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April 3, 2004

Omitting Information That's Unhelpful to the Cause

Something just doesn't add up in a Providence Journal report today by Michael McKinney:

A Fall River foster mother, arraigned on charges of raping a 15-year-old girl in her custody, had previously been viewed by the state Department of Social Services as offering a "model foster home," according to a department spokeswoman.

The 26-year-old woman, Christina Machado, has been a foster mother since 1996 and has two children of her own as well as another foster child, and the 15-year-old accuser has been in the house since September 2002.

Machado is free on $5,000 bail and has moved out of the house rather than force the girl out. (Although the girl has apparently left, too, so perhaps Machado left so the other foster child could stay.) According to McKinney, she pleaded not guilty to charges that followed an investigation begun when the Department of Social Services "received a call on its hot line about two or three weeks ago about the accusations." DSS spokeswoman Denise Monteiro says, "At this point, we take every allegation seriously until it is proven or unproven." McKinney reports that specifics "of the alleged crime could not be determined... before a trial."

Monteiro said by phone yesterday that over some two weeks, DSS investigators found no witnesses to the alleged crime. It could not be determined yesterday if the police, which investigate separately, had found witnesses.

So, based on this article, it seems entirely plausible that the foster daughter — who went through who knows what before the age of 14 — might have made up a story, and it's just gotten out of hand. Every kid knows that DSS is one way to express power over mommy and daddy, but it is a little odd that this girl would target mommy and not follow the more predictable storyline. I mean, one would guess that there's a foster father, because (1) Machado has two children of her own, (2) Monteiro said that "they have been a model foster home," and (3) if the mother has left the house, somebody has to be there with the children.

But it's just quirky enough, and it's sufficiently nearby that there was a chance I'd know of the family, so I figured I'd Google Machado, whose name the Projo provides (along with her home address). Doing so, I discovered that the Boston Herald covered the story yesterday, in a piece by David Guarino entitled "Rape rap fuels gay fight: Lesbian foster mom charged in assault."

Well, that's an interesting omission from the Projo piece! Perhaps McKinney or his editors didn't want to taint the front-page encomium of RI House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who is basking in the affection resulting from his public coming out the other day. But Machado's lifestyle isn't the only bit of information that the Boston Herald reveals that the Providence Journal wouldn't or couldn't:

Sources said a teacher at the girl's school made the report after she had been "acting up."

Sources familiar with the lengthy police report said the rapes allegedly occurred within five days of one another last month. The sources said a friend of Machado's "witnessed the abuse and was instrumental in telling police what happened." ...

The girl had been in the care of Machado and another woman, who sources identified as her partner, since November 2003 after living in several other foster homes.

The girl was examined at a Fall River hospital by doctors who confirmed she had been raped, according to a source. ...

DSS records show one call to report abuse last year but Monteiro said it was "unsupported."...

Three other younger children are still in the Walnut Street home, including another foster child, a boy.

That makes it sound quite a bit less like a teenage foster child's revenge gotten out of control. It also raises a number of questions about the case and about the Providence Journal. Regarding the former, we have a lesbian who's been a foster mother since she was 18. Perhaps her partner is older, because that seems awfully early to sign up for that role, but then how did the 26-year-old lesbian come to have two children "of her own"?

The Herald puts the 15-year-old in the house about four months before the two alleged incidents (as opposed to the Journal's year and a half), which makes the timing of abuse more plausible. If the Herald is correct, it would mean that the same girl probably wasn't the one who made the "unsupported" accusation last year. The Herald's vague details also raise disturbing questions about the nature of the case. What sort of lesbian rape would leave traces that a doctor could confirm? And under what circumstances did the "friend" witness the abuse? Was the behavior consensual?

I'm not confident that the Projo will be the place to watch for answers to these questions. It's possible that Guarino has better sources at the Fall River police station than McKinney does, but the nature of the household is a pretty basic detail — one that he seems deliberately to have written around. If that's true, then the news division of the Providence Journal left out information specifically because some readers might have found it relevant.

Discouraged by the lack of real debate about the marriage bills currently in the Rhode Island legislature, I submitted a column to the Projo earlier in the week. Ever since, I've been thinking that it mightn't have been prudent for me to react so harshly to some of its coverage in the past, as merited as I believe my criticism to have been. But McKinney's piece is an embarrassment, at best, and an outrage, at worst — particularly because it is entirely in line with the paper's already clear agenda. How can interested citizens not react harshly when the state's only major newspaper shifts to advocacy?

A local TV news station has online video (mostly of the house and neighbors who can't believe such things could happen in their neighborhood). I've also found the Fall River Herald News report. (I'd tried earlier, but the paper's main page is quirky, and I gave up.)

Both of these sources accord with the Providence Journal with respect to the length of time that the girl had been in the home (since fall 2002). The TV news did mention that Machado lives with another woman, but without using the "L" word. The Herald News, conspicuously, only mentions that she "lives with another foster child and two natural children." Both of these sources also report that the 15-year-old was removed from the home immediately, and the newspaper adds this peculiar bit of information:

Monteiro would not discuss the details of the investigation, but did say the alleged victim has been traumatized and is "a troubled girl."

Was she "troubled" before living there or only after? And what does Monteiro mean to imply — mentioning this aspect of the case for public consumption?

Posted by Justin Katz at April 3, 2004 3:19 PM
News Media

Ah. Some sources won't report all the details about this because it... sounds... so much like "Teenaged girl objects to lesbian recruitment".

Posted by: ELC at April 3, 2004 10:33 PM

I'm gay, but if this woman was trying to "recruit" her foster daughter, then I don't think it should be covered up. However, I hope that you realize this is not typical behavior or accepted behavior for gay men or lesbians, or gay foster parents. If it were, there's no way even the so-called liberal media could cover it up, and there's no way that so many reputable organizations would encourage gays to adopt or foster children.

Justin, what should papers say about Gordon Fox coming out? Is this a horrible thing, that he's gay? He said that he doesn't expect any marriage bills to pass, so it isn't like he is demanding they pass these bills. I have seen coverage of both sides of the argument in a number of articles like:

Maybe I'm biased here, because I can't figure out what harm benefits for same-sex couples do. The "debate" from the other side usually involves people claiming that gays want to destroy marriage and that straights will suddenly stop having children and procreation will cease to exist. Or claims that millions of dollars will be spent and old people will die alone in the hospital (as they're saying in Massachusetts). They fail to point out just how many gay couples die alone, in the hospital, because the hospital or hostile relatives/courts refuse to acknowledge any legal paperwork. That is why gay couples want benefits, whether they are marriage or something on a smaller level. I don't see the horror in this. Maybe I'm missing something?

Posted by: Bill at April 4, 2004 3:40 PM

I also wondered if there was any evidence in any non-Projo papers to back up Crews' claims that, aside from in this home, children are not safe if they live with gay parents. Because otherwise, the Boston Herald article is as much of spin control as the Projo's version. That's like me saying that the woman down in Texas who killed 2 sons and almost killed her 14-month old because she said God told her to is an example of how unsafe a heterosexual home is. It isn't fair to put on person on an entire community.

Posted by: Bill at April 4, 2004 3:45 PM


I do realize that this is an individual case, not a broadly applicable case study. In fact, I probably wouldn't have commented on it if the Projo hadn't added a whole dimension to the issue.

I also wouldn't have mentioned Gordon Fox, except in relation to distortion in the coverage of the foster mother story. Moreover, I'm reacting to both within the context of longer experience with the Projo's handling of stories related to homosexuality.

As for your suggestion that "gay couples want benefits, whether they are marriage or something on a smaller level," I don't think there's basis for that claim. That isn't what the activists want. However, I've always been a supporter of initiatives to ease unnecessary burdens, legal and otherwise, on gay couples.

And as for Crews, it seemed pretty clear to me that he was presented as a bad guy in the Herald story. And he was immediately rebutted.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 4, 2004 7:40 PM

"If it were, there's no way even the so-called liberal media could cover it up...." Thanks for giving me a hearty laugh.

Posted by: ELC at April 4, 2004 9:08 PM