Is Bad Press Better Than No Press?
I’d like to post an op-ed piece which our News Editor, John T. Smith, has recently released to a number of newspapers around the world. This is an effort to catalyse some useful discussion about the direction the men’s movement has been taking in some places, and is not intended as a criticism of any group in particular. Obviously, the Fathers-4-Justice play a large rÃ´le in recent press coverage in the U.K., but they are not alone in having raised the eyebrows of press and public alike.
We believe this is an important issue, and invite comments and ideas from all camps of opinion, whether posted here or on the World Fathers Union weblog, The Father’s Tale.
Over to you, John T.–
Is Bad Press Better Than No Press?
by John T. Smith, News Editor, World Fathers Union
In recent weeks, various organisations working for equitable treatment for fathers in family courts have garnered a satisfyingly large amount of press coverage in a short time. I say satisfyingly large, because how can we not feel pleased that the press are paying attention to us, no matter what they are actually saying? I have seen a baker’s dozen of stories cross my desk in the last two days, all from major media outlets in the U.K., New Zealand, and North America.
But there’s a somewhat questionable bun in that basket: We’re getting attention, yes…but what will be the general sentiment of the public as a result? In MontrÃ©al, a distraught father who had not seen his child in seven years climbed a billboard next to a major bridge and the resulting traffic snarls and commuter ire became the story of the week, being heard as far away as Texas, in the southern U.S. In London, a live telecast of the lottery drawing was interrupted by F4J protestors, including a woman. In Christchurch, The Father’s Coalition distributed pamphlets identifying divorce lawyers and staff of the family court to their neighbours, bringing down the wrath of the local bar association and generating distinctly unfriendly coverage in The Press of that city.
An old nostrum of advertising and marketing is that ‘any press is good press’. The theory upon which this is based is that the product name will stick in the consumer’s mind long after any annoyance or distrust generated by idiotic commercials or bad publicity has faded. And since most consumers buy things by reflex instead of by conscious action, as long as that product name sticks in mind, the product will jump off the shelves into their market baskets.
But are public policies ‘products’ that the people ‘buy’? A public affairs consultant or political manager would tell you ‘yes’. But he would also tell you that eighty- to eighty-five percent of voting decisions are based on ‘brand loyalty’ to a particular political party. Winning an election is often (almost always, actually) a matter of whacking up the remaining fifteen to twenty percent of ‘undecided’ voters in a manner advantageous to one’s candidate. And those voters do not ‘buy’ their governments by reflex action; they are the ones who think long and hard about it, agonising right up to the moment of pulling the lever or marking the X on the ballot. For these voters, publicity which leaves a sour taste in the mouth has a very real influence upon whom they choose to entrust with power.
At the same time, it’s difficult to deny that it is important to maintain the issue of family court reform in the public eye. Political parties do not put planks in their platforms unless they see some electoral advantage to themselves in doing so. Politicians have to make promises to get elected…but they know in advance they will have to break most of them later on. To minimise the consequent recriminations, therefore, the rule of thumb is to make as few clear promises as possible. No issue that is not constantly making the news in a big way stands a chance when the proverbial cigar-chompers meet in that mythic smoke-filled back room….
For those of us ‘in the movement,’ what to think about these sorts of tactics is becoming an important question. We have to consider how they help enemies of family court reform continue to brand all men as deranged, obsessed, violent creatures; we also have to consider how they help to keep the important issues we need to address firmly in the public eye. We would be interested in the opinions of all who read this article or visit our website (http://www.worldfathersunion.com/). Difficult questions such as this one are better answered when many points of view are heard.
Without either condoning or condemning their tactics, World Fathers Union maintains hyperlinks to many different fathers’ groups on our website, and we are adding more all the time. We welcome any organisation working for family court reform to become Institutional Affiliates of the Union, even though we may not agree on tactics. We believe very strongly that the fathers’ rights movement is weaker than it could be because it is so splintered. There are literally thousands of groups worldwide, but few work together with any of the others.
That is one of the prime mandates of this Union. We do not aim to control any group or dictate tactics, policies, or anything else. But we hope to help incite useful discussion about important questions, and coordinate joint action among groups worldwide so that a stronger and more positive impression may be made each time men speak out, in whatever way they choose to do so.
A day may come when the courage of men fails…
But it is not this day
The World Fathers Union charges no dues, and solicits no donations. Neither do we engage in any other form of fundraising. We do not collect any private information about members except an e-mail contact address,and we maintain absolute confidentiality with regard thereto.World Fathers Union, PO. Box 278 Yarmouth, NS B5A 4B2 CANADA?
Sorry John F. – I had to remove your pretty flags – images on this site must be under 400px wide, or they break the layout. The locals will be much more impressed if it has a kiwi flag, anyway.
Sorry about the overlap, John. I coded them to be 100% of the cell width and thought that would match the text column. Shall I put them back at 400 pixels wide?
And yes, we’d love to have a Kiwi flag to add to that string. If you’ve got a decent jpg of one send it my way.
The title’s a loaded question as it oncludes the word bad.
A fair comment, Stephen. I could say in defense it’s a clichÃ© phrase meant to ‘hook’ the reader quickly, but that doesn’t lessen the validity of your observation.
How would you suggest we state that better?
With John Potter’s permission, I’ve put back a reasonably-sized version of the flags logo. We are working on adding an NZ flag to that string, but we’ll have to give our photoshop-expert a bit of time to get that done. As are all of us, he’s got to work a ‘real’ job while helping the Union in what time’s left over from that.
Hi John F. Smith,
You didn’t specify that only men could post so hear is my ideas.
What needs to follow is what follows when we have tragedies with drugs.
Reports come from Universities (students and psychology teachers) studies and are given to the press. It gives the public an idea of the whole countries problem not just one incident.
I think all family groups that care for the parents (such as singleparents) and all family groups that care for children should become involved. The more supported you look, the more credibility you will have.
Pamplets need to be made and sent out to all these groups so that everyone that visits them or contacts via phone or e-mail can learn. Make an empire of familiy groups but one arm solely for men. This way also you can make a man’s day committee as the women’s group does.
Leave pamplets in doctors surgery’s and anywhere else people have time to read.
By the way, I like your site, the posts
and the comments.
Thank you for your input, Julie. Of course we are interested in comments from women. Women are not the enemy; it is the corrupt family court systems which train them to behave badly which are to blame.
Your point about the universities is particularly well taken. The responsible press are much more likely to take notice of a scholarly report than of just another run-of-the-mill press release. We are fortunate in having several members who are in the university world (including at least two in New Zealand), and be assured we will draw upon their expertise when needed.
Letters to editor published 27th May 2006
Recent days have seen Fathers protesting outside the homes of Family Court lawyers, psychologists and judges homes because they claim they are victims of bias. The public is quick to assume that these guys are thugs and bully —boys, content on intimidating the innocent. However if you view their plight as frustrated parents you can balance the situation.
The Family Court is the only court to operate secretly, unable to be scrutinised by the public. If the public knew some of the horror stories that meander on for years in the Family court they would be more sympathetic to the protesters, and maybe they could understand why they yell words like corruption and prejudice through a megaphone on Sunday mornings.
At least these guys’ children will understand when they grow up, which is some consolation to many loving and heartbroken parents.
Peter you write a great ‘letter to the editor’, and yiu seem to have a high strike rate of getting published. Congaratulations.
I think it’s important that advertising, headlines, taglines whatever you want to call them has emotional impact.
The central issue here IMO is that children’s need for parenting from both parents is being ignored.
As such I suggest a more apt title would be –
Why is the press conspiring to alienate our children?
How the press ignores your kids.
Now that has impact, agreed?
I would agree, it has impact. What makes me wonder how wise such a headline would be is the reaction of the press itself to something of that sort.
I’m not proposing the old line of ‘catching more flies with honey than vinegar,’ but rather that we recognise as a truth that without the goodwill of the press, we will continue to fight an uphill battle to get the attention the issues need.
I most definitely did not like the article in The Press a few days ago which was headlined, “Fathers Group Scares Lawyers”, and we’ve written to the paper to complain about it. But the letter was most carefully worded. I don’t know if it has been published, but here is the text of it:
Note the boldface phrase I emphasised in that letter: THAT is the essential message I think we need to get to the press–that they need to pay attention to WHY we are there, and not to what we’re doing to get them to come watch us.
Great letter, Peter. I understand you need to blow off steam sometimes, but I must observe that you are a much more effective advocate when you write thoughtfully like this.
John F. Smith,
I seriously wonder if the press are in a position to report it differently. And I don’t mean that they are anti. Maybe they need power to be given them to write it differently. They are after all just sitting on the fence.
I am glad you think the idea of giving them statistics and founded information from Dr.’s and their students at universities is worthwhile. Only recently, we as a group were asked to give information on “The impact on Fathers and Daughters
that are seperated” This was before I communicated on this site.
I personally think the press do want to report it as the father’s see it. I know that these reporters sit with each other discussing how these things happen to them, their family and thier friends. It may also be worthwhile to put some female’s perspective of the situation forward. There are some sad stories for women whose men had lawyers proceeding before they even split.
Great letter John F.
The media is supposed to report in an unbiased and responsible way. They’re also supposed to be reflective about how THEY SHAPE NEWS and open to criticism. That they aren’t always so mature I’ve no doubt, so sadly must concur that the titles I’d suggested in my last post would probably agravate them.
However goodonya for calling them to acount for our kid’s sake.
I seriously wonder if the press are in a position to report it differently. And I don’t mean that they are anti. Maybe they need power to be given them to write it differently.
Julie, that’s another perceptive point. It makes fair to describe the basis for a potential project we’ve been batting about amongst ourselves in the last little while.
The great majority of the press corps are hard-working, responsible people who truly see reporting the news as a ‘mission,’ not just a job. But anyone who’s ever worked in a large organisation can tell you bucking the flow in one’s office isn’t the best way to get ahead, let alone keep the paycheck coming in.
Institutional inertia is an insidious sort of thing. No-one knows from whence it comes (except in hindsight, of course), but it’s immutable and damnably difficult to overcome. A news organisation with a habit of selecting and reporting news a certain way will continue to do it that way until and unless there is some new, major, outside influence upon it. It’s not, as you said, that they don’t want to do a ‘better’ job; it’s just that they don’t think of what they’re doing as not up to par. They’re unconscious of the reality because of the environment in which they work.
The new idea we’ve been chewing over is to organise a press symposium on the reporting of father’s issues. Once it gets a bit more developed, we’ll be posting a prospectus for it on our website, but briefly it looks like this at present:
If we can work that out, it could prove to be a way to break that institutional inertia that presently relegates men’s issues reporting to its current low level.
They’re also supposed to be reflective about how THEY SHAPE NEWS and open to criticism.
Stephen, you too have put your finger on a truism. I think the key word is reflective. It’s obvious the press does shape the news; human beings aren’t Vulcans, and it’s not likely any time soon we’re going see reporters with as little emotional baggage as Mr. Spock.
It’s difficult to report neutrally on a subject one feels strongly about, yet that’s the job of a news reporter. It is the job of the editorialist or commentator to expound a point of view or take a position on an issue. The best one can ask of a news reporter is to reflect upon his choices before he makes them. Choosing to run or not run a story is the beginning; from there it goes on to the choices of which sources to consult, how much background to include, and what the main focus of the story shall be.
Each of those choices has an effect upon how well or poorly the final story will inform the public.
Sorry John Smith,
As a “disgruntled father” and a student of both screen and media arts and journalism, it is not the job of a editorialist or commentator to expound a point of view, in fact quite the opposite.
It is however common to sense that a point of view has been taken, and thats simply the result of bad reporting or editing.
In my own case, I breached a FC court order and went on the Holmes Show, revealling all.
The problem was, FC laws prevented the Holmes Show airing anything that supported my case. The result of the post-edit article was something that made me look terrible…but the resulting public debate was all positive.
You see, it’s not helpful to dis the media if public debate is encouraged…the public will decide for themselves, and that’s what the media, freedom and democracy is all about.
The public are smart enough to read between the lines and to “smell a rat”. The fact that we are so emotionally involved in our own cases raises our expectations of the media to a level that may be unreasonable.
I know you all must be getting sick of it but…any publicity is good publicity.
John F. Smith,
Re: comment 15
Sounds like a big step but a great idea.
This one in particular could even talk to many other major groups besides the topic of reporting.
Most times people only get involved when something hits close to home. These issues are affecting everyone. Whether directly or indirectly
Wayne, I’ll take your points one at a time.
On this one, I disagree. For the most part, newspapers and other media organisations are private enterprises, and as such have an absolute right to take a political stance in their editorials and by their choice of which columnists they publish. In countries where they do not, the phrase “Free Press” is meaningless. (The rules are different for public broadcasters, of course, because they are owned by the government itself—they should refrain from editorialising at all. That they don’t always do so is undeniable; an unfortunate fact we need to address separately in another chapter.)
So long as the article is clearly identified as opinion and not passed off as news reporting, a paper or broadcaster may quite ethically and responsibly urge the readers or listeners to agree with management’s point of view. Honourable news organisations are scrupulous about providing time/space for opposing points of view; it is only the most radical (and thus marginal) press owners who make a conscious effort to fool the public into thinking no-one disagrees with them by publishing no dissent.
On this one, I’ll say both yes and no. In the short term, I’ll agree. The press, powerful as it is, can fall prey to the same mistrust the public generally accords government. Recent highly publicised events occuring at major international newspapers (The New York Times for example) have shown that no medium—no matter how respectable—is above suspicion, and has increased incident belief among news readers that one can’t trust everything one reads.
However, in the long-run, I am not certain your point will hold up. My belief is that men are generally shown in a bad light because of what one might liken to a sort of ‘Chinese Water Torture’: Over a score of years or more, the public has been subjected to an endless stream of very small stories, each of which portrays men as aggressive, controlling, obsessive, violent, insensitive, ad infinitum. I am certain a fair number of these individual ‘drops of water’ were taken by the public with the proverbial grain of salt—at the time they were published. However, over the long term, the subconscious accumulation of ‘bad’ men’s stories has created the poor image of men that we now wear like a scarlet letter upon our breast.
We must remember how prejudice works in the human mind: A lot of people hold bias against a class of people whilst being perfectly good friends with individual members of that class. We don’t do this at a conscious level; it happens in the less-evolved sub-strata which are driven by fear and instinct.
Thus a judge may hold a subconscious bias against fathers because he thinks they are not sufficiently nurturing or whatever; at the same time, he may know personally one or more men who do a marvellous job in his opinion of raising their children alone. His subconscious bias will rationalise this by concluding that those men are ‘exceptions’ and thus do not threaten the premise it holds as inviolable.
It’s worth noting that in our research, we have seen that women judges tend to be less likely to demonstrate that sort of bias than do male judges. That yet again is another book, but we’re of the opinion it’s due to their better insight into how women’s minds work, and also a bit because they are not subject to the same chilling effect placed upon male judges who fear being castigated by the women’s organisations if they rule for a father.
All that to say, yes, the public can smell a rat when it’s staring them in the face…but no, in the long run, the memory of the rat fades beneath the global predeliction to trust big news organisations to speak “Truth”.
And that is a very astute observation indeed. I have no disagreement with it except possibly to suggest that ‘unrealistic’ might be better word than ‘unreasonable.’ Whether or not something is reasonable has a lot to do with who’s doing the reasoning, after all.
Thanks for your comments.
Yes. And divorce and child custody is more than usually subject to that ‘close to home’ syndrome, as many friends of couples don’t wish to take sides after the couple has broken up. They would, quite naturally, prefer to remain friends with both parents afterwards, and unrealistic as this is in high-conflict custody cases, it ordinarily takes a period of several years before that realisation hits home.
The average father, too, has a great deal of trouble believing at first just how biased the system is against himself. Men tend to believe in principles; we have all heard the horror stories of other fathers who’ve had their children taken from them by the family courts, but we discount that in our own cases because we truly believe that Truth and Justice will out. It takes a whole series of inexplicable defeats in the courts before most fighting fathers become convinced they were living in a dream world.
So the very great majority of people involved in family-court reform actions are fathers who have already gotten to that particular turning on this long and unhappy road. It makes for organisations peopled by members suffering a lot of pain, and an incredible amount of frustration and anger. Add to that the sense of urgency as we see our childrens’ childhoods slipping away, and we’re easy prey to popping-off semi-coherently anytime we get a chance to speak. This makes presenting our cause in a clear, non-confrontational manner a daunting task.
It also tends to distance others from becoming involved in the movement, because who in their right mind would want to spend their time dealing with such anger on a regular basis? The fact these issues affect everyone is undeniable: Statistics show that, in countries with ‘no-fault’ divorce statutes, close to 50% of all marriages will end in divorce. That means one out of two parents picking up little John from the day-care either is or soon will be fighting his own worst nightmare.
John F. Smith,
Yes, I could see that challenge when I read it. You need to get someone behind like our “Mad Butcher” who is a genious at getting to the press. And he ceratinly understands personal despair.
That’s quite a provocative nickname your press coordinator has! Perhaps it’s part of the reason he gets results?
Back on topic, when I said one needs a ‘star’ as a draw for a successful symposium, I was referring more to stars from the same field as the target audience. In the case of a press symposium, it would take an extremely well-known and -respected star reporter as one of the featured speakers to get newspapers and broadcasting stations to pay their editors or reporters way in. Attendance fees on things like this are in the hundreds of dollars; travel expenses can run into thousands quite easily.
There are a lot of considerations in planning such an event. It will be a while before we’ve got an idea as to whether or not it’s practical to hold a live symposium somewhere like Paris, or MontrÃ©al, or London. If it turns out not to be, we’re also looking at producing the symposium on line. That wouldn’t have the same impact with the press covering (as opposed to attending) the event as would a live conference, but it would have the advantage of being less costly to attend and thus better attendance could be expected.
John F Smith,
I should explain who this man is, to me anyhow.
He is a successful business man. He promotes his business by acting mad as in a little crazy like.
He is involved in rugby which is a big sport here and is involved with a beer brand.
Others on the site may know him better than I. I personally am a fan of his.
Anyhow he befriends people. He mixes with the right people. He gets to know them on personal levels. And he takes advantage of it.
Yes,your idea is going to take some time to organise. I think any organised big event will get the presses attention and it wouldn’t hurt to have positive in the press as well as negative.
If you were to put this symposium on line then another idea would be to have one contact at each paper, radio station etc and have them on a personal relationship base. That way you could send them up-to-date correspondence and they will discuss what they can do with it before they go to press.
I think there is something to learn from the ‘Mad butcher’
John F. Smith,
After reading your comment again I am thinking you have a press co-ordinator. Maybe my idea is already in practice.
Yes, we do have a press coordinator; but the duty rotates as none of us are up to standing deadline watch all the time. The coordinator’s job is to put a member of the press in touch with the right person in a hurry when they’re on deadline.
Other than that, he’ll respond to e-mail requesting clarifications or additional details on press releases.
John T. Smith is our News Page Editor, and that’s a rather big hat to wear at times as he must go through news stories from media organisations world wide and post them to our website. On busy days he’ll sort 30 or more news alerts each containing several stories.
I don’t know how he finds the time to write editorials and coordinate the research on Project Spotlight, too. (And keep his real job.) If you have news stories of interest to fathers or articles you’ve written you think would go well on our news page, send then to John T. at [email protected]
John F. Smith,
Your editor is a special person to do what he does. I am wondering if you already have someone in NZ who gives articles and stories?
We do have members in New Zealand, including one of our Founding Fathers, a member of the original working group from which the Union sprang into organisational being. While all are quite capable of reporting father-oriented news stories, there is no particular person there who is charged with sending in the New Zealand news. What news from Enzedd we post on our News Page generally comes to us through news service alerts.
If you would like to be the Union’s ‘New Zealand Reporter,’ we’d be most pleased. I’m certain you have a better familiarity with local papers and broadcasters than the news services we use. Go to our website, read through the Membership Page and sign up as a new ‘Jane Smith’ and pick your middle initial.
Then just keep your eyes and ears open for stories that will be of interest to fathers working for their children. John T. will be glad to have the help!
John F. Smith
Simplement ha-llu-ci-nant !! et en plus totalement lisible par les moteurs de recherche ! Alors? Elle es pas belle la vie?? ^^