A BISHOP'S ABUSE

My wife's question at the dinner table gave me pause.
Like everyone else, we'd been discussing the outrageous events swirling around state Superintendent of Public Instruction C. Diane Bishop.

The police had been summoned on April 21 to a downtown condominium by neighbors who reported a bloodied and battered woman on the lawn with a husband in hot pursuit. The officers arrived in time to rescue Bishop; her husband was nowhere to be found.

The press account on April 24 stated that paramedics treated Bishop for her injuries. The story also quoted her husband, University of Arizona professor Richard Morse, who denied all charges of physical abuse. He told a reporter that Bishop's wounds occurred when she lashed out at a coffee table.

The next day the Arizona Republic detailed the police report. Under the lurid Page One headline, "Bishop: Was sex `captive,'" we learned that Bishop told the officers that when she wouldn't submit to sex with her estranged husband, she was beaten and her clothes were torn from her body.

In my book, Diane Bishop fought off a spousal rape.
My wife knows that, when I was a child, the police were often summoned to my home because my father was slapping my mother from one room to the next. As we mulled over the Bishop tragedy, my wife asked how I had felt when my father beat my mother.

There is no quick or easy answer to a question like that, and I won't take up your time with recollections of those childhood feelings.

I will, however, pass along one observation I made as a kid: My mother never did anything to deserve the punching she took.

In my 21 years as a journalist, I have yet to come across the domestic dispute where the woman deserved the horsewhipping her lover dished out.

Men who beat women are wrong. Women who are beaten are victims.
It really is that simple.
Or perhaps it's only that simple for me because of my parents.

The press has savaged Bishop, as if she were guilty for being a punching bag.

The day before the Republic pandered to the Geraldo crowd with its "sex captive" headline, the newspaper wrote on its editorial pages that Bishop should consider resignation.

Columnists E.J. Montini and Joel Nilsson waded in with attacks on Bishop.
Later, Keven Willey used her column to suggest that the press pounding of Bishop would be good for the woman.

Understand that through all of these media attacks there was no evidence that Bishop's state responsibilities had suffered because of her family turmoil.

In fact, the morning newspaper reported in a news story that Bishop's domestic dispute didn't appear to be affecting her performance at work: "If Bishop is under emotional strain, however, it wasn't apparent at the [school board] meeting Monday.

"Dressed immaculately in a suit, starched white blouse and trademark rosette, she was business as usual, asking questions and offering comments on agenda items."

Every editorial attack was based upon the poor example and image Bishop had created as the state superintendent of schools.

Poor example? Poor image?
What are they talking about?
Bishop has filed for divorce and obtained a protective order from the courts to keep her husband away from her. The marriage clearly has been abusive for some time, and finally, Bishop has found the courage to put an end to it.

This is an excellent example of a woman standing up for herself, but it is not enough for Montini, Nilsson, and Willey, and the editorial page of the Arizona Republic.

I don't get it.
The same week that the local press suggested that the target of spousal rape was not fit to hold public office, the FBI released figures that showed a 28-percent increase in rape this past year in Phoenix. The rate of increase is the single largest jump in all violent crimes. Spousal rape wasn't even factored into these numbers.

For the past decade, the Republic has regularly run in-depth articles about the violence women have suffered at the hands of men.

Were these pieces written only for submission to journalism contests? Didn't any of the columnists or editorialists grasp the reality of domestic abuse? For many women, for many good women, it is impossible, overnight, to put an end to the repeated beatings.

Joel Nilsson, whom the newspaper holds out as its sole moderate on the editorial page, was particularly brutal with his innuendo.

"I do not mean to make light of so violent and unfortunate an incident," wrote Nilsson, "but I do have a question.

"Why would Ms. Bishop, who presumably is well aware of her spouse's patterns of behavior, fix him a pasta dinner and serve him wine when all she wanted was to be left alone?"

You're right, Joel. If ever there were an invitation to have one's violent way with an estranged wife, it's the pasta-and-wine gambit.

Desperate women do not always behave with the jurisprudence of June Cleaver.

Nilsson has made a point over the years of sharing with his readers the details of his Norman Rockwell-like life: taking his boys out to the ballpark for the annual rites of spring training, summer vacations with the family at Cape Cod, jaunts to the children's museum. A man blessed with life's bounty might suffer with more gracious understanding the trials of a woman going through hell.

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