Update on Eric Holder and the False Information that Remains on the DOJ Website
Mark J. Perry
January 15, 2014
Here’s a recap and update of the nearly three-year quest for truth and justice at the Department of Justice:
1. In a speech on August 3, 2009 in Long Beach, CA at a conference sponsored by The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, Attorney General Eric Holder made the following claim: “Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45. These statistics are shocking and completely unacceptable.”
2. In a subsequent speech on October 19, 2009 at a Domestic Violence Awareness Month Event in Washington, D.C., Holder repeated the same statistic: “Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.”
3. In a February 4, 2011 op-ed in USAToday, AEI scholar Christina Hoff-Sommers pointed out that Holder’s statistic on the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45 was in fact false. Very false. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clearly show that the leading causes of death for black women in that age group are cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries. Homicides were the fifth leading cause of death for black women ages 15-45 in 2008, and that includes murders by intimate partners, other family members, acquaintances and strangers. Hoff-Sommers ended her op-ed by with the following appeal to the Attorney General “Victims of intimate violence are best served by the truth. Eric Holder should correct his department’s website immediately.”
4. In a series of CD blog posts (here, here and here) following Christina Hoff-Sommers’ USAToday op-ed, I continued to bring attention to Holder’s false information on the DOJ website, and his refusal to correct it. In my third post about Holder’s intransigence on December 6, 2013, I appealed to Glenn Kessler, who heads the Washington Post’s Fact Checker Program, and I asked him to put Eric Holder’s false statement to the Washington Post “truth squad” test.
5. On December 18, 2013, Glenn Kessler reported the results of his “truth squad” test of Holder’s false information on the Washington Post website, here’s part of his report:
Logically, Holder’s statement does not make much sense. Intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death? At the very least, intimate-partner homicide is a subset of all homicides, so one can easily see that a broader category of murder would be even higher. And, then, what about diseases?
As Perry demonstrated, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that, for the year 2008 (the year before Holder’s speeches), cancer, heart disease, unintentional injury and HIV/AIDS all topped homicide. Then if you break out intimate-partner homicide, that ends up being seventh or eighth on the list (depending on whether you also include all homicides.)
According to Kessler’s investigation, he traced Holder’s false statistic to several published journal articles, whose lead author is Jacquelyn C. Campbell, PhD, RN, and the Anna D. Wolf Professor in the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University. Her faculty website lists “intimate partner violence” as one of her main areas of expertise.
In Professor Cambell’s co-authored July 2003 article “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study” in the American Journal of Public Health, Campbell and her co-authors make the statement “Femicide, the homicide of women, is the leading cause of death in the United States among young African-American women aged 15 to 45 years.”
The footnote for that statement references this article “Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice; March 1998.” In his Washington Post article, Glenn Kessler wrote this about that article: “The [1998 DOJ] study does not say that intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American women; in fact, it makes a key point that the rate of such murders had dropped dramatically.”
Later in 2009, Campbell and most of the same co-authors published an article titled “Assessing Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Homicide” in the National Institute of Justice Journal, and made the following statement “Women killed by intimate partners — husbands, lovers, ex-husbands, or ex-lovers …. is the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 15 to 45 ….” Once again, Campbell and her co-authors mistakenly cite the 1998 DOJ report as the source of their false statistic.
As Kessler wrote in the Washington Post, “The DOJ study is again cited as the source, but this time it is not murder that is listed as the leading cause for African-American women, but intimate-partner murder. Somehow, while the source remained the same, the wording mysteriously morphed from all murders to just intimate-partner murders. But these facts cannot be found in the original 1998 BJS report.”
Lead author Professor Carolyn Campbell’s did not respond to Glenn Kessler’s request for a comment. But at least Glenn Kessler has helped to identify the series of faulty references and sloppy research that led to the false, contrived or possibly fabricated data that Eric Holder then used in two of his speeches in 2009. That’s progress.
6. In response to Glenn Kessler’s investigation that verified Holder’s claims in 2009 about the leading cause of death for black women were in fact false, DOJ officials promised Kessler and the Washington Post in mid-December that “in the coming days” they would “append a note to the Web pages in question making clear that the claim is not valid.” As of today (January 16, 2014) the false claims remain on the DOJ websites here and here.
7. In a new development in the three-year quest for truth to prevail, the Rockville, MD-based organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) yesterday filed this formal complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Research Integrity against Professor Jacquelyn C. Campbell and her co-authors for alleged research misconduct in regard to the false information on female homicide that appeared in two published research articles, allegedly funded by the DHHS (the two articles mentioned above). Here’s part of the complaint:
The claim that domestic violence is the leading cause of death for young African-American women is inherently illogical. In the words of the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, “Intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death? At the very least, intimate-partner homicide is a subset of all homicides, so one can easily see that a broader category of murder would be even higher. And then, what about diseases?”
A review of the source to which Dr. Campbell attributes her statement does not support her claims in any manner. The Bureau of Justice Statistics report she cites consists of a general presentation of the correlates and risk factors of intimate partner violence. In no place does the report compare homicides with other causes of death. A text search reveals the words “leading causes of death” and other similar phrases do not appear anywhere in the 49-page BJS report.
In researching his December 18, 2013 column, Glenn Kessler contacted Dr. Campbell for comment. Kessler noted, “Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, lead author of both studies, did not respond to a request for comment.” Even after his Fact Checker column was published, there is no indication on Dr. Campbell’s website that she took any action to respond to the Washington Post column. A researcher who is ethical and conscientious would have acted promptly to answer the allegation of dishonesty.
Bottom Line: The Justice Department has known now for almost three years since the publication of Christina Hoff Sommers’s USA Today op-ed that two of Eric Holder’s speeches in 2009 contained erroneous and false information about intimate partner homicide being the leading cause of death for black women ages 15-45. They promised Glenn Kessler and the Washington Post a month ago that the false information on the DOJ websites would be corrected “in the coming days.” It has not been corrected as of today. I now appeal again to Glenn Kessler and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker Program (both by this blog post and by email) for additional assistance in a three-year quest for justice and truth to prevail at the DOJ that would include removing or correcting the false statements on its websites.
And because the source of Eric Holder’s erroneous information has now been traced by the Washington Post to Professor Jacquelyn Campbell and her co-authors, perhaps they can now help correct Holder’s erroneous statement that “intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.” Unfortunately, that false statement has spread so widely over many years that it has been quoted in books, on websites at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University, in articles by the Huffington Post and the Dallas News and on YouTube, among many other examples. To quote and paraphrase Christina Hoff-Sommers, “Victims of intimate violence are best served by the truth. Eric Holder should correct his department’s website immediately and Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell should help correct and stop the spread of this false information.”