PERSONAL: Female. Education: Queens College, B.A.; postgraduate work at New York University.
CAREER: Author, columnist, freelance writer, and educator. Wall Street Journal, New York, NY, editorial page writer and TV critic, 1990-96, member of editorial board and author of "Critic at Large" column, 1996—, author of "Dorothy Rabinowitz's Media Log" column for online affiliate OpinionJournal.com. Teacher of English at New York University and Pratt Institute; WWOR-TV, New York, NY, news commentator.
AWARDS, HONORS: Distinguished Writing Award, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1993, for commentary; Champion of Justice Award, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 1997, for writing on false sexual-abuse charges; Pulitzer Prize for commentary, 2001, for articles on American culture and society; three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.
(With Yedida Nielsen) Home Life: A Story of Old Age, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971.
New Lives: Survivors of the Holocaust Living in America, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.
No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times, Free Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to publications such as Commentary, Harper's, and New York.
SIDELIGHTS: A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, journalist and author Dorothy Rabinowitz serves as editorial page writer and television critic for the Wall Street Journal. "No award has been more deserved," commented Alan Wolfe in Commonweal, reflecting upon the honor accorded Rabinowitz; much of the commentary and reportage that led to her Pulitzer is revisited in No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times.
In her book, Rabinowitz presents a scathing, in-depth analysis of the wave of child abuse and sexual assault allegations levied against child care workers throughout the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. The journalist "began exposing the modern-day witch hunts with an article in Harper's magazine," explained Steve Weinberg in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. When she became a staff member at the Wall Street Journal, she "continued her cause-oriented reporting in hopes of freeing imprisoned women and men she believed to be innocent." Marked by lack of proof, overzealous police and prosecutors, evidence manipulation and fabrication, and a litany of preposterous allegations that failed to stand up to critical scrutiny even then, these cases had nonetheless resulted in convictions that ruined lives and devastated communities. Most of the convictions were subsequently overturned and the accused released from prison; as Rabinowitz maintains, the only person still imprisoned, Gerald Amirault, is actually innocent.
Six harrowing cases stand at the core of Rabinowitz's examination. Among them are the case of Margaret Kelly Michaels, a young nursery school teacher from Maplewood, New Jersey, who in 1988 received a sentence of forty-seven years in prison on 115 counts of child abuse. In 1995, forty people in Wenatchee, Washington were arrested and charged as members of a ring of child sexual abusers. Prosecutors in the case of Grant Snowden of Miami, Florida "kept filing charges even after his first trial ended in acquittal, and finally found two coachable children to help convict him," wrote Carol Iannone in Commentary. Rabinowitz reserves special attention for the case of Violet Amirault, the sixty-year-old proprietor of the Fells Acres Day School in Malden, Massachusetts. Together with her adult children, Gerald and Cheryl, Violet operated the center. Urged on and assisted by a variety of social workers, therapists, nurses, and others, children at Fells Acres accused the Amiraults of hideous abuses, including violating them with pencils and foreign objects, "tying them naked to trees in broad daylight in front of the other teachers, forcing them to watch the killing and dismemberment of animals, and making them drink urine," Iannone stated. The Amiraults "were accused of taking the children to a 'magic room' in which clowns wielding wands undressed and assaulted them and took their pictures."
Despite the frightful nature of the allegations in these cases, "no evidence was ever found for the charges," Wolfe commented. "The cases were built solely on the testimony of children who were carefully led to their conclusions by interviewers who essentially coached them," Wolfe continued. "Defendants had no opportunity to challenge the testimony. Judges went along, adding their voice of disapproval for the presumed offenders. The convicted were given maximum sentences. Prosecutors congratulated themselves," and innocent people languished in jail.
Rabinowitz is "especially courageous in taking on the powerful police detectives, prosecutors, and judges who raped the criminal courts system instead of upholding their sworn duty to seek justice," Weinberg stated. In her book the author lists those whom she feels are most responsible for the debacle: former New Jersey governor Jane Swift; Scott Harshbarger, a prosecutor who later failed to become governor of Massachusetts; and Janet Reno, who later became attorney general of the United States, are included.
Library Journal reviewer Tim Delaney called No Crueler Tyrannies a "gripping, well-written book about social injustice and public hysteria," while a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed it "an uncompromising look at a troubling bias in our legal system." Iannone called Rabinowitz's foundation articles "brilliant," and concluded that the book is "an achievement for which all of us must be grateful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2003, David Pitt, review of No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times, p. 1259.
Commentary, May, 2003, Carol Iannone, "Witch-Hunt," p. 63.
Commonweal, May 9, 2003, Alan Wolfe, "Witch Hunts and Child Abuse," p. 30.
Editor and Publisher, January 1, 2001, Nat Hentoff, "Getting It Right," p. 34.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of No Crueler Tyrannies, p. 216.
Library Journal, March 1, 2003, Tim Delaney, review of No Crueler Tyrannies, p. 105.
Nation, March 15, 1999, Eric Alterman, "Tilting at Rumor Mills," p. 10.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 2003, Steve Weinberg, "Journalist Skewers Child-Abuse Witch Hunts," p. 38.
Wall Street Journal, March 1, 1993, "Journal's Rabinowitz Wins ASNE '93 Award," p. B4; April 17, 2001, Matthew Rose, "Johnson, Rabinowitz of the Journal Win Pulitzers," p. A2.
Washington Journalism Review, July-August, 1991, Lisa Manshel "Reporters for the Defense in a Child Abuse Case," p. 16.
eReader.com, http://www.ereader.com/ (November 18, 2004), "Dorothy Rabinowitz."
InfoPlease.com, http://www.infoplease.com/ (November 18, 2004), "Dorothy Rabinowitz."*