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The FMSF’s Influence on Public Media

General impact of the FMSF on the political climate surrounding recovered memories of childhood abuse.

One of the biggest goals of the FMSF was to influence the media and shift the public perception on the subject of recovered memories and childhood abuse in favor of FMSF talking points. The FMSF aggressively pitched their story to reporters, sending press packets with hand-picked quotes, relevant stories, or select studies. [1] They were largely successful – only six months after establishing the foundation, Pamela Freyd stated that “the biggest change has come in the press.” [2] The following scientific and press articles analyze the FMSF’s impact on the media:


U-Turn on Memory Lane, (Stanton, 1997).

Written by Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Mike Stanton, U-Turn on Memory Lane was one of the first published news articles to challenge the FMSF. Stanton received the Nieman fellowship at Stanford to write the article after his previous work exposing corruption within the supreme court of Rhode Island. Beyond analyzing how and why the FMSF managed to become so popular with the press, Stanton exposed the foundation as unscientific and detailed the accusations of abuse that prompted Pam and Peter Freyd to found the organization.


Stanton described the foundation as “an aggressive, well-financed p.r. machine adept at manipulating the press [and] harassing its critics.” Stanton noted that many reporters “ignored equally essential facts” instead relying heavily upon “FMSF experts and propaganda.” In one example, Goleman’s early article on the FMSF “did not make clear the role of accused parents in starting the foundation, quoted several of their advisors without revealing their affiliation, and misidentified Pamela Freyd as a psychologist.” Beyond providing biased stories to the media, the FMSF often harassed news organizations developing stories critical of the FMSF, sometimes successfully getting them pulled from the press.


Culture and the Politics of Signification: The Case of Child Sexual Abuse. (Beckett 1996).

In a study of four prominent news magazines and various specialty publications, Katherine Beckett documented and analyzed the rapid transformation of press coverage on the subject of childhood abuse in the 1980’s. She notes that “the once-dominant image of child sexual abuse as a denied and under-reported social problem has been superceded by alternative issue frames that depict claims of abuse as highly dubious.” One of the media frames described by Beckett is the “False Memories” frame, which was promoted by the FMSF and dramatically rose in popularity between 1992 and 1994. 


Beckett notes that the FMSF has been “particularly successful” in redefining how the media addressed childhood abuse. “This success stems, in part, from the fact that the FMSF identified influencing media coverage as its most important objective” and “may also have been facilitated by the status and authority of many of the academic and professional sponsors” who sat on the FMSF advisory board.


Marshaling the Media. (Butler, 1995)

In an article for the Psychotherapy Networker, Butler documented the accusations of abuse and following interpersonal exchanges that prompted Pamela and Peter Freyd to found the FMSF. She exposed the FMSF and its advisory board as unscientific, detailing the dubious history of key FMSF figures.


Butler described prominent pieces of media that helped the FMSF change the narrative about childhood abuse. She notes that “articles quoted a predominance of experts who were members of the FMSFs scientific advisory board without listing their affiliation with it or searching out opposing academic views.” Drawing on Judith Herman’s opinion, Butler points out that doing so “favored the position of those accused of sexual abuse, allowing them to claim the support of educated opinion, while relegating their accusers to the realm of 'mass hysteria.'"


Butler noted that due to the FMSF’s drive to influence popular opinion, their position was overstated in the media. “The rules of journalism, Herman said, assume that the truth will emerge out of an intellectual contest between two equally matched opponents who come forward and aggressively press their points of view.” However, the so called ‘memory wars’ were not two equally matched, aggressive opponents: “Accused parents were organized and eager to speak to the media, while the other side composed of incest survivors and their therapists often didn't want to identify themselves and wanted mostly to be left alone.”

Many authors of positive media coverage of ‘False Memory’ or the FMSF either have been accused of abuse, or have accused family members.

“Personal connection[s with people accused of abuse] undermines one of institutionalized journalism’s most revered truths: that the press must remain objective.” [3] Many of the major books, news articles, and media stories about ‘false memory’ and the FMSF were written by people accused of abuse, or who had direct ties to people who had been accused – they had a large investment in proving that recovered memories of abuse were false.


Stephanie Salter

In a six-part series on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner titled ‘Buried Memories/Broken Families,’ Stephanie Salter and Carol Ness wrote a deep dive into FMSF propaganda. They criticized ‘recovered memory therapy’ and the memories of abuse survivors, claiming that recovered memories of abuse could not be true. The series did not interview any adult children of accused parents, did not question the innocence or motives of accused parents, and failed to mention the existence of corroborated cases of recovered memories. [3] The FMSF newsletter urged its readers to “order copies of the outstanding series of six articles by Stephanie Salter… Don't miss these important stories about FMS families that have created such a stir across the country.” [4] The series was one of the first major headlines promoting FMSF talking points.


Salter’s boyfriend was accused of abuse by his daughter, based on recovered memories recalled as an adult prior to and during therapy. When the series began, Salter claimed that her only involvement with the concept of false memories was from a “close friend’s” experiences. Her boyfriend’s daughter wrote a letter to the editor, stating “because of [Salter’s] very close ties to someone accused of incest, she seems to us to be not at all detached, she would have a very big stake in proving to herself that repressed memories are false.” [3]


Julie Petersen’s article “Unforgiven, Unforgettable, Unfinished” details Salter’s ties to those accused of abuse and the resulting backlash to her Examiner series.


Eleanor Goldstein

Pamela Freyd writes that “One of the most constructive results of the past few years has been the publication of many outstanding books that have helped to shape public understanding of the FMS problem. Confabulations (Goldstein & Farmer)... and Victims of Memory (Mark Pendergrast), for example, were part of the first wave of books to specifically address FMS issues.” [5]


Eleanor Goldstein wrote two of the first popular books on ‘False Memory Syndrome.’ Confabulations: Creating False Memories, Destroying Families (1992), and True Stories of False Memories (1993), the former book containing Pamela Freyd’s anonymous narrative of accusations of abuse in her family. The books were often listed in the FMSF newsletter for sale as a reputable source of information on ‘false memories.’ [6] the newsletter instructed members to “Visit your library or bookstore. If Confabulations is not available, ask to have it purchased.” [7]


Goldstein stated in an interview that families should “absolutely” stay together even after the “mistake” of childhood sexual abuse, and that children should not hold a grudge against the family for it. “I don’t think sexual touch is the horrible horrors. I don’t think so. I think we make a big to-do about nothing.” [8]


Goldstein and her husband have been accused of abuse by their daughter Stacy, based on both continuous and recovered memories. She writes that “Eleanor made it clear how she could hurt me, and even more importantly, my children. Her favorite story was Medea, the story of a woman who kills her children to avenge her husband; she repeatedly commented on how she could hire a hit man in Delray Beach.” [9] 


Mark Pendergrast

Mark Pendergrast wrote numerous books on ‘false memory syndrome’ over the course of the ‘memory wars,’ including Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives (1996), The Repressed Memory Epidemic: How It Happened and What We Need to Learn from It (2017), and Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die (2021). In 1999, a publisher from Upper Access stated that Victims of Memory had “made a major contribution in turning around the intellectual argument” on childhood abuse and ‘false memories.’ [10]


Mark Pendergrast has been accused of abuse by both of his daughters, citing a history of forced skinny dipping, massages, early sexual conversations, a lack of boundaries, manipulation, and control. His narrative of such accusations is recounted in his first book, where he denies all accusations of abuse. However, Pendergrast’s written account is contrary to how he portrayed these events in interviews. When interviewed on the tv show Straight Talk in 1995, he said “Yes, I was a child of the sixties, and did some hippy things, including making my teenage daughters skinny dip with me… only a hysterical therapist could have convinced them that I’d done something wrong.” [11]


In a book review by Anna Rochelle in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, she states “His [1995] book seeks to prove his daughters and other ‘incest survivors’ have fallen prey to what skeptics call ‘false memory syndrome.” Even her sympathetic piece allows that the book could well be seen “as a guilty man’s obsessive attempt to clear his name.” [12]


Joseph De Rivera

Joseph De Rivera, a professor of peace studies at Clark University, published a handful of studies on ‘False Memory Syndrome’ (FMS), including “Emotional dynamics underlying some cases of False Memory Syndrome” (1996), “The construction of false memory syndrome” (1997), “Understanding false memory syndrome” (1997), and “Estimating the number of false memory syndrome cases” (1997). His work claims to articulate the cause and etiology of FMS, stating that “some cases of false memory are established by a "brain-washing' or "mind control" procedure.” [13]


Despite his consistent engagement in FMS conferences, activities, and research, De Rivera “failed to reveal - until this week [September 16 1993] - that he was accused almost four years ago by his oldest daughter of severe and chronic sexual abuse from the time she was 4 years old.” [14] The information came to light only when the Worcester Telegram & Gazette obtained a signed statement from his daughter attesting to the abuse. De Rivera claimed he did not disclose the accusations for his daughter’s privacy, but his daughter gave written permission to De Riviera and the Telegram & Gazette to publicly acknowledge the accusations. [14]


Quoted in a news article by the Telegram & Gazette, Nancy Scannell notes that "It's clear that [De Riviera’s] ability to be completely objective is undermined. He has a level of motivation for looking for results he wants to see. The only proof his daughter has is her memory. If he can prove that the memory is not real, he can save himself from any repercussions." [14] The article continues to state that “[De Riviera’s] failure to disclose the accusations surely cast doubt on the credibility of a researcher whose work tries to discredit the claims of alleged victims - like his daughter - who say they have recently recovered their repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse… More importantly, he has muddied an already complex issue that demands clarity and candor above all else.” [14]


[1] FMSF Staff (1992, June 12). How can you help? FMS Foundation Newsletter. 1(6), 5.

[2] Stanton, Mike. (1997, July/August). U-turn on memory lane. Columbia Journalism Review. 36(2), Pg. 44.

[3] Petersen, Julie. (n.d.) Unforgiven, Unforgettable, Unfinished. Retrieved from:

[4] FMSF Staff (1993, May 3). San Francisco Examiner Articles. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 2(5), 6.

[5] Freyd, Pamela. (1997, July/August). Dear Friends. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 6(7), 1.

[6] FMSF Staff. (1993, June 3). Sidebar. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 2(6), 10.

[7]  FMSF Staff. (1992, December 5). People Ask, “What Can I Do?” FMS Foundation Newsletter. 1(11), 6.

[8] Eleanor Goldstein and Mary Knight. Personal Interview. Retrieved from:

[9] Sharlet, Stacy. (Dec 3, 2021). “Open letter to Pamela Freyd, Elizabeth Loftus and the FMSF.” Private correspondence to Pamela Freyd, Elizabeth Loftus, and DISSOC email listserv.

[10] Carlson, Steve. (1999, September 5). Why Can't I Find That FMS Book in the Bookstore? FMS Foundation Newsletter. 8(6), 9.

[11] Makupson, Amyre. (1995, June 11). Straight Talk [Television Broadcast]. WKBD-UPN 50 Studios.

[12] Rochell, Anne. (1994, December 11). `Recovered' memories sever a family relationship. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. G1.

[13] deRivera, Joseph. (n.d.) Research: works on imagination and reality.

[14] Williamson, Dianne. (1993, September 16.) Research Hits Close to Home / Prof Didn’t Reveal Accusation of. Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA). B1.

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