November 2, 2011 / Media - News Reporting & Analysis, Opportunity, Sexism

Blaming Amy


Two weeks ago today, a college friend communicated some shocking news: our sorority sister and dear friend, Amy Friedlander, was dead. Amy was part of a murder-suicide in which her two young children, and husband, with whom she was days away from finalizing a divorce, were also found dead.

The media that morning described a Westchester home so bloody, that it was not possible to discern, who murdered who. Big mystery, right? Even if I hadn’t known Amy, I could have made a very educated guessed. Women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence. Roughly 70-80% of intimate partner homicides who are murdered are killed by a boyfriend or husband (as opposed to 3% of men). In 70-80% of intimate partner homicides, there is a prior incident, and so it was hardly surprising when media stories circulating that afternoon revealed that police had been summoned to the Friedlander Home as far back as 2006!

Cookie cutter domestic violence. A murder which should have been viewed under the lens of a public health issue, because violence against women, so pervasive that it impacts 1 in 4 women, is hardly a private matter. But not for our media, which immediately launched a campaign of victim blame — Blaming Amy.

Starting the very first night, the media began its exploration of what Amy could have done to cause the gentle, unassuming, mellow Sam Friedlander to sedate his children, walk down to hall to the master bedroom and bludgeon Amy with a wooden instrument over her entire body with such force that an autopsy was needed to confirm her identity, walk back down the hall and shoot the children in their bedrooms, and then shoot himself.

The first perpetrator of victim blame was the local media, The Journal News (owned by Gannett). That first night, as the national and international news outlets were looking to local media for insights, here’s the top search engine result: “Cross-River murder-suicide described: friends suggest wife’s ‘belittling’ of husband played a role.”

For this thoroughly unprofessional piece of ‘journalism’, The Journal News interviewed two of Sam’s law school friends — and none of the victim’s friends — for a story line exploring why Amy was responsible for her own death. Feminist website Jezebel, which captured the contents of the article before it was pulled offline, described The Journal News piece as:

…an article that should go down in the annals of victim blaming.

Then, Mr. McDonald just stopped responding to complaints altogether.

By then, it was too late. The Journal News had given Sam’s two law school friends, David Pine and Michael Borg, a springboard and the two would go on to be quoted in The New York Times, The New York Post and The NY Daily News, the latter of which wisely amend its story to remove this line by Borg (emphasis added):

He said if Friedlander had only killed his wife “I would have baked him a cake with a file in it” but he could not imagine why his “gentle” law-school buddy killed the kids.

Borg’s atrocious quote would be memorialized on picket signs at a rally held by local domestic abuse shelters in White Plains, New York on Monday, October 24th: No ‘files’ in a cake for mass murderers; alongside: Stop Blaming Amy.

Public comments by Sam’s second friend, David Pine, are even more troubling given his circumstances. Pine said of Sam: “He was showing all the classic signs of being emotionally abused…” (The Journal News) and “…was exhibiting signs of being emotionally abused.” (The New York Post).

David Pine also bragged: “I knew that an incident would happen in that household.” (The New York Post) and observed of Sam: “He went into his own cocoon.” (The New York Times).

David Pine’s statements go from troubling to startling because of this: Mr. Pine is, of all things, a county prosecutor for the Passaic County Prosecutors Office — an office charged with holding offenders in domestic violence cases accountable for breaking the law! We will never know what could have happened if Sam’s so-called friends had sought mental health support for him instead of blaming Amy. New York does in fact have one of the most progressive court-order treatment laws in the country. (Please see The New Agenda’s online petition to NJ Governor Chris Christie and NJ Attorney General Paula Dow regarding David Pine’s media statements here.)

A full week would pass before the media would seek out the other side of the story and interview a friend of Amy Friedlander. A woman reporter, Tara Rosenblum of News12, interviewed me — and for the first time in the New York media market, a voice was given to the victim.

Around the time Tara aired our interview, when Pine and Borg were done sucking up all the oxygen in the media, the facts also started to come out. Sam bought the gun he used to kill the children and himself back in April. Sam bludgeoned Amy to death with a wooden rolling pin, which The Journal News noted was: “initially mistaken by police for a broken-off furniture leg because it was covered in blood.” Sam was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. And so on.

Whatever happened, here’s the bottom line: there is no excuse for violence against women. The media’s fruitless search to find cause belies a belief that “if” certain circumstances occur, “then” violence against women is okay. The media is wrong. Violence against women is never okay. We teach our children in nursery school to ‘use your words‘, and failing that, ‘walk away and find a grown-up.’ Advice that serves us well, still, as adults.

Until our media stops victim blaming women and girls who are murdered, raped or beaten up, we will never make progress inholding offenders accountable for their actions. In the end, here’s the simple truth: the victim is never to blame, but the perpetrator is always to blame. The only battles my friend Amy waged on this earth — despite being brilliant, beautiful, gentle, kind, generous and loyal to a fault — was with her weight and self-esteem. Our media’s attempt to Blame Amy is nothing short of shameful.

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  • Bes

    I am sorry for the loss of Amy Friedlander and her children. Thank you for speaking out for her and all women. The media is not “our media” however and it never has been. It is the media of men and corporations. It has no soul, no honesty, and I find it irrelevant to anything good or useful in the world. Women and pro woman groups should work to destroy it as in starting a cut the cable campaign.

  • Bebe

    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and her family.

    The most stricking thing to me in this story was that Sam was seeking treatment; With all the people that were aware of the problems this family was having, no one was able to prevent this terrible tragedy.

    You were right in stating that this is a public health issue; lest it be totally lost, please consider focusing on the problem (lack of/irresponsible mental health help) rather than which of the victims are most responsible.

  • anna

    Amy cited the statistics of domestic violence. I take issue with seeing husband and the other family equally as victims. there was an imminent divorce, a violent husband who murdered his entire family. depression is disease affecting women in greater numbers than men. have we lately heard of women on meds against depression and anti anxiety going off killing?
    despite the many things gone wrong, the failure of his friends, the public health system, the press, we should not take our eyes off the perpetrator. the danger a woman runs when cutting of an estranged husband and the lack of adequate measures in our society to protect the wife who wants to leave.
    I am glad Amy, that you started the signature list (which is over 900 now) attacking the habit of victim planning. Since EVE anything gone wrong was always the woman’s fault. we cannot accept this view any longer.

  • Kali

    He said if Friedlander had only killed his wife “I would have baked him a cake with a file in it” but he could not imagine why his “gentle” law-school buddy killed the kids.

    This statement clearly shows Borg’s misogyny. He is quite blatantly advocating the selective murder of adult women – a gynocide. I think the NY Daily News removed this statement to hide the most obvious sign of hatred in Borg’s thinking, rather than out of any concern for the victims.