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Commentary

Richard Vatz: Why Do Local Media Ignore Fatherless Families?

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The Baltimore Sun headlined its single editorial on Sept. 15, “Baltimore’s plague of gun violence continues.”

The lower case affectation could just as well have been justified by the topic and piece’s trite and unremarkable substance.

According to the editorial, homicides and other violence are up in Maryland, and no one is doing much about it, although Baltimore’s newspaper, which cites many blameworthy factors and people, sees no reason to blame the lack of stable family life wherein substantially over 70% in Baltimore City suffer from that element of problems, nor does The Sun blame itself for any of the problems or lack of new ideas.

The newspaper half-heartedly cites some bright spots, such as reform of police, everyone’s favorite scapegoat, and financial problems and lack of more government programs.  Nothing about family instability or family poverty created by single-parent families and fatherlessness has touched its editorials or paper in years.

The evidence of the causal connection between family instability and violence and poverty is manifold, but let’s look at the statement by the National Council on Family Relations from Jan. 10, 2019: “[R]esearchers have found that both violent and gun-related crimes increase as the number of single mothers, children born out of wedlock, and/or divorces increase.”

Poverty and family structure are closely related as evidenced in every study available. In fact there is no credible evidence to the contrary of causal relationships in either of these correlational phenomena.

As former Baltimore mayor and current University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke wrote to me, “Fatherlessness as a major contributing factor to poverty, crime and education underachievement has long been recognized by researchers, but it has been almost totally ignored by policy makers. The time has come to make this a priority issue for discussion in the political arena.”

So why do some of the media steadfastly refuse to even discuss this cause of causes of violence and murder?

I have tried for years to discuss the effect of family structure on crime and poverty on television, radio and newspapers. The Sun has printed some of my pieces (https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/readers-respond/bs-ed-op-0726-fatherlessness-violence-20170724-story.html), but otherwise the issue of fatherlessness is missing from its pages. Go to its website and see if you can find any reference to it as a cause of city violence.

WBAL Radio, about a year and one-half ago, after I had been promised in apparent earnest several times by its top talk show host to allow its discussion, canceled me as a guest because I brought it up. In the few interviews I have listened to since on that station there has been nary a reference to fatherlessness as a cause of Maryland’s social and criminal justice tragedies.

WCBM-Radio and WBFF-TV are the only Maryland outlets that allow me to discuss fatherlessness without censoring. I have written elsewhere on the subject in other venues and one very good piece, if I may say so, with businessman Tyrone Keys (https://marylandreporter.com/2019/06/12/opinion-fatherlessness-violence-and-political-cowardice/).

A few religious organizations have had such interest and had me speak, but for the most part Maryland’s religious leaders, community leaders, teachers, and political leaders have shunned away from the topic ― too politically dangerous to take the risk, I guess. The soon-to-be mayor of Baltimore, the charismatic Brandon Scott, never mentions it. See how far ineffectual policies take you beyond mayor, Councilman Scott.

What has to be done will take at least a decade:  disincentivize fatherlessness and stigmatize it, two effective strategies that are politically risky. Good politicians try to do something rather than just revel in being someone.

Or else we can take some comfort, as The Sun does in its Sept. 15 editorial, when we have “one or two dozen fewer homicides this year compared to last.”

There are very few powerbrokers or influencers who have the guts to solve a problem when it means offending some of their constituency, especially if it will take years.

The evidence is that reducing fatherlessness and solidifying families will in time substantially reduce social upheaval and violence. For serious policymakers that should make it worth the effort.

― RICHARD E. VATZ

The writer is a professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Towson University, where he has been on the faculty for over 45 years. His latest book,The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model” will be published by LAD Custom Publishing in 2021.