can guess that if it was a really small figure, say a few dollars per day, then Rosin would have started the article with this fact.

And again, how many cases are “some” cases? Perhaps we, the “broader public,” don’t need to know.

But this mention of child support is an error on Rosin’s part, for she just mentioned the elephant in the room. Up until now, it’s been pole-dancing on the coffee table and Rosin has been studiously ignoring it. More on this in a moment.

Her last paragraph is propaganda sublime.

A father who never married the mother of his child has a much shakier legal status.

You might remember—the bigger half of the statistics in Wisconsin. The unmarried half that lose so badly that it dramatically drives the statistics up for mothers and down for fathers. Of course, Rosin phrases it in such a way that it sounds like the moron had his chance and blew it, so he probably deserves his shakier legal status.

His case is apparently so shaky that:

As Cahn and Carbone have written, in this social class the women are generally better off and choose not to marry the fathers, precisely because they want to avoid future legal disputes over children.

She can’t resist, can she? Having defined it as a class problem rather as a gender problem, she gloats how the law gives these women a real edge. They choose to keep the father out, and the law obliges them. In 89% of the unmarried cases in Wisconsin, the father was kept out of the child’s life.

But note here, the issue of class is not in the statistics. As before, the class issue is inserted by Rosin as though it is cast in stone. She has still not provided a shred of evidence to back up her claim. Instead she follows the golden rule of propaganda—tell a lie often enough and it will become the truth.

If that father is Jason Patric or Bode Miller, he can probably afford a lawyer and get sympathetic publicity.

Note that she doesn’t mention sole custody, major custody, or equal time with all that money. That’s because if the two men were backed by the International Monetary Fund they still would have little chance of a real win. What they might get is to join that exclusive 11% of unmarried fathers who get some access to their child.

But if he’s not, the best a poor father can hope for if he wants to impact his child is to be a steady paycheck.

Note that the majority of men, that is the poor men, have been reduced to one single guy. And, after all the talk of the courts being fair, suddenly they are not fair on him. But that’s because he is poor, and not because he is a man, so that doesn’t count as a gender problem. Even if he has to be poor and a man in order to qualify for the unfair treatment.

Also, there’s the elephant again. Note how the unmarried status of the father, for Rosin as well as the law, is an almost automatic disqualifier for access to his children. It is not, however, a disqualifier for demands, enforced by the state, for child support. Clearly, Rosin supports this distinction.

But, of course, this isn’t quite the whole elephant. Rosin says “impact his child,” but the money doesn’t go into the child’s bank account, does it?

And yet here, at the end of the article, is probably the heart of the Men’s Human Rights Activists complaints. You remember, the guys in the headlines who were wrong, well, not quite correct, well actually the law is kind of, sort of, heading in their direction. Those guys.

They can’t participate in their children’s lives, but they’re paying, sometimes through the nose, so that the mother can choose the lifestyle of a single mother.

It’s also worth noting that throughout Rosin fails to list one reason why men, as a class, should not have access to their children. She treats it as though it were as obvious or as natural as the sky being blue. The only implied justification she offers is that because of women’s general ill-treatment at the hands of patriarchy, past and present, then perhaps it is time that women got some compensation. The needs of the fathers or of the children are of little significance. Feminist dogma must prevail.

Rosin’s aim is to bamboozle, not inform. While most people will probably instinctively know that she is playing games, it takes some time and effort to analyse this game in detail. Rosin is counting on most people to put it in the “too hard” basket.

For those who do dare to question, the accusation of being part of an angry and misogynistic vigilante mob is already in place. Further, she expects the feminist cheer squad to applaud loudly at the appropriate points to further drown out the doubters.

Hanna Rosin writes for the faithful, and the rest of us can go to hell.





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