- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

Spousal abuse

We are accustomed to hearing from interest groups on various subjects, and try always to hear them out respectfully. They are valued as readers, of course, and often prompt us to think in new ways about what we do.

One of the more vocal groups we hear from is called Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting, or RADAR. The group’s premise seems to be that laws aimed at protecting women from domestic abuse have gone too far, leaving men subject to unfair discrimination.

Doubtless, excessively zealous laws have been passed in some places, and there are many individual cases in which men have been treated unfairly by the courts. But compared, say, to the daily slaughter in Baghdad or genocide in Darfur, it has not been an issue that has preoccupied us.

Even so, I had thought our readers at RADAR would be pleased by a London Daily Telegraph article, which we published in mid-November: The gist was that men’s groups in India were organizing in opposition to new domestic abuse laws that they felt were too tough on men.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The group was infuriated by the article, principally because of a line in the story saying a U.N. report had found that 70 percent of married women in India had been beaten by their husbands.

The article “is biased, laced with anti-male rhetoric and uses make-believe statistics,” said a typical letter of complaint. Like many of the hundreds of letters and e-mails that flooded into our office, it also accused us of “fabricating” that statistic.

Errors happen at every news organization, but we certainly don’t “fabricate” statistics to spice up our stories, and many of us found the suggestion offensive.

We were also tempted to laugh off the matter because the campaign was so clearly orchestrated. The vast majority of letters and e-mails, four of which appeared as letters to the editor, used identical language.

There also were phone calls and, frustrated with the clogging of my e-mail account, I got a little hot with one caller. I told him our policy was not to correct articles written by other organizations unless the originator did so first, so he should take his complaint to the London Telegraph.

The caller shot back that we should take responsibility for what appeared in our pages.

Calls to India

That struck home. I called the Telegraph in London to asked that they check back with their sources.

Two or three days later, the Telegraph replied that their correspondent in New Delhi had contacted the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the source of the statistic. UNFPA said several news organizations had erroneously used that statistic, which was gleaned from a “misleading” chart in their 2005 annual report.

At this point we wanted to print a correction as quickly as possible, regardless of what the Telegraph did. But our procedures require us not only to say that an article was wrong, but to tell our readers what it should have said.

The Telegraph provided a phone number for a UNFPA spokeswoman in New Delhi, whom I called immediately. Because of the time difference, it was about 10 p.m. in India and she was at home getting out of the shower when I reached her.

Graciously, she promised to try to get me the correct figure when she returned to her office. She did send an e-mail the next day, but like other important missives it got lost in the ever expanding avalanche of complaints from RADAR members.

Two more days of calling and e-mailing to India produced what we needed for the correction, which appeared on Wednesday. It turns out the chart was intended to show that 70 percent of Indian women who have been abused by their husbands think such abuse is justified in at least some circumstances.

I’m not sure whether that was any more palatable to the RADAR folks, but at least the e-mails have stopped.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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