How ‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ Started a Witch HuntCarolyn Castiglia
While following the news about the Newtown tragedy this weekend, chances are you probably read the essay titled, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” re-published on and widely shared via Gawker. The post was written by Liza Long, and in it she talks about her son “Michael” (name changed) who is violently explosive. She writes about how he’s threatened her with knives and how his eyes can become “full of calculated rage.” She suggests – via the title of the piece and in the body – that if her son doesn’t receive the care he needs, he may one day be the next Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Jason (James) Holmes or Jared Loughner.
Long’s essay went viral as quickly as it did because the arguments she makes in it are sound. She notes that in the United States jails have essentially become “the solution of choice for mentally ill people” and she calls for “a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health.” As I watched this article get shared time and time again in my social media circle this weekend, I saw it posted with captions like “Wow” and “A must-read.” Not a single person had anything negative to say about Long; everyone saw her writing as an important act of bravery. But one journalist, Sarah Kendzior, who writes about (among other things) online privacy, was clearly taken aback by Long’s willingness to share her son’s story using her real name and thus exposing his identity, so she took it upon herself to start a witch hunt against Long.
In a response post on her own blog titled, “Want the Truth Behind “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”? Read her blog.,” Kendzior begins by saying, “Liza Long, the woman who wrote the viral post “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, is being held up as a heroic woman warranting sympathy for bring the plight of her mentally ill son to the public. Her blog tells a different story.” She then goes on to say, “I feel uncomfortable speculating about someone’s private life based on a blog. But since these children are likely to be the object of enormous media attention, someone should be paying close attention to the words of their mother.”
It’s interesting that Kendzior has appointed herself the blog police here, since she insinuates that it’s unethical to speculate about the truth of Long’s personal life based on her writing. Nonetheless, Kendzior goes on to quote passages from various posts on Long’s blog, seemingly attempting to discredit Long and make her seem like a horrible parent and unstable person. Kendzior criticizes Long for writing about her divorce and custody battle online but never shows any sympathy for what Long has gone through. Kendzior’s tone makes it very clear that she believes Long is the real danger to her family, not her knife-wielding son. Those who read Kendzior’s post, however, took umbrage with Kendzior’s presumed moral authority and responded with comments like:
Liza’ Long’s blog posts here are taken out of context. Special needs children are incredibly trying on so many levels and to judge someone on a few blog posts without knowing the whole story is irresponsible. If you believe Ms Long and/or her husband are abusive, get proof before you impugn someone’s character. Otherwise this author is doing exactly what she accuses Ms Long of, …capitalize on the Newtown tragedy…”
Are you sure you’re not overreacting? I get a different impression from these posts than you got. When she complains about her kids in the back seat bickering and says she wants to throttle them, she doesn’t sound like she MEANS it, she sounds like she is a typical parent, feeling like she’s had it with her kids.
My assumption is that you’ve never read a mommyblog before, don’t understand the frustration of parenting, and didn’t bother to investigate the fact that the mentally ill son has an older brother. Wow, talk about cherry-picking lines to make someone look as bad as possible.
An “investigative job” worthy of Geraldo Rivera, truly.
I am a parent of 3 kids and what i have read does not seem to be malicious. I have thought about how much I want to put some sense into my kids when they are being annoying or dumbasses. Still love my kids to the end, big reason why I tattoo’d their faces on my body. This writer has no concept except to look down from a pulpit.
The list goes on and on, so much so that Kendzior was forced to write a response to her response, in which she admits she “received many angry comments” about her blog post on Liza Long. In that post, Kendzior shows her hand by writing, “A child does not deserve to have his mother embark on a media tour promoting him as a future mass murderer,” making plain exactly why she began “investigating” Long to begin with. Kendzior doesn’t approve of the way Long suggests that her son might be capable of something that horrible.
And yet. This is a child who has wielded a knife at family members. Who has violent explosions. Who exhibits cold, calculated rage.
At this point in the story, the larger media machine became interested in Kendzior and Long’s back and forth, and USA Today wrote about it. I learned by skimming Kendzior’s Twitter feed that USA Today writer Liz Szabo reached out to Kendzior for an interview and Kendzior refused, which she explained by saying she didn’t want to “play along with exploitation.” It’s unclear exactly what Kendzior means by that. Whose exploitation? At any rate, in a frankly hilarious side note, Szabo referred to Kendzior as a “mommy blogger” in the USA Today article, a fact that clearly disgusts Kendzior, since as of this writing she has tweeted about it no fewer than thirteen times in the past five hours. (Screenshots of some of her tweets below.)
In one of the relevant tweets, Kendzior says, “I never write about my kids’ lives online and never would.” (You sure you’re not interested in mommyblogging, Sarah? Cuz you’ve got the sanctimommy thing DOWN, girl. p.s. – Being called a mommy blogger isn’t sexist in this case. It’s not an accurate description of what you do and it’s – as you say – obvious that Szabo was purposely being condescending given your credits. So the cries of sexism are a bit much. It’s funny – you slander a woman you don’t know, totally cool. Someone calls you a mommy blogger, NO EFFING WAY.)
Somewhere amidst all this buffoonery, though, Kendzior and Long came to a truce of sorts, but rather than let sleeping dogs lie, Kendzior’s pal Hanna Rosin picked up the “don’t call your son a psycho” torch. And that’s how I found this story to begin with, when a friend shared Rosin’s XXFactor post, “Don’t Compare Your Son to Adam Lanza.” Rosin flat out calls Long a crazy person in the post with nothing to back that up but ONE QUOTE FROM LONG’S BLOG taken out of context, clearly about Long’s divorce and not just the paranoid ranting of a lunatic nut job. But! Rosin and Kendzior have made their minds up, Long is a horrible, evil mother, AND the fact that she’s crazy must be why her son brandishes knives. THE MOM IS THE BAD GUY! Hooray! We made it to the end of this terrible, terrible story.
And that’s all well and good, ladies. You may even have a shred of a point. Maybe Liza Long IS ill. Her TV footage certainly doesn’t make the case that she’s healthy and whole. Maybe she does need help. But do you really think your compassion-free judgment sent swooping down your giant, snooty noses is going to help this poor woman in any way shape or form? I hope you don’t think that, because if you do, neither one of you is as intelligent as your accomplishments would otherwise indicate.
So now it’s my turn to weigh in on all of this Internet inanity. It’s my turn to say, you know what I’m sick of? I’m sick of privileged white women pretending they have the answers to problems they have never suffered that are suffered by people they not only don’t care about but actively look down on and the way they disguise their writing about those people and their problems as feminism. I’m sick of petty back and forth idiocy on the Internet between a bunch of people who have never met in real life (and hi I’m guilty of that right now so LET’S MEET, Y’ALL and I AM DEAD SERIOUS ABOUT THAT I’M SURE WE ALL LIKE COFFEE AND THAT’S A START). I’m sick of guns. I’m sick of school shootings. I’m sick of writing about school shootings. I’m sick of narcissists. I’m sick of the general lack of compassion in this country. I’m sick of borderlines and psychopaths – and yes, I have known a few. I’m sick of how sick we all are in this country, how sick our culture is. I could go on but I’m also sick and tired of being sick and tired as the saying goes, so I’ll stop here. The comments on Rosin’s piece do more than I could to attack what she’s written because I’m not going to go on a blog-based witch hunt and try to discredit her. It seems folks are already taking care of that. All I know is, when I read Rosin’s attack on Long I got physically angry and had to write that rage out. Does Long need help? Yes. With her kids for sure, and she could probably use some therapy herself. Anyone under stress can. Is needing help condemnable? Especially by women who are supposed to be feminists, who are supposed to *care* about other women? Nowhere, not once in either Rosin or Kendzior’s take on Long’s life did they show any empathy for her at all. Just faux-concern for a child they have never met. Their sympathy for “Michael” is just an excuse to condemn his mother. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. As a commenter on Kendzior’s first post alluded, if Kendzior was really concerned about Long’s son’s privacy, why exacerbate the situation? And as I tweeted at Hanna Rosin earlier tonight, “I wish I hadn’t read your piece about Liza Long. Call us back when you’re raising a kid who has violent explosions.” Ugh.
I don’t disagree that including a photo of her son was a poor choice on Long’s part, but I don’t necessarily think that Long should have written her post anonymously, either. Anyone who knows Long and her family knows what they’re going through. “Michael” is in school, and his behavior has been documented by more than just his mother. Besides, as the old 12-step aphorism goes, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” I think Long’s bravery in forcing us to confront a subject we constantly gape at as if we’re helpless to change it is above reproach, even if her execution wasn’t flawless. As Rosin noted, this isn’t the first time people have asked if it’s okay to talk about children being psychopaths. As things stand now, you can’t diagnose someone a psychopath until they are too old to be helped. If we’re going to talk about how our gun laws need to change in the wake of this shooting, we should be willing to talk about the real, raw truths of the mental illnesses and/or personality disorders present in the shooters as well. I’m not saying we should label children monsters by any means, but I’m willing to suggest that the truth about psychopathy, its prevalence and its effects need to be discussed on a much wider scale so we can actually at some point do something about it.