Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

Moderation Management Uber Alles

                    Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

     Why did "MM" listowners Audrey Kishline,
founder of Moderation Management (MM), and
Dr. Frederick Rotgers, director of the program for Addictions,
Consultation and Treatment at Rutgers University, apparently
want Larry Froistad to get away with murder?  ("An On-line Trail
Leads to an Off-Line Killing," _New York Times_, front page,
April 30, 1998).  This story raises important questions about
law and liability for Internet listowners and "mental health"
professionals, to be sure.  However, there are also important
ethical issues involved here:  Ms. Kishline, Dr. Rotgers, and
the majority of subscribers to the MM list appear to have acted
in unconscionable ways.

     Excerpts from the archives of
were published verbatim in the _New York Times_.
Larry Froistad, a member of the MM list, and
a person whose home page on the world wide
web ( -- now
shut down by the site administrator) indicated
significant involvement with MM, confessed to
murdering his five-year-old daughter:

     My God, there's something I haven't
     mentioned . . . The people I'm mourning
     the loss of, I've ejected from my life.
     Kitty had to endure my going to jail
     twice and being embarrassed in front of
     her parents.  Amanda I murdered because
     her mother stood between us . . . .
          I suffered for years trying to get
     custody of her after her mother divorced
     me.  When I did, I still had to deal with
     her mother's constant attempts to take
     her back.  I had the upper hand;  in
     fact, her mother gave up her summer
     custody just before I killed Amanda.  But
     I always felt I was not in complete
     control . . . [T]he conflict was
     tearing me apart, and the next night I
     let her watch the videos she loved all
     evening, and when she was asleep I got
     wickedly drunk, set our house on fire,
     went to bed, listened to her scream twice,
     climbed out the window and set about
     putting on a show of shock, surprise and
     grief to remove culpability from myself.
          Dammit, part of that show was
     climbing in her window and grabbing her
     pajamas, then hearing her breathe and
     dropping her where she was so she could
     die and rid me of her mother's
     interferences.  Hearing her wheeze in the
     smoke which I could barely stand--looking
     at her bedroom door burning--these are
     things I can't forget.
          Those last two screams that I tell
     everyone saved my life--they are wounds
     on my soul that I can't heal and that I'm
     sure I'm meant to carry with me.  I am
     damaged goods, and as much as I feel I
     need the comfort of someone in my life
     that I can be good to, someone I can
     build a new family with--the simple fact
     is that I don't deserve those things and
     I'm meant to suffer a thousand times
     longer than my little girl did.

          To which, Frederick Rotgers, Ph.D.,

     Larry, Several (sic) folks have sent me
     private emails expressing genuine concern
     over some of the stuff that you've posted
     very recently.  They are concerned, that
     you might be contemplating suicide or
     other drastic, harmful and ultimately
     counterproductive actions aimed at
     dealing with what seems to have become
     for you an awful situation.  I'm writing
     for all of the folks who wrote me
     offlist, and I believe for all of the
     folks on this list, to urge you to
     seriously think about contacting a
     therapist and working things through with
     yourself in a safe manner.  Take care of
     yourself, my friend.  And let us all know
     how things are going.  The people here
     really care about you.

     While legal obligations to report Froistad's _written
murder confession_ to the police are unclear, Kishline and
Rotgers had an _ethical_ responsibility to report the
confession -- especially because they led the group.  The
fact is _they_ did not report it -- several _lay_ persons did.
Those who reported Froistad did the right thing, and they deserve
to be commended for acting promptly.  Instead, they were criticized
and condemned by members of the MM list and Rotgers himself.
Why were they criticized?

     Ms. Kishline, as reported in the _New York Times_ article,
"said the group was considering not maintaining archives . . .
and issuing a more strongly worded notice to new subscribers
that their words . . . can never be considered completely
confidential."  Why would she _ever_ want to protect someone from
the police who just confessed to murder?  Does Kishline express
_any_ concern for the five-year-old girl who was allegedly
murdered?  Does she express _any_ concern for the mother of the
allegedly murdered daughter?  What does Kishline's statement tell
us about her character as a person?

     At first it appears she said this to "protect the
confidentiality" of discussion on the list.  However,
there's more to her statement than that.  She obviously believes
that criminal behavior is "treatable," i.e. that it stems from
(in this case) "addiction disease" and that her self-help group
is the more appropriate place to deal with criminal behavior than
the criminal justice system.  Her position is more than one
of incompetence (addiction isn't a disease and it doesn't cause
criminal behavior) and arrogance (self-help groups are not
above the law) -- it is a symptom of moral complicity.
On that basis alone people should eschew Moderation Management.
For we are presented here with a person who places a higher value
on the integrity of her self-help group than on assisting
the police with a determination of facts about the case in order
for justice to be served.  Kishline had an ethical obligation to
act.  She chose not to.

     Dr. Frederick Rotgers' story is slightly different.  Based
on the statements he made appearing in the _New York Times_,
Rotgers, like Kishline, acted unethically.  He also demonstrated
incompetence as a psychologist.

     On the one hand, Dr. Rotgers did not notify law-enforcement
authorities "since," he is quoted as saying, "the child was
already dead" -- a ghastly and revealing statement about Rotgers'
character in itself.  However, by saying this he also revealed his
belief in the accuracy of the report, i.e. Froistad's
confession.  Rotgers believed at least part of what Froistad was
saying was true.  On the other hand, he contradicted himself,
again as quoted in the _New York Times_, when he said he "had no
basis for knowing whether it was true or not."  If the child was
dead (as he obviously believed was the truth), why didn't
he act to ensure that the proper authorities were informed?  And
if he had no basis for knowing whether the report was true or
not, _why didn't he act to inform the proper authoritities in order
to find out?_  It is this latter _failure to act_ that impresses me
as unethical.  Acting to inform the police was not contingent
on whether Rotgers could ascertain the truthfulness of Froistad's
confession.  He had an ethical and I believe professional
responsibility as a psychologist to inform the police so that
they -- and a jury -- could make that determination.  Instead,
Rotgers called Froistad "my friend" and encouraged him to see
a therapist to "[work] things through with yourself in a safe
manner."  What kind of person calls someone who just confessed
to murdering his five-year-old daughter "my friend"?  Again,
the moral complicity is obvious.  And Rotgers expressed more
concern about Froistad harming himself than harming others --
if Froistad murdered his own daugher, why wouldn't he be
inclined to harm someone else, someone less important to
him than his own daughter?

     Dr. Rotgers, as co-listowner of,
notes his affiliation with Rutgers University in each of his e-
mail posts.  What is the position of Rutgers University on his
behavior?  Dr. Rotgers is also a psychologist.  The Executive
Office of the American Psychological Association informed
me they have asked their ethics committee to investigate.  Will
they condone or condemn Dr. Rotger's behavior?  And what is the
position of the MM Board of Directors and Advisors on this
matter?  Have they resigned in protest, or will they give their
silent stamp of approval by doing nothing?  If the MM Board
of Advisors and Directors does nothing, it's reasonable to assume
they share the same ethics as Kishline and Rotgers.  And
what is the ethical position of other self-help groups
such as SMART Recovery, Inc. and Rational Recovery, Inc. --
groups which gave their stamp of approval to MM in the past -- on this
matter?  Will they take a stand, an _ethical_ stand, against such
unconscionable behavior?  Remember, the MM list members and Rotgers
criticized those who informed the police about the confession.
Who will criticize Rotgers, Kishline, and the mm list members?
The whole world is watching.

     The MM confession story appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC news
television two nights in a row following the report in the _New
York Times_.  People have good reason to be shocked by this story.
They are shocked by the heinous nature of the alleged crime.  They
are shocked by the on-line written confession.  They are shocked
by Kishline and Rotgers' cowardice, self-centeredness, and
failure to report the confession.  They are shocked that those
who were courageous in reporting the confession to the police
were then attacked by members and leaders in the MM organization.
Will people now be shocked yet a fifth time when Rutgers University,
the APA, and other self-help groups do not act to condemn the
unethical behaviors of their affiliates?

     I created the MM list in 1996 as a public service for
people who wanted to help each other with their drinking
problems.  On August 22, 1996 I promptly resigned from the MM
Board of Directors, publicly announced I had severed all
relations with Moderation Management, Inc., no longer owned or
ran MM lists, and did not recommend or support that organization
in any capacity under any circumstances -- because I suspected
Kishline and Rotgers were the kind of people they have now shown
themselves to be.  Good therapy is a function of the character
and emotional stability of the therapist (1).  The same holds
true for those who run self-help groups.  Ms. Kishline,
Dr. Rotgers, and those responsible for the activities of
Moderation Management demonstrate bad character.  _Aegrescit

(1).  Schaler, J.A.  (1995)  Bad therapy.  _Interpsych
Newsletter_, Volume 2, Issue 8, "Fifth Column," November

Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D., teaches psychology at Johns Hopkins
University and is an adjunct professor of justice, law, and society at
American University's School of Public Affairs.