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. RES IPSA LOQUITUR Excerpts from the archives of firstname.lastname@example.org 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 (http://home.san.rr.com/froistad -- 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., responded: 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? WHO WILL ACT NOW? Dr. Rotgers, as co-listowner of email@example.com, 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 medendo_. NOTES. (1). Schaler, J.A. (1995) Bad therapy. _Interpsych Newsletter_, Volume 2, Issue 8, "Fifth Column," November (http://www.cmhc.com/ipn/ipn29b.htm) 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. firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright Jeffrey A. Schaler, 1997-2002 unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.