Video Gamers Take on a Cable News Critic


I've previously written about the peculiar merit system that governs cable news punditry. Shamelessness and pithy soundbite delivery are highly valued. Truthfulness and accuracy, not so much.

So it's nice to see a crappy pundit get some comeuppance. Over at Forbes, Kashmir Hill writes about psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, who has been "Amazon bombed" by video gamers incensed about Lieberman's comments to Fox News linking video games to violence and sexual assault.

Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman has written three books, but were you to check them out on Amazon, you might be discouraged from buying one. They all have a host of negative reviews and sorry ratings of a star and a half (out of five).

If you were to look closely, you might note that the majority of the reviews for the books (written in 1998, 2006, and 2010, respectively) all started pouring in on February 8, 2011. One reviewer calls "Coping with Terrorism" (2006) an "an offensive piece of garbage." Another calls "Bad Boys" (1998) "the worst book I've ever read." Another reader claims "Bad Girls" (2010) is "the worst piece of crap in the history of mankind!"…

The hundreds of reviews that flooded Lieberman's Amazon pages last month came as a result of a controversial statement she made to Fox News about video games desensitizing players to violence and causing rape. The statement inflamed video gamers, and they soon set their violent sights on her books. The nasty reviews are part of a new tactic in the war of ideas on the Internet: "Amazon-bombing."

Hill is fairly sympathetic to Lieberman, whose expertise in media violence includes authoring the books Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live with Them, and When to Leave Them and Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. I'm not sure she deserves it.

Here's what Lieberman told Fox News:

Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and book author, told FoxNews.com that sexual situations and acts in video games—highlighted so well in Bulletstorm—have led to real-world sexual violence. 

"The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games," she said. 

See a fun bit of digging into the anatomy of the Fox story here.

It's unclear what Lieberman means by "increase in rapes." According to both victim surveys and reported cases, rape has been in dramatic decline since the early 1990s. It's now at its lowest level since the government started tracking the statistic. This would be same period over which video games started to become more violent, more realistic, and more sexually suggestive.

In a subsequent interview with Wired, Lieberman explained her comment:

When shown these figures, Lieberman said the "statistics do not reflect all the rapes, since many go unreported and others relate to child abductions." When asked for statistics showing an increase of rape in recent years, Lieberman said she did not have time to pull them up.

That's because they don't exist. If anything, the stigma associated with rape has decreased in recent years. I'm sure there still are rape victims who are too afraid or embarrassed to report the crime, but there's no reason at all to think they would be less likely to file a report today than, say, 30 years ago. And it's flat absurd to argue not only that the rape stigma has increased in recent years, but that it has increased enough to compensate for a 60 percent drop in reported rapes since 1993. It's a far safer bet that Lieberman simply has no idea what the hell she's talking about.

It gets better. More from Wired:

"Obviously I know what I'm talking about or I wouldn't be called upon to testify in front of Congress," [Lieberman] said.

Persuasive! And John "Bo Duke" Schneider is an authority on constitutional law.


"I've been doing this research for over 20 years….It's all about violence, it all applies to rape. And it has been done on videogames less violent or less sexual than the current one that we're talking about."

On Friday, several days after our initial phone interview, Wired.com asked Lieberman once again if she had found time to dig up a specific study linking videogames to rape. She once again referenced the "Violent Video Game Effects" study and failed to name specific games with sexual content that might encourage rape.

"Over the years, I have read hundreds of studies linking videogames to violence. Rape, as a violent act, is implied in them," she wrote in an e-mail. "When videogames are violent and sexual, it causes the players to become desensitized to rape and think it is a 'game.'"

The study referenced above found that some children tend to play more aggressively after playing violent games, but it did not find (or try to find) any link between video games and rape or violence. Wired then spoke to some folks who do actually study media violence, and none could come up with a single study linking video games to rape or violence. Back to you, Dr. Lieberman:

"There are thousands of studies," Lieberman said. "I'd have to look through them or recent ones as far as finding one that specifically speaks about rape, and I don't have the time to do that right now."

At this rate, Lieberman may soon get her own TV show.