“On Friday’s CBS This Morning, reporter Sharyl Attkisson delivered a report that was fatally flawed on several levels, but I hesitate to even mention the reporting itself, because even if everything in the report was 100% above-board and true, it would not support the sick conclusion that permeates it: that Alex Spourdalakis’ mother had no choice but to murder him. This sounds like an exaggeration, surely, but it is not. This was the explicit message of CBS News’ report.”Christopher offers a lengthy analysis of omissions and distortions in the CBS report. I won’t duplicate his efforts. Suffice to say the choice of footage and commentary suggests a no-win, hopeless situation in which child murder was the only way out.
The CBS report, unfortunately, is not an isolated case. At LoveExplosions, a blog writer is outraged by the “appallingly predictable” framing of autistic children’s murder by their caregivers.
“The parent’s name changes. The child’s name changes.
“But the rest of the details of the story pretty much remain the same. Tired mother/father/caregiver. Not enough support. Not enough services. Unmanageable/aggressive/violent child.
“The caregiver is left with no other option but to kill the child. We should all feel sorry that this caregiver was driven to such ends — who wouldn’t be? Dealing with an Autistic child is misery — a prison sentence and no one helps.”As a woman on the autism spectrum, I share the writer’s outrage that brutal acts are being condoned because the victims -- Spourdalakis and Issy Stapleton -- were/are on the autism spectrum. It’s victim-blaming pure and simple:
“Let’s be very clear. Lack of services did not kill/attempt to kill either of these children. They were both attacked by their mothers.
“There is ALWAYS an alternative to killing. Always. They CHOSE to kill their children. Would these children not be better off as wards of the state than dead?”When announcing the March 1 Day of Mourning for people with disabilities killed by relatives or caregivers, Zoe Gross, a member of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, observed:
“Far too often, when a disabled person is murdered by a caregiver, journalists write as though it is the disabled victim who has perpetrated a crime simply by existing. In discussing the killing, people say that we should feel sorry for the murderer, because they had to live with a disabled relative. When a disabled person is murdered, many people act as though the murder victim’s life, not their death, was a tragedy.”CBS’s treatment of Spourdalakis’s murder is only the latest offense. As a writer and former newspaper editor, I share Christopher’s and Gross’s dismay.
I have no respect for journalists who cast killers and would-be killers as sympathetic leads when depicting brutal and violent acts.
It’s bad enough that some autism parenting bloggers offered empathy and “understanding” to the perpetrators of violent acts. As Shannon Des Roches Rosa at BlogHer.com aptly states, “Just because you understand how difficult parenting can be does not mean you understand why someone would kill their autistic child. Those two subjects need to be separated by a brick wall.”
Through their branded platforms, journalists have “reach.” They have additional privilege and power to shape discourse and frame narratives. They produce the first drafts of history that describe these acts. With that power comes responsibility.