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Book Review in the Providence Journal

April 27, 2014

Tomorrow is the official publication date for The Witch-Hunt Narrative. Today’s Providence Journal has the first book review. Here it is.

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The Page 99 Test

April 25, 2014

The Witch-Hunt Narrative is featured today on two blogs devoted to reading: The Page 99 Test and the Campaign for the American Reader. Page 99 might not be the page we would have chosen to highlight; then again, it perfectly captures the complexity of the book. And the campaign for the American Reader; that’s a campaign that we strongly support!

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Re-Visiting Jordan, Minnesota

April 21, 2014
SrwuealThe new issue of the Roger Williams University Law Review is a symposium from the  2013 conference on child witnesses. (Here is the foreword by Prof. Carl Bogus.) The issue includes an article on the Jordan, Minnesota cases by Ross Cheit and Andrea Matthews. Based on extensive original research, the article argues that the Jordan, Minnesota cases were far more complicated  than the witch-hunt narrative has ever acknowledged.

Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker wrote the Jordan cases off with the assertion that “the Jordan youngsters accused their parents of murdering babies.”  In fact, the police interviewed seventy children, thirty-two of whom were named in at least one criminal indictment. Five children eventually made fantastic statements about killing babies; sixty-five never did.

The article also reveals how history professor Philip Jenkins, who apparently did not conduct original research, conflated two children in the case, attributing statements made by a boy (J.B.) who made murder allegations to a boy (J.O.) with the same first initial, but who was earliest in the case and never made any such claims. Jenkins dismissed J.O. and virtually all of the other children in the case for little apparent reason. The article documents significant and overlooked evidence of abuse in the case.

The Jordan cases were a dual tragedy: people were charged who should not have been, and children were not vindicated who should have been. But the witch-hunt narrative remembers only one of those stories.

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Describing Abusive Behavior as “Young Love”

April 9, 2014

Kier Fiore

Kier Fiore

Proponents of the witch-hunt narrative have a particular kind of blindness to real abuse. That is, they don’t see sexual abuse in places where it is obvious to others. The book (The Witch-Hunt Narrative) is full of examples where real abuse is described as a false accusation or false conviction by proponents of the narrative. This post describes an example that could not fit into the book: Judith Levine’s portrayal (in chapter 4 of her book, Harmful to Minors) of Kier Fiore’s conviction for felonious sexual assault in New Hampshire as “young love,” not as a crime.

The case involved a 22-year-old man who met a 13-year-old girl on the Internet and fled town with her after his arrest for statutory rape. Levine claims that the case was “narrated” by the police to fit a social text in which Fiore was the bad guy and the girl she calls Heather was painted as the “victim.”Levine mocked the idea that Fiore was considered “armed and dangerous” while on the run with Heather and she dismissed reports from two ex-wives that Fiore was abusive as “shady and disputed” facts.

But an examination of original court documents reveals a host of errors and omissions in Levine’s version of this case.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Unlearned Lessons of the McMartin Preschool case

mcmartinschoolMarch 31, 2014
It was the longest criminal trial in American history and it ended without a single conviction. Five people were charged with child sexual abuse based on extremely flimsy evidence. Some parents came to believe outlandish stories about ritual abuse and tunnels underneath the preschool. It is no wonder that the McMartin case, once labeled the largest “mass molestation” case in history, has come to be called a witch-hunt. In a commentary to a Retro Report earlier this month, Clyde Haberman, former Times reporter, repeated the view that the  case was a witch-hunt that spawned a wave of other cases of “dubious provenance.” But does that description do justice to the facts?

A careful examination of court records reveals that the witch-hunt narrative about the McMartin case is a powerful but not entirely accurate story. For starters, critics have obscured the facts surrounding the origins of the case. Richard Beck, quoted as an expert in the Retro Report story, recently asserted that the McMartin case began when Judy Johnson “went to the police” to allege that her child had been molested. Debbie Nathan, the other writer quoted by Retro Report, went even further, asserting that “everyone overlooked the fact that Judy Johnson was psychotic.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Retro Report Repeats Media Myth on the McMartin Preschool case

March 27, 2014
Retro Report recently did a story about the McMartin Preschool case in California, the subject of a detailed and complicated chapter in my forthcoming book. Sadly, the organization devoted to “re-examining” media stories told the same extreme, black-and-white version of the case that has persisted for almost 25 years. I have a post in today’s  Oxford University Press blog taking Retro Report to task for repeating the media myth that the case was “all a witch-hunt.”  Important evidence in the case proves that Retro Report got it wrong. [Update: that post was moved to this site; see above.]

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Story in the Providence Journal

Cheit_BB_01_40X0V1T4HMarch 23, 2014
There was a front-page story in the Providence Journal today about The Witch-Hunt Narrative. Amazon says that the book will start shipping this Thursday. If you are in the Providence area, there will be a book launch event at Brown on Tuesday April 1 at 4:00.

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The Witch-Hunt Narrative

March 21, 2014
The Witch-Hunt Narrative is scheduled to be released soon! Information about the book can be found on the “About the Book” tab, while direct links for purchasing can be found on the “Purchase the Book” tab. Please check back  for updates about the book and content related to the book.

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