From start to finish, 'Hardball' shamelessly parroted the usual "big lies" about fathers, custody and child-support.
On August 20th, 1999, CNBC's program "Hardball" aired an interview with Howard University professor Stephen Baskerville, spokesman for Men, Fathers & Children International. Also present were attorney Marcia Clark, whose claim to fame was the O.J. Simpson trial, and Nora O'Brien, the California State Director of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Child Support (ACES).
The show's host, Lawrence O'Donnell, displayed his incredible ignorance of the Family Court system for all the world to see. And of course he had his henchmen, or should we say "henchwomen" there to help him beat up on Mr. Baskerville. From start to finish, 'Hardball' shamelessly parroted the usual "big lies" about fathers, custody and child-support.
Marcia Clark, you may remember, claimed (during the O.J. Simpson trial) that her high-powered career has taken up so much of her time that she went and petitioned the court to make her ex-husband, Gordon Clark, pay more child support so she could afford "extra sitters, hair styling and on-camera clothing", among other things. Keep in mind that Marcia Clark's yearly salary is $96,829 and that Gordon Clark's is $54,588- about $40,000 a year less.
Then there is Nora O'Brien, who is employed by ACES, a for-profit organization that makes its money by collecting "unpaid child support"...for a fee, of course. The more they collect, the more profit they make. The more unpaid child support there is, the more money there is for them to collect. Clearly, it is in their own best interests that those who pay child support be in arrears.
Lawrence O'Donnell, the host of 'Hardball', has been a fixture on the show for some time. His frequent ignorance of the topic under discussion is usually exceeded only by the quantity of his offensive braying and badgering of his guests. 'Hardball' frequently runs along the lines of the classic "interview by ambush", (also called "gang-bang journalism") where one "guest" (also called the "target") is bullied unfairly and relentlessly by the host as well as by the other guests. Rarely is the "target" allowed the opportunity to actually present his or her position, and rarely is any true discussion allowed. Instead, Mr. O'Donnell does his best to "stir the pot" and encourage his guests to join him in shouting at and berating the "target", kind of like a high-class 'Jerry Springer' show. (Although, to be fair, the guests on 'Hardball' haven't engaged in any chair-throwing. Yet.)
Read the show's transcript below and decide for yourself:
A) Is Lawrence O'Donnell totally clueless as to what "Family" Court is all about?
B) Is Marcia Clark ignorant or is she lying?
C) And finally, isn't Nora O'Brien really in this for her own financial benefit?
(Hint: The answers to 'A', 'B', and 'C' are "Yes"'.)
August 20, 1999, CNBC 'Hardball' with Lawrence O'Donnell
(Show starts off with video clips from George W. Bush dated June 30th, 1999.)
Bush: "There is certain behavior that will really make it hard for you to access the dream."
Bush: "Having children out of wedlock, is.... you know we'll love the babies, but a child out of wedlock is going to make it awfully hard for the mother to be able to succeed in America."
(Another clip from George W. Bush, this one from August 19th, 1999.)
Bush: "When find success we ought to praise it and when we find places where children are left behind we need to correct these problems."
(End of video clips)
'Hardball' Host Lawrence O'Donnell: "That was Texas Governor, George W. Bush. President Clinton has also made child support one of his key issues and he's announced a crack down on the country's most egregious child support violators. The president claims that child support collects have gone up 80% during his administration to almost 15 billion dollars in 1998. But not everyone thinks the system is working. Joining us now from Washington is Stephen Baskerville. He's a professor from Howard University and the spokesman for Men, Fathers & Children International. Stephen Baskerville, what is the problem with child support as you see it today?"
Baskerville: "Child support is essentially a way of financing what amounts to the judicial kidnapping of children. Throughout this country there are massive amounts of children that are being taken away from their fathers for any reason and for no reason. These are fathers who are accused of no wrongdoing in most instances. There are fathers who have never agreed to a separation or divorce yet they are regularly hauled into court told they have no decision making power over their children-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "But Stephen, aren't they hauled into court because they are not paying any support for their children?"
Baskerville: "No I'm talking about before there is any order against the father, before there is any consideration of support. These are fathers who have done nothing wrong, these are fathers who have not separated from their children, there are fathers who have not agreed to a separation. They are just simply being hauled into court and stripped of custody of their children, ordered to stay away from them most of the time-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "In what states does this happen?"
Baskerville: "This happens in virtually every state of the country and it's happening in many foreign countries as well. This is increasingly a worldwide problem. It's happening throughout in virtually every jurisdiction I know of that I've experienced, this kind of thing. Fathers are told-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "Stephen, I've got to tell you, I got to tell you, this sounds like Mars to me. I don't know of any jurisdiction anywhere where there is absolutely no parental right granted fathers simply because they are male which seems to me at this point is what you're saying."
Baskerville: "This is the astounding fact, if you exclude convicted criminals in this country, there is no sector in our society that has fewer rights than fathers. Fathers can be deprived of their children, their life savings, their home, their privacy and their freedom without any Constitutional or Bill of Rights protections at all. This is a shocking situation but it is true. Fathers who are accused of nothing are ordered by family court judges to pay the fees of lawyers they have not hired. They are told, they are hauled into court and told 'pay my friend or go to jail'. Now most people would call this a shakedown racket and that is exactly what it is. Fathers who have not, again, not accused of anything are told they must pay as much as two thirds and sometimes more of their income-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "Well Stephen, fathers don't have to be accused of anything to be required to support their children or in many instances to help with the attorney's fees in divorce litigation because they have the resources to do so and the non-working mother doesn't or the mother doesn't have the resources the father has. In civil divorce litigation, there need be no accusation that determines then where the financing ends up going."
Baskerville:" Well, you're exactly right and the results of this is that we have a system of government sponsored kidnapping extortion. The government, the family courts and other government agencies are essentially in the business of taking children from their fathers and sometimes mothers and then shaking down the fathers for they have-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "Alright, let's go to Sacramento. Joining us now is Nora O'Brien, the California State Director of ACES, the Association for Children for Enforcement of Child Support. Nora O'Brien, the government is in the business of kidnapping, of shaking down, of extortion, and you love it, don't you?"
O'Brien: "Ahhh, no actually not, we don't think...we don't see it that way. The issue is that, this issue of child support is not a gender issue. It's not a war between mother and dad. It's an issue of children not receiving the support that they deserve and doing everything that children deserve...the emotional and financial support of both parents, we believe."
'Hardball' Host: "OK and joining me in Los Angeles is Marcia Clark. (Clark smiling the whole time) Marcia Clark, you an I both live in LA, I know...I personally know a number of women who ARE PAYING CHILD SUPPORT to their husbands who are not making as much money as they do, who are paying alimony to their husbands, who have surrendered vast resources to their husbands. Where does this idea come from that the male is somehow oppressed in divorce litigation and then in child support judgments?"
Clark: (never breaking her smile) "From Stephen Baskerville...(laughs). I mean the truth of the matter is that what we tend to do, and I think the general intent of all of these laws is to make sure that children are taken care of. And especially in California, the intent is to have both the parents support the children, however that may be, and whoever makes more money pays. That's the bottom line. It has nothing to do with gender. If you make more money, you're going to pay. If I make more money, I'm going to pay."
'Hardball' Host: "Stephen Baskerville, what's wrong with that? You know that in California there is a computer program where you just plug in numbers. Here's the wife's resources, here's the husband's resources, here's who will get what amount of child support. What is evil about a computer program that divides up the numbers that way?"
Baskerville: Well for one thing, I think we all know that the computer system in California, like in most jurisdictions, is a mess. The California child support system is in complete disarray, as it is in many other jurisdictions. But the deeper problem behind this, is the system of child support is created by a massive machine of people. This machine consists of family court judges, of lawyers, of child support enforcement agents, essentially a system of bureaucratic police, of social workers and others, who all have one thing in common. They have a vested interest, a financial interest in ripping as many children away from their fathers as possible-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "What is their financial interest in that? What piece of the action do they get?"
Baskerville: "Ah, the lawyers get obviously get legal fees,-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "OK but you're accusing the judges, the clerks, the court officers. Everybody's in a racket where they are somehow siphoning off of child support?"
Baskerville: "Child support is only part of it, there's a much...there's a bigger picture here. What happens, the judge sits at the center a patronage racket. The judge funnels...when the father is hauled into court, he is essentially plundered for everything he has. The judge then proceeds to pass out, to dole out everything in his account to favored cronies of the court which include lawyers, psychotherapists, and others. Ah, the child support enforcement people also have a stake in this. They are the ones that actually write in many instances, they actually write the child support guidelines themselves, the courts and the enforcement agents. In other words it's the equivalent of the courts and the police writing the laws. If this happened anywhere else in society we would have a police state. And that is exactly what we are creating around fathers."
'Hardball' Host: "OK, Stephen Baskerville says we got a police state around fathers. We aren't buying it but you're watching Hardball on CNBC."
'Hardball' Host: "And we're back on Hardball. Marcia Clark, the only problem I've ever been aware of in child support is basically the men's refusal to pay child support. Now men being the people most frequently ordered to pay child support although it always doesn't work out that way and that in all the welfare legislation moving in the Congress in the last few years, one of the provisions that has always been in there is that we have to enforce child support, we have to enforce child support as a way of relieving some of the welfare payments end up being made because no child support is being made."
Clark: (trying to smile and talk) "That's right and in a matter of fact in California, where you have a spouse and it doesn't matter which one it is, you know, it's genderless, completely neutral that way, but whoever's been ordered to pay, to the extent that they don't and that the other spouse, the receiving spouse goes on welfare, when they catch up with the one who is suppose to pay, he will be required to reimburse welfare even if the spouse no longer needs the help. So in other-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "Stephen Baskerville, what's wrong with that?"
Baskerville: "Well first of all, parents of neither gender should have to suffer this. But this misconception of men are not paying is simply not true. Fathers who have visitation and joint custody of their children overwhelmingly do pay child support. The leading reason why people do not pay child support is because they are unemployed. The fathers who don't pay child support generally can't pay child support. They're usually part of the under-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "But Stephen, just a second. Whenever your economic circumstances change, whenever you become unemployed, whenever you get a pay cut, you can march right into the court. You don't need a lawyer for it, you can lay out the numbers, you say look....my situation has changed, I can't afford it and they change the child (Baskerville tries to interrupt stating "No..") support order."
Baskerville: "Unfortunately that's not the case. They almost never change child support orders"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming) "Ohhhh wait a minute Stephen, THAT'S THE LAW! DON'T TELL ME IT'S NOT THE CASE! That is exactly the way it works."
Baskerville: "The law is on the books. And the law that operates in family courts are two different things. Family courts operate in secret for the most part. There is no record of their proceedings. Witnesses-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming while Marcia makes a loud sigh at the same time) "THERE IS A RECORD! EVERY SINGLE CHILD SUPPORT ORDER IS A PUBLIC RECORD! It's a piece of paper you can go and get."
Baskerville: "Excuse me, the public are generally excluded from family court proceedings. And-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming) "I CAN GO GET YOUR child support order or anybody else's child support order in the state of California. There's nothing private about it."
Baskerville: "Uh'hum. But you cannot...you do not know what goes on within the family court proceeding. Very seldom judges lower child support awards-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming) "I KNOW WHAT GOES ON, THERE'S A COMPUTER THAT'S PLUGGING THE NUMBERS! EVERYONE KNOWS HOW THE COMPUTER WORKS."
Baskerville: (trying to get a word in) "Excuse me, judges have a vested interest in keeping child support awards as high as possible."
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming) "BECAUSE..."
Baskerville: "The higher the awards are...to bring more fathers and more children into the system. This is how the system is designed, to create deadbeat dads. It is created...it is designed to create arrearages-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming in amazement) "IS THIS BECAUSE...IS THIS FOR THE JUDGE'S PRESERVATION of his own job?"
'Hardball' Host: (screaming in amazement) "YOU THINK, YOU THINK family court would disappear if child support orders disappeared? You think no one in America would want to go...like childless couples-" (Baskerville tries to interrupt saying "If they weren't...") "-would stop wanting to get divorced and we could dismiss all the family court judges, let them go home, if you just ended child support?"
Baskerville: "Ahhh, first of all most divorces in this country, about 80%, are unilateral. And yes, these judges are well aware that they will essentially be redundant if they'd stop ripping children away from their fathers. They reward child stealing rather than punishing it because they know it's good for business-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting and screaming) "OK, LET'S TALK ABOUT...WE HAVE SOME EXPERTS HERE, Stephen, we have some experts here on California law. We have Nora O'Brien, we have Marcia Clark. You tell us under California law, you tell Nora O'Brien how a mother can steal her child away from her father."
Baskerville: "Essentially she...she takes the children and clears out with all of their effects. She then has the father hauled into court, sometimes within a matter of hours. He is slapped with an order to stay away from the children most of the time, an order to begin making child support payments, an order to pay a lawyer he hasn't hired, and if he refuses or is unable to do any of these he could be incarcerated without trial, without charge and without counsel-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "OK, Nora O'Brien, United States of America, State of California, he could be incarcerated without trial, have you ever heard of ANYTHING like that ever happening like that in your state?"
O'Brien: "No, have not heard about that at all, I mean, our families are the families that are owed support and we hear, a lot different story, a lot different story in that they wait .... there's a big backlog of court time. You have to wait sometimes 3 to 6 months and then in terms of LA County, you are talking a 9 month wait for a continuance for a hearing so...we don't...we have not seen that, but what we have seen is, that, in terms of child support guidelines, what's crucial is those states that have an administrative process instead of family court judges, that they use administrative processes for handling child support cases...States like Washington, and Virginia, can get into child support....establish a child support order a lot quicker and if they need to modify an order if the non-custodial parent's income has changed, you can get in within a few weeks rather than nine months-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "Marcia Clark, Does Stephen's story sound familiar to you?"
Clark: (still smiling) "No!" (Clark laughs and the host, Lawrence O'Donnell, joins in the laugh) "I don't know where Stephen's story comes from, I mean it's totally bizarre. I don't know what the American Spectator is doing printing this kind of stuff. But kids don't get ripped away from anybody and there has to be a lot of court proceedings before visitation is denied and-"
'Hardball' Host: (interrupting) "OK, you can read Stephen Baskerville's article in the American Spectator, and thanks to Stephen Baskerville, Nora O'Brien and Marcia Clark...."
For Lawrence O'Donnell to state "Where does this idea come from that the male is somehow oppressed in divorce litigation and then in child support judgments?" is conclusive evidence that he is completely clueless as to the workings of divorce as well as the Family Court system. To say that fathers aren't discriminated against in Divorce Court is a classic "big lie".
As for Marcia Clark, it is truly astounding to hear her say that the all-too-common "father-ectomy" scenario described by Mr. Baskerville is "totally bizarre", and to then intimate that she's never heard of "this kind of stuff" happening. She's either woefully ignorant, under-qualified to comment on family law, or just plain lying. We did notice, however, that she wasn't able to spout this "big lie" with a straight face.
Nora O'Brien works for ACES, a child support collection agency. As such, she has the most vested interest possible in wanting large child support awards- she and her employer profit directly from collecting "unpaid child support". It's simple: higher child support awards translate into a larger burden on the person paying, which not surprisingly translates into more "unpaid child support". In other words: The harder it is for them to pay, the more likely it is they'll fall behind. And lest we forget to mention, Nora's "big lie" was that "You have to wait sometimes 3 to 6 months" for a child support order. It's well known that so-called "temporary" orders (which may actually remain in efect for months or years) can be obtained immediately in virtually any Family Court in the United States.
After reading this, if you'd like to tell the people at 'Hardball' what you think of this particular show, drop them a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write them at:
Hardball with Chris Matthews 1825 K. Street, N.W., 10th Fl Washington, DC 20006
(202) 467-5400 (202) 467-0601 FAX
If we don't let the media know that this kind of father-bashing is unacceptable, they'll continue to spread the "big lies" that contribute to anti-father bias. You can be a part of changing society's negative view of fathers by speaking up and being heard.
You can also e-mail Stephen Baskerville and let him know that you support his efforts on behalf of fathers everywhere.