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David Oaks and Joseph Brean held a dialogue (sort of) about the PsychOUT coverage

Here you can read a longer analysis by David Oaks of the Joseph Brean biased coverage of the PsychOUT conference. Brean then responded by an e-mail to Bonnie Burstow, which is included at the BOTTOM, along with inserted replies from MFI. Updated: 13 June 2010.

Statements by David Oaks, below, represent MindFreedom International, but do not necessarily represent the views or perspectives of any other participants or organizers of PsychOUT.

DIALOGUE between MindFreedom International director David Oaks and National Post reporter Joseph Brean


Statement by David Oaks, MFI Director, about Joseph Brean's Reporting on PsychOUT

As a keynote speaker at the superb conference in Toronto -- PsychOUT -- I see that National Post writer Joseph Brean proves our point about the irrational and extreme prejudice in our society about mental health ("Mind Control," 5/8/10, p. 8).

Brean has written a bizarrely unprofessional, opinionated, bigoted article. I've been a human rights activist for 34 years, and I direct an international Non-Governmental Organization, MindFreedom International. I've seldom seen such amateur and undisguised bias by a journalist.

This was supposed to be a news article, not an essay, not an editorial. So let's look at the numbers:

Brean quotes only one individual representing PsychOUT, Bonnie Burstow. Out of a fairly long article of 2813 words, Brean quotes only 157 words by Burstow, and excluded her credentials.

On the other hand, Brean sought out and quoted six vociferous critics who did not attend the event -- Beeby, Frese, Ganguli, Kirby, Leszcz, Shorter. He included any credentials (e.g., Dr., Prof.), and gave them more than three times as many words in quotes, 525.

Brean himself openly acts as a seventh critic. Most unprofessionally and outrageously, Brean -- in his own words and without quotes -- personally describes a participant as a "rambling... self-absorbed crackpot." To target one individual like this in a mental health article is a blatantly unethical abuse of the power of the press. It is bullying.

Brean, again in his own words and without quotes, calls the whole conference a "motley bunch" who are "fixed by ideology and fear" promoting "popular extremism."

Brean's amateurish refusal to adequately quote representatives of PsychOUT means he mistakenly attributes beliefs to the whole conference that are untrue, apparently in an attempt to "spin" his coverage and harm our credibility. For instance, Brean says, twice, that we believe in "conspiracy." He says we believe psychiatry is a "sinister plot" of "wicked frivolity," whatever that is. I never heard any of those words at the conference. The reality is, we spoke about overt, documented human rights violations and systemic oppression.

Worse, Brean claims -- without any evidence -- that we believe willing patients of psychiatry are "pathetic dupes." The fact is this conference was about mutual respect of divergent views, something Brean could have learned from. But did Brean even bother to visit this event? For example, Brean inaccurately claims Dan Taylor arrived from Ghana, when actually visa problems led to this speaker's cancellaton.

Brean's bias is reflected throughout his slanted piece's 68 paragraphs. Only about 8 are explicitly for the event, but more than three times as many paragraphs -- 26 -- are explicitly critical.

The numerous bigoted comments and ridiculous arguments by critics that Brean does quote are uncivil at best, and potentially defamatory at worst. He allows these insults and points without any chance of rebuttual by us.

The sheer quantity of hate speech that Brean seeks out and broadcasts, without any chance to hear our side, is breathtaking. If we string together some of the actual degrading words by critics that Brean quotes, then: We're a bad lot who improperly block people from care. We are totally slanted (he quotes that phrase twice), fringe zealots who are isolated promoters of nuttiness. We're toxic leftist foolish donkeys -- yes, donkeys -- who knock things over, grabbing (a word quoted twice) for power. We're out to improperly shame and scare the mentally ill. Yet we ourselves are absurd mentally ill who are suspicious and paranoid, and who see plots everywhere.

Revealingly, in the seventh paragraph of his story Brean quotes an anonymous "medical historian" who really does see plots and conspiracy theories of his own. According to Brean, this academic told him the "hidden hand" of Scientology is behind our event. How convenient that Brean left out any attribution for his quote. Perhaps that's because this totally false statement is meant to harm us, which is the very definition of defamation. The attorney for the NGO I direct, MindFreedom, has a long-standing letter on our web site reminding anyone who attempts this kind of witch hunt -- reminiscent of the 1950's Red Scare -- that we can and will pursue defamation. Since Shorter is the only "medical historian" in the piece, is he the coward who is casting lies hiding under Brean's cloak of anonymity?

Of course, Brean doesn't ask any of these six critics if they or their organizations receive any funding from the pharmaceutical or mental health industries. Do they? Brean does imply that Burstow hired five graduate "assistants" when actually all these young grad students, and more, volunteered for free.

Brean further displays his bias by arbitrarily choosing two conference participants who do not represent PsychOUT, and who Brean says have low credibility. In fact, one of these participants -- a convicted murderer -- admits his views are counter to most PsychOUT participants! Brean devotes 18 paragraphs to these cherry-picked participants, which is one fourth of all of his paragraphs. He quotes 244 of their words, far more than that given to the single, solitary official PsychOUT representative who is quoted, Burstow. Brean does briefly quote a university administrator who simply takes a neutral position.

I flew in from Oregon to be a keynoter at PsychOUT. I found a community of wonderful, determined, brave people. Many of them personally experienced horrendous human rights violations in mental health care, and deserve better than Brean's vile scorn. Many others are young academic leaders in mental health who are seeking to change the future of their industry, so they can do better. Brean missed an opportunity to quote any of these sources.

Several public comments posted on the National Post web site in response to the article seek to degrade our community of people who have personally experienced the mental health system and seek to change it. This hate speech confirms that "sanism" is an oppression so deeply rooted in our world many do not even know its name. If these prejudiced folk consider themselves "normal," then I ask them to look at the current catastrophic climate crisis or the BP oil spill, and remind themselves that what is called "normal" is shredding our planet's ecology. If you think you are normal, please heal yourself first. Mad pride!

Brean's bizarre bigotry brings me to three conclusions:

First, there is a universality to what is known as madness. Those who mistakenly think they are "normal," apparently including Brean, can be shown to have blatantly-obvious mental and emotional problems of their own. A professional journalist, writing a supposed news piece for a newspaper, has literally flipped from objectivity to hate speech. Only Brean can tell us what personal demons may have led to this public embarrassment of his newspaper.

Second, I see Kraft is a major advertiser in National Post, such as through Chips Ahoy. Kraft Canada has a well-established cultural diversity policy. Would they appreciate knowing that their ad dollars are paying to spread white-hot hate about one of the most marginalized constituencies in society?

Third, in 2010 we must all be our own media. During my 34 years of activism, I have frequently observed mainstream media to act as a cheerleader for the huge psychiatric industry. For instance, as a new drug arrives, it's been the corporate media selling it to us as a snake oil miracle fix for a mysterious chemical imbalance that is never found. Mainstream media has played up people with psychiatric labels who are violent, and ignored the achievements of many others who are peaceful.

Mainstream media sells psychiatry through fear-mongering. The public pays for these lies by wasted taxpayer dollars. The next time one of your loved ones is in mental and emotional crisis, hope they get real help, instead of a shortened lifespan.

Resistance against corporate psychiatry abuse also means resistance against corporate media abuse. Those interested in hearing directly from the Mad Movement can go to

We call on the National Post to immediately fire Joseph Bearn, and issue a public apology to individual conference participants he insulted, to the PsychOUT organizers and attendees, and to the whole community of people who have personally experienced mental health care.


Brean's response c/o Bonnie Burstow [with MFI comments inserted]:

From: Joe Brean --
Date: Mon, 10 May 2010 13:09:33 -0400
To: Bonnie Burstow

I regret that you feel that way, but thank you for saying so. I meant no disrespect.

I think many of Mr. Oaks’ criticisms are misplaced. There was no anonymous quote. That was Shorter. [MFI note: Shorter's name was not mentioned in his false allegation about Scientology.]

I followed our style on honorifics, with you as well as Mr. Kirby, who also has a PhD. [MFI note: Brean calls Fred Frese a doctor, who has a PhD. But he does not do the same for Burstow. In fact, the shaman has a PhD too!]

I don’t intend to get into Mr. Oaks’ mathematical analysis of my sentences, or his ridiculous claims about Kraft’s advertising, my “personal demons,” and my “white-hot hate.” [MFI note: Debate can be difficult against the facts.]

But suffice it to say that I tried to write as forcefully and bluntly as possible. This was a weekend feature, not just another credulous and disinterested news report, which are all too common at academic conferences. [MFI note: Weekend or note, it was a news article, not a column or opinion piece. But either way, this does not excuse his "crackpot" comment.]

My goal was to get people from the beginning to the end, thinking about controversial and arcane things along the way. I am not a stenographer and I wasn’t there to promote anti-psychiatry. [MFI note: But apparently he was there to criticize this movement.]

I listened to you, fairly described your positions, canvassed authoritative criticism, and tried to write a news feature about an exciting controversy. [MFI note: To repeat, the ratio of quoted critics to the one PsychOUT representative was six to one.]

It cannot surprise you that many people find anti-psychiatry wrong and dangerous. [MFI note: There he goes with inaccuracy. Only some of the participants called themselves "anti-psychiatry." The conference itself included a variety of positions. There were many who found the PsychOUT conference valuable, but Brean ignored them.]

I cannot see who deserves an apology. [MFI note: Brean could start with the individual he called, in his own words, a "crackpot." Even a mainstream mental health organization would see that kind of prejudicial speech as degrading and discriminatory.]

Yours sincerely,
Joe Brean


Bonnie Burstow made this comment:

 "It is good that we are becoming our own media. Fairness and decency is not something we typically get from the mainstream media, and we most certainly did not get it in the National Post newspaper article, although the editor in charge of 'letters to the editor' was a refreshing surprise. A thank you to the all the people who wrote in letters to the editor. And thank you to MindFreedom for helping us publicize this issue. There is a difference between freedom OF the press, and freedom FOR the press, and like so many other articles in our area, the Brean article crosses the line. As a community, let's have more conferences in the spirit of PsychOut. And as people committed to a better world, when reporters unfairly cover our issues and our events, and what is every bit of significant, when academic like Shorter mascarade their bias as authoritative analysis, let's not be quiet about it."

Participant Al Galves said:

"One thing which struck me was, with all of the diversity in age, station in life, education, employment, sexual orientation, the distinguishing characteristic which brought people together was that it didn't appear that anyone there was afraid of, or put off by, the behavior and states of being that lead people to be diagnosed with mental disorders. There seemed to be a common attitude that, whatever is going on with you and whatever you're doing or thinking, as long as it doesn't hurt you or me, I'm fine with it and let's work with it."

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Celia Brown

Celia Brown is a psychiatric survivor and leader in the movement for human rights in mental health. Celia has served on the MFI board for several years, including as MFI president. Celia leads MFI's United Nations team, and International committee. Celia is shown here speaking at an MFI protest directly in front of the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting. (Photo by Tom Olin)
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