Excerpt: 'Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity'

STOSSEL -that you made children drink your urine, that you made kids take their clothes off and licked peanut butter off them. It's very hard to believe, yet the jury believed it and not you.

MS. MICHAELS No one was willing to doubt a child.

The media certainly wasn't. Professional skepticism took a holiday in the face of "good copy."

The media like bad news, and tend to believe it.

MYTH: Divorce hurts women much more than men, and many men abandon their kids.

TRUTH: Both men and women suffer after divorce, and lots of men want to give more to their kids.

The media (including the men, for psychological reasons involving guilt or other factors best left to Dr. Phil), see men as inviting, politically correct targets. When experts start trumpeting statistics that add up to "men are bad," reporters listen. For years, I heard bad things about deadbeat dads. They were living it up, while their ex-wives and children had to scrape by. It's a recurring story, and the media regurgitates it regularly. It's also group slander.

In 1985, Lenore Weitzman, then a sociologist at Harvard, published data showing that men prosper after divorce, while women and children suffer terribly.

Weitzman's report was appalling: Men's standard of living rose 42 percent after divorce, while women's declined by 73 percent. The media couldn't get enough of this exciting news. Those figures were cited not only in news stories, but in 348 social science articles, 250 law review articles, and 24 appeals court cases. Around that time, government officials also reported that Census data showed that about half of the divorced fathers in America didn't pay child support they owed. The evening newscasts and the papers featured both claims uncritically. The stories fit comfortably into the media's "save the victim" rut. But get the shovel: The stories didn't deserve the airtime or the headlines. A little reportorial digging would have burst the sanctimonious bubble.

Digging was finally done, but not by the media. Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver set out initially to examine the reasons for the shocking data. Why were those divorced fathers acting so irresponsibly? How could a dad abandon his child?

Braver was surprised to discover that the Weitzman figures were wrong, the result of a mathematical error. Weitzman later admitted she was wrong. She said a computer analyst had made a mistake-a mistake, in this case, heard around the world.

Braver conducted his own study of four hundred divorces, the biggest federally funded study ever done on divorced dads. His findings turned conventional wisdom, and all those media stories, on their heads. The 42 percent better for men, 73 percent worse for women data wasn't even close. "Our results," he said, "show that men and women come out almost exactly equally."

Braver then found that the Census data about deadbeat dads was way off too. The data came from questions asked of the custodial parent only. The custodial parent was almost always the mother. "Everything we knew about non-custodial fathers" in the Census report, Braver told me, "we knew from custodial mothers." Did some of the angry ex-wives lie? Probably, but we don't know, because the Census workers didn't bother to ask the fathers!

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