I want to thank all Project NoSpank readers who sent clippings and e-mailed me about the news regarding spanking that broke last Wednesday and who called to alert me to TV coverage on the subject. My phone didn't stop ringing while the shows were airing.
I hope no one was expecting any earth-shaking revelations. There weren't any. That wasn't the intention. Psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff's study demonstrated the consistency and durability of arguments against hitting children that have been made by many researchers since 1938. And, of course, it's gratifying to see this in the news. The more often this information is repeated, the sooner it will become widely accepted.
What especially interested me was television's handling of it. Did they get it right this time, or was it, as in the past, treated as humorous trivia?
I tuned in to Miles O'Brian while he was making light of the issue. I assume the reason for the smile on his face was to set the mood for this supposedly funny topic. He didn't stop smiling for the duration of the segment. You can be certain he wouldn't have worn that expression had he been reporting about pedophiles or child abduction. But hitting kids? Well, that's different. Finally, when he broke away from his facile, jocular extemporizing, there was barely enough time for his guest, Dr. Gershoff, to say a few sentences about the dangers of spanking.
The camera then panned across to the spanking apologist whose argument boiled down to this: There is no definitive proof that spanking, if done properly and in moderation, causes negative outcomes. He could have said, with equal authority, the same thing about exposure to tobacco smoke, lead or asbestos. Do it in moderation and you'll be just fine. However, if you have a bad outcome, it's either because you didn't do it correctly or because of other unrelated factors. That's standard pro-spanking science in a nutshell.
There are three prominent experts in the United States, whose names are in every TV producer's Rolodex, who will shamelessly recite the spank-in-moderation theory when asked.
Then I watched "The O'Reilly Factor." It was equally disappointing. O'Reilly trashed and trivialized Gershoff's findings. He bullied his two expert guests into corroborating his assertions and then drowned out the words of one when she tried to say something that didn't match his slant on the issue. He seemed determined to take advantage of this golden opportunity to expound his personal theory of child management--which I sincerely hope is not as callous as his treatment of grown-up guests on his show. "But you have to agree, it's just common sense, I mean if the kid is doing something really dangerous, I mean like hitting his baby sister or something, well then ya just gotta......" (Paraphrased from memory.) If either expert had something important to tell viewers, nobody will ever know. O'Reilly didn't gave them a chance. He should have brought in department store manikins and not wasted real people's time.
Print media, which is relatively free form the need to offset every one part of serious news with three parts of show biz, did a better job. See the links below.
1) Study: Spanking a no-no, Associated Press, June 25, 2002
2) Study: Study: Harm Outweighs Benefits of Spanking, washingtonpost.com, June 26, 2002
3) Striking Controversy--Parents Ask, To Spank or Not to Spank?, abcNEWS.com, June 29, 2002.
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