Friday, August 2, 2013
Like most people who have followed the dramatic rescue of the three woman held captive for over ten years in Cleveland, we all breathed a sigh of relief to see justice finally being done. The media have not been shy in exploiting this situation and the court proceedings of the perpetrator, Ariel Castro. During the sentencing hearing, we all witnessed the dramatic testimony of one of the girls, Michelle Knight, who showed immense courage in standing up her abductor and rapist in the courtroom.
In the ensuing evening, it was Brian Williams of NBC news, who during his nightly broadcast, dropped a disgusting bombshell regarding the reporting of this case. It was here that he referred to Ariel Castor, as the "face of mental illness!" I have heard many degrading comments used to describe those of us with mental illness, but this falls into the category of a cowardly cheap shot at vulnerable people who are struggling with one of these socially unacceptable disorders. Additionally, it was blatantly false.
Numerous questions come to mind that need to be asked about Mr. Williams communication and they would start with; How stupid is he? My last question surely would be; Is Mr. Williams on crack or something? Seriously, I wonder why he would play into the long ago disproved stereotypes associated with mental illness that those afflicted are violent criminals? Finally, why would he sacrifice a significant number of people for ratings boost? Good questions, that may never be fully answered. However, his narrative can be easily falsified.
To begin with, a Forensic Psychiatrist, Gregory Saathof testified at the sentencing that Castro had "NO mental illness whatsoever". This in itself should have prevented such an delinquent account to be made by a national journalist, but, as they say in modern day journalism; never let facts stand in the way of a possible ratings boost!
That doctors comments aside, I have other examples that disprove Mr. Williams visceral statement and the first would be an introduction of one of the greatest news journalists of this era, the late Mike Wallace. This man became synonymous with professionalism and was well respected in his field. Also, he was honest about being both mentally ill and suicidal, but never once kidnapped three women and held them in a basement for ten years. Perhaps, as a future goal, Mr. Williams should strive to develop the integrity that Mr. Wallace displayed in the many decades he reported the news.
Another compelling example would be former Today Show host Jane Pauley, who disclosed several years ago that she had been hospitalized because she suffers from bipolar disorder. Additionally, Mrs. Pauley has been an outspoken advocate on spreading awareness of these misunderstood afflictions. She encourages others to "Get the Science" out on the biological nature of mental illness as a way to combat the ugly stigma associated with a diagnosis. Her efforts have been invaluable in bringing acceptance of these conditions and standing up to ignorant comments, such as those uttered by Brian Williams.
To give this man a more serious taste of awareness, I will explain the real faces of most of the other fifty million plus Americans who suffer from these disorders. They are your average citizens who wake up every day, go to work, raise families, and because of imbecilic statements like his, sometimes feel a need to live in a social cave out of fear others will discover their affliction. They do not have the same income level that Brian Williams has, conversely, they do not possess the arrogance and superiority complex that he is afflicted with either. However, his irresponsible comments just make the path to wellness that much more difficult for these genuine people, as they struggle to gain acceptance. So many of them strive to be defined for whom they are, not by the psychological symptoms of a disease.
The damage that these statements cause is catastrophic. As the public begins to believe these false descriptions, more people will feel the need to apologize for being sick. Many could retreat back to shadows of loneliness and despair that are a hallmark of disorders of the brain. With that comes depression, and in some cases, suicide appears to be the only answer a sick mind can comprehend. It is known that over ninety percent of suicides are directly linked to one of these disorders.
NBC needs to step in and make a bold and dramatic presentation to show they truly are a network that does not discriminate. First, they need to apologize publically for Brian Williams falsehood. Next, they need to install an internal program of awareness on these conditions, to avoid damaging stereotypes. Perhaps a beer summit is even in order.
It is no secret that the mainstream media is losing credibility on a daily basis, and this situation is a treasured example as to why. Former Alaskan Governor and Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin constantly refers to them as the "Lame-stream media", and this is more evidence that her label does have significant merit. Sadly, the true victims in this situation are those that are most vulnerable, the mentally ill.
I have made attempts to contact NBC news, and Erika Masonhall the communications director for NBC Nightly News responded to me via twitter. "...Brian changed the wording and removed that phrase for later feeds of the Broadcast." We soon discover that inside the fortress known as the NBC news studios, a well known anchor insults a group of innocent citizens with discriminatory comments based on ignorance, and all they can say is that he changed the wording after the fact.
This brings to mind the recent controversy involving the former TV chef Paula Dean. Many years ago, she made some inappropriate and racist comments that were caught on camera. When this became public, news outlets, such as NBC and their sister station MSNBC, went on a rampage and publically hung Paula Dean, resulting in her losing everything. When compared, is what Brian Williams said any less hateful? After all, the mentally ill are a minority, and an hidden one at that.
Brain Williams was looking for a reason that Castro acted the way he did, and he used something easy and misunderstood, mental illness. He could not believe the possibility that some people are just pure evil, with a pathology of cruelty and violence towards women, which causes them become serial rapists. However, spineless comments, done in the name of ratings, can have devastating effects. Their recklessness remind me of William Shakespeare, who wrote "A coward dies a thousand deaths, but the valiant taste death but once." To those at NBC, specifically Brian Williams, their number of symbolic deaths will be many, but their calloused ignorance could contribute to the actual deaths of other less fortunate souls.