More on the Sybil Defamation Campaign

Update: Although the Diva was already aware of Nathan’s political agenda and affiliations, it is gratifying to find that professional journalists have also made these observations. Here is an article by David Folkenflik that exposes Debbie Nathan’s biases and lack of ethics. From Seizures Hurt Memory, Ex-‘Times’ Reporter Says.

Nathan is an advocacy journalist who argues that federal laws on child pornography and child sexual abuse are too strict. “Sex is such a highly charged issue in our culture that — particularly when it comes to child sex abuse — people are very irrational,” Nathan says. “Many people are convicted who are innocent, in my opinion.”

But Nathan’s stories about Eichenwald for New York magazine’s Web site and for CounterPunch failed to disclose a key affiliation: She is a board member and donor for the National Center for Reason and Justice, a not-for-profit group that distributes money to help the legal filings of people it says have been wrongly convicted of child sexual abuse. The center distributes about $100,000 a year to their legal defense. Among the recipients of this aid: Father Paul Shanley, the most notorious figure in Boston’s Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

While there are many passionate and informed reviews on the Amazon site for the book attacking Sybil, I wanted to highlight a few here as they cut to central issues that discredit the work. This first is one of my favorites.

Fiction or Non-Fiction, October 25, 2011

By Lori King
This review is from: Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case (Hardcover)
This book begins:

“MANY YEARS LATER, THE WORLD would come to know her as Sybil. But, in 1933, the little girl with the colored pencils in her hand was simply Shirley Ardell Mason, a sensitive and confused fifth grader in the tiny town of Dodge Center, Minnesota. She was quiet and slender back then, with crisp clothes, dark hair trimmed in a Dutch-boy bob, and skin so milky that the veins stood blue on her forearms. She had no….”

And it continues on through the next several chapters – written in third-person omniscient – commonly used in fiction, but when used in non-fiction, the author reports not only what is presented as facts, but also relates them to the characters’ thoughts and feelings and from there – conclusions. This is often seen in persuasive writing or `rhetoric’.

“In short, rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action.” (The Rhetorical Situation, Lloyd Bitzer, 1968).

I would have thoroughly enjoyed the story that follows had I not already been alerted by all of the media coverage that this book was written with a preconceived agenda – to discredit the book “Sybil”. The narrators’ use of colorful language and style of `telling the story’ is truly brilliant – mesmerizing – enough so that the unsuspecting reader becomes so removed from the narrator as to forget that this book is no more than rhetoric meant to persuade the audience to believe, not only what they are reading, but in this case, to trust the facts given us as truth. We all know that no writer can ever know the intentions, feelings, thoughts of any character, but a truly gifted writer can use this tactic to influence the readers’ beliefs – to control their ideas. Nathan is amazing and, for me, her ability to persuade discredits this book.

Though, I did enjoy watching the story and newly created character unfold, I wasn’t persuaded that this all actually happened. The more I read, the more entertained I became until, I was nearly laughing. I was reading it out loud in a dramatic voice to my grandson, prancing around my brightly lit room, my long dark hair flowing behind me as I imagined the next dramatic scene I would read in the book.

I read “Sybil” many times and have looked at the research of Dr. Wilbur. I never felt like “Sybil” was written for any other reason but to inform the public of the work that was being done. It wasn’t nearly as entertaining. I understood that the `alters’ did need to be exaggerated in order that the reader could get a sense of them. Clearly, it would be very difficult, and I think still is, for writers to share with readers such a subjective experience as dissociative identity disorder. The fact that they must have discussed this was not surprising to me at all.

The last couple chapters were just more irritation and confirmation to me that this was a piece of work meant to persuade us of Nathan’s political point of view about false memories, ritual abuse, and dissociative identity disorder. I did not see the connection of “Sybil” with any of that.

I think that Nathan is a wonderful writer. She may persuade many readers that her story is pure truth. She is talented enough to possibly bring enough questions to the mind of the public to slander the name of these three women who are no longer here to defend themselves. I am hoping to see her write a good novel – where her talent of writing fiction can be truly recognized.

Quote to remember:
“[Rhetoric,] that powerful instrument of error and deceit.” (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke, 1690)

In response I commented:

It makes sense that Nathan used that style, it exhibits a lack of respect for personal boundaries, as if she executed a kind of postmortem mental rape. That would be my rhetorical description of what the false memory people have done to survivors of extreme abuse in the public sphere since they began their campaign.

. . .

In a reflection of her character, apparently Ms. Nathan has been ridiculing, on her Facebook page, survivors of extreme abuse, and other people who have given her book a bad review.

From a commentator named James to a news article about the book:

Let’s just let people read the book as the cash-cow it is.
Let’s not call it “scientifically solid” and watch people die in the wake of its destruction.
Let’s not associate the atrocities of psychology in its infancy to today’s practice and watch ongoing research collapse under political debate.
Let’s not start diagnosing DID patients as schizophrenics again at the extra cost of another $2.8 billion to society.

. . .

Publisher Simon & Schuster has agreed to delete from the dust jacket in future editions of the book “Sybil Exposed” the words “first person’” in the sentence: “The Sybil archive became available to the public only recently, and Nathan is the first person to have examined all of it….” as this was proved untrue.  A letter furnished by the executor of Sybil’s estate proved Dr. Suraci, author of Sybil, In Her Own Words, had prior access and the records were made public in 1998. I expect this correction will neither be the last nor the most surprising.

. . .

And finally, but by no means least, there is this from the closest living relative to Sybil, Naomi Rhode, posted here:

As Shirley Mason’s (Sybil) closest living relative, I was close to her for the 30 plus years through the saga of her life journey. In fact, I was with her for several days during the week of her death, at her request, and was one of the only people that was in constant contact with her over those 30 years. I kept her identity confidential at her fervent request. Through all these years up until literally the day before she died, she verified the complete accuracy of the book, ‘Sybil’.

Debbie Nathan claims that she contacted me for an interview in 2008 and that I declined. Over the years many people have contacted me for information about Shirley’s life. Not knowing their intent, always, I have declined all such interviews. If Debbie was one of those people, I do not recall the call, as I do not keep records of every call in a busy business life. I apologize for this, but I do not recall her calling.

Knowing Dr. Connie Wilbur, and Flora Schreiber, also, the book concerns me greatly. It is an attack on their credibility, their research, and their professionalism. And, the book is a complete attack on the person I loved, Shirley Mason.

Shirley did not die a recluse. Shirley was a loving, and productive woman until her final,lengthy bout with cancer. She painted, and taught painting. She sold her paintings. She corresponded with friends, and regularly with us. She was a woman of strong spiritual faith in God, loved her books and her music, and loved our family greatly. She chose, however, to live carefully and confidentially because she was adamant that her identity not be known. She was very protective of our family and any recourse her life and story may have on us.

Naomi Rhode


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