On 25 August 2009, ABC-TV’s show Primetime Outsider ran a piece on Mad Pride that included an interview with David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International. Here is an open letter from David to the producer of the ABC-TV piece, Ia A. Robinson.
Dear Ia A. Robinson:
Ia, you phoned me in May 2009 directly after MindFreedom helped hold a MAD PRIDE protest directly in front of the American Psychiatric Association, again, as we have for so many years.
I was impressed by the amount of time you were willing to spend on the phone asking questions of me and others about the MAD PRIDE movement, and psychiatric survivors.
You asked for our assistance in reaching leads. From the start — whenever I discussed matter this with anyone — I always — always — made disclaimers like this:
“There are no guarantees on the results. This is major corporate media. We have seen what such mass media does on our topic for many years. There is no promise this will be different.”
I’m glad I said this.
It turns out I was absolutely right to issue this disclaimer and warning to everyone I discussed this show with.
That very first time I talked with you, I asked if you would end up with a focus on bloody murder on your show, because that’s what major corporate media routinely does on our topic.
You assured me that the emphasis was positive, on Mad Pride as a celebration. You assured me you would show alternatives such as peer support groups in New York City and Massachusetts in action.
Frankly, I was skeptical. But with the advice of the MindFreedom board we decided to participate anyway, knowing the risks.
When I was interviewed by Deborah Roberts of ABC-TV, her focus seemed almost entirely on violence by people diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities.
You absolutely assured me that such an overwhelming focus on murder would not happen.
Your final aired piece, I feel, absolutely and overwhelmingly focuses on the sensationalism of lurid and frightening murder, despite your assurances to the contrary. I especially note that your use of special effects such as sounds (gun fire, 911 calls), lights, distorted video shots, odd piano music, etc. were primarily used to emphasize this frightening perspective.
Let me try to find some parallels, as inexact as that might be:
- Islamic pride? It would be as if you talked with an Islamic leader at length about their pride in being Muslim, and the leader asked if you were going to focus on suicide bombers, and you replied no, no, no… but your piece ended up with a lurid focus on suicide bombers, with slow motion of bombs going off.
- Gay pride? It would be as if you were doing an early piece on Gay Pride, promised the activists a positive portrayal, and instead focused on lurid and detailed tales of homosexual child molestation for much of the show, including weeping parents of the children.
- Black pride? Not at all to compare ourselves to Rosa Parks, but it would be as if you did one of the first pieces on Rosa Parks, but instead focused on instances of where African American youth had beaten up or killed bus drivers, complete with an interview with a slain bus driver’s widow.
Looking back on this experience with you, I still feel, based on what we knew then, we needed to speak out. We in our movement and at MindFreedom did absolutely nothing wrong in speaking out.
We spoke out about our truth regarding human rights and alternatives in mental health, that we are mainly peaceful human beings, that we have a right to say “no” to psychiatric drugs. To your credit, you did not include any blatant defamation or flat out lies about our organization or us as individuals.
However, the feedback I am receiving confirms that, while we at least got a few points out to a few million people, ABC-TV distorted the viewpoint about our social change movement, making our constituency — and in turn our movement — look frightening.
Mad Pride is a positive celebration of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors. While so much of USA mass media — such as the nightly news and crime shows — over-emphasizes violence, we had hoped your show would be different. You assured us the show would be different.
Instead, your piece is an illustration that mass corporate media are one of the main obstacles to educating the public about the positive aspects of our constituency.
Your piece on Mad Pride ending up being all too normal.
David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International