Saturday, October 20, 2012

Open letter to Kimberly Nelson, News Anchor ABC 4, UT regarding the scheduled airing of delusional panic-mongering

Dear Kimberly Nelson,

It has come to my attention that you, Kimberly Nelson, will be airing an interview with Judy Byington, author of a book entitled Twenty-Two Faces which purports to be the true story of one Jenny Hill, an alleged victim of the bizarre and controversial psychiatric condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID] (formerly listed as Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD]).
However dubious the legitimacy of DID, this diagnosis is by far the least of the problems with Byington’s book. Twenty-Two Faces is openly rife with archaic demonologies, and paranoid conspiracy theories being presented as root causes to the disturbances in Ms. Hill’s troubled mind. That Jenny Hill -- a former drug addict and prostitute with a history of mental illness -- is troubled seems indisputable, but Byington’s book seeks to expose an alleged satanic government plot behind Hill’s mental malaise that is tantamount to speculation upon who, exactly, is beaming voices into the heads of schizophrenics. Such an ignorant approach to therapeutic practice is harmful to mental health consumers, and your endorsement of such can hardly be of any positive value to your viewers.

The broader harm to the public mental health in endorsing a story as laden with paranoid delusion as Twenty-Two Faces -- especially insofar as it is a narrative specifically appealing to the mentally vulnerable -- should be clear to any journalist. In fact, as recently as the 1980’s (and extending into the 90s), stories of non-existent satanic cults -- upon which Byington has based her unhinged claims -- caused a modern witch-hunt now known to sociologists as the “Satanic Panic”. Books foundational to this panic, and thematically identical to Twenty-Two Faces -- particularly Michelle Remembers by Lawrence Pazder and Michelle Smith, and Satan’s Underground by Lauren Stratford -- were soundly and thoroughly debunked by investigative journalists. Unfortunately, these debunkings only arrived after sensational talk-shows, promoting these books uncritically, helped create a moral panic that ruined families, resulted in false convictions of satanic crimes, and exploited the most irrational fears of countless mental health consumers. Both of these books are listed in Byington’s bibliography, despite their debunkings, and despite the fact that Satan’s Underground was so thoroughly discredited as to be withdrawn from publication... following which the author changed her name and abandoned her story of Satanic Ritual Abuse to instead pose as a childhood victim of the Holocaust.
Among the supernatural claims put forward in Twenty-Two Faces we have:

  • Prophecy: The protagonist’s birth is foretold by her uncle in exacting detail. Through some other-worldly messenger he is “told” that “this was a special child who would do important things on this earth.”
  • Extra Sensory Perception (ESP): apparently believing that child abuse can prove beneficial to the victim (a position I hope you disagree with), author Judy Byington describes that the protagonist, Jenny Hill, was able to break through certain subliminal barriers, not in spite of, but because of, early humiliations. “In the far reaches of her brain a storehouse of demeaning events evidently opened a door for Extra Sensory Perception experiences to enter.”
  • Divine guidance: desperate and in prayer, Jenny Hill hears “a soft, yet thundering voice”, which urges her to “continue to write down your life experiences, for one day a book will be written.”
  • Levitation: Byington describes a cult “filled with Black Magic, levitation, seances and chanting people”. Jenny Hill is admonished at one point that “[l]evitation and evil spirits weren’t anything to mess around with and certainly not worth the price it [sic] would extract.”
  • Divine intervention: In the midst of a Satanic ceremony in which she is bound to an altar, Jenny Hill is spared from sacrifice by a bare-footed “white-robed male personage, surrounded in a glorious White Light”. (Had this “personage” taken a little effort to arrive just a moment earlier, he could have spared the unlucky girl next to Hill, who is said to have been decapitated... but I’m sure His schedule is as busy as His ways mysterious.)
  • Spirit Possession: Making clear that possession isn’t merely a more primitive cultural interpretation of DID, Byington describes that Hill has suffered both DID and spirit possession, the latter being cured by the prayers of LDS church officials.

Any one of these topics would be a bit much for one episode, and each of these remarkable claims demands remarkable evidence. So what evidence does Byington provide? Incredibly, Twenty-Two Faces seems to rely solely on the “memories of [Jenny Hill’s] multiple personalities and their entries in diaries written since childhood”, as Byington describes in the book’s opening disclaimer. These memories were “repressed”, only recalled later in Ms. Hill’s life in the course of re-integrating her various fractured identities. Setting aside the fact that “recovered memories” similarly serve as the “evidentiary” basis for claims of Extraterrestrial abductions and past life regression, is it appropriate to accept such extraordinary claims merely on personal testimony? Do you think it’s appropriate to air fear-mongering claims of an anti-human, ubiquitous secret society on the “evidence” of such an unlikely anecdote?  
Even looking past the supernatural propositions, Byington’s book is fraught with inconsistencies, among which we find:

    • Twenty-Two Faces is said to have been constructed from “memories of [Jenny Hill’s] multiple personalities and their entries in diaries written since childhood”, a claim which makes no sense when considering that Jenny Hill is supposed to have been entirely ignorant of the existence of her multiple personalities until having entered psychiatric therapy in later adulthood. How, then, did she account for various unknown individuals writing their own personal, signed entries in her own private diaries consistently throughout her life?
    • Twenty-Two Faces describes that Jenny Hill was oppressed by an unlikely Jewish Nazi who worshipped Satan and was brought to the US from Germany under CIA sponsorship. Ludicrous as this alone is, Byington explains that this over-dramatized villain is careful to conceal his antics from Jenny Hill’s parents -- returning her home on-time for supper, making sure her chores are finished before compelling her to return -- yet we also learn later that Hill’s parents were in on the whole thing throughout.
    • We are made to understand that Hill begins to experience “lost time” at the age of 4, when her abuse is said to have begun. The lost time is accounted for as episodes during which other personalities took over her consciousness so that Hill might not be troubled with the terrors of the abuse she began suffering at that age. Such episodes, starting at such an early age, would establish an expectation of occasionally lost time, or an acceptance on the part of the protagonist that she had never quite grasped what time is. Not so with Ms. Hill. Not only did she fully grasp the cultural context and broad implications of the depravities that are said to have befallen her at age 4, she is also uncannily aware of the dates and times that eluded her at an age when most children are unable to properly read a clock.
    • Hill learns, by means of "recovered memories" that she was raped by her father. She invites her parents to her psychiatric hospital, where she is an in-patient, so that she may accuse him. Apparently heartbroken and outraged, her father storms out. The inconsistency occurs some pages later when it is reported that Hill was saddened to not be invited over for the following Family Christmas.
The material above covers some problems that any rational person could pick out merely from reading the book, but there are further problems with Twenty-Two Faces that are apparent to anybody who bothers to do a little research:

    • The book carries an endorsement from Robert Kroon, an esteemed former foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. However, Kroon had been dead for over 5 years at the time of Twenty-Two Faces’ publication. Suspiciously, Tate Publishing, the publisher of Twenty-Two Faces, uses a similar endorsement, allegedly from Kroon, on another book published 2 years after his death.
    • Judy Byington has not had a license to practice therapy in around 10 years, yet she explicitly describes continuing to conduct therapy sessions with Jenny Hill only months ago (listen to this interview at 15:45: Judy Byington also offers “therapy” over the phone or via Skype at $25 per session. Do you endorse this type of unlicensed, not to mention grossly irrational, “therapy”?
    • Jenny Hill remains mentally tormented and has a history of bearing false witness. Twenty-Two Faces describes an episode in which Jenny Hill fled from Judy Byington for a time believing that she had observed “the mark of cain” somewhere on Byington, indicated that Byington was involved, somehow, with satanic cults… yet it never seems to have occurred to Byington that any other paranoid claims of Jenny’s may have been rooted in suspicious delusion, rather than fact. In a very telling exchange (that can be read here: Jenny Hill’s sister questioned Byington regarding why it is Byington unquestioningly believes many of Jenny’s unprovable claims, while knowing that Jenny has made various unfounded claims in apparent fits of panicked paranoia: “Did you believe her when she said your husband was coming on to her sexually? I have heard that allegation too many times about other men to take it seriously. [...] [H]ow many times has she called you in the middle of the night to come rescue her from some drama only to find her asleep and not knowing she had called or claiming she was being held hostage and you come with police to find her watching TV[?] …” Judy Byington proved unwilling or unable to answer these questions of Jenny Hill’s sister. Was she able to answer such questions of you? Did you even ask? If not, why not? These facts were available to you if you had done the most basic research.

   That this makes you complicit in purveying a delusional conspiracy theory is unfortunate, but hardly disputable. Judy Byington herself makes clear that she considers Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder synonymous with Satanic Ritual Abuse, and you can hardly talk to her about one without addressing the other. To be clear, when Judy Byington talks of multiplicity and dissociative trauma, she is talking about a debunked conspiracy theory of satanic mind-control plots. That you would give such hysterical claims air-time -- allowing a conspiracy theory to be presented as a diagnosis -- on your widely viewed show is beyond irresponsible. It would make you a menace to the public mental health.  
I have no illusion that you will correct your errors, or that you might pull the episode before it airs. Rather, I am simply posting this time-stamped letter to you here -- which I will also send to you directly -- so that neither you, nor your producers, may possibly claim ignorance in the near future when Judy Byington meets with the critical assault that will inevitably follow when sensible people see fit to read her work. I am posting this letter, and I have sent it to you directly, as I want it to be perfectly clear, now and in the future, that all the facts were available to you before your show aired.

    Thank you,

        Douglas Mesner

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