Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the media's yellow journalistic smoke screen

Throughout much of the media frenzy surrounding the Delgado v. Araguz probate lawsuit, the press has avoided discussing the law, the legal issues, and the relevant facts, that apply to the validity of the marriage between Nikki and Thomas Araguz. Instead, the media has primarily pursued a public inquisition of Nikki Araguz; based mostly on hearsay, speculation, and innuendo, little if any of which is relevant to, or admissible in, the court proceedings on which the media has been reporting. While the media pursues Nikki Araguz, it is also apparent to many observers that these same sensationalizing yellow journalists (1) have steered clear of publishing any personal information about the late Thomas Araguz's ex-wife, Heather Delgado, or his mother Simona Longoria, who are together responsible for filing the lawsuit that has created the public uproar over Nikki Araguz's marriage. As plaintiffs, Delgado and Longoria could drop their lawsuit at any time, but instead they have maintained a continuous public barrage of bigoted defamation against Nikki Araguz, all the while exclaiming their supposed interest in the needs of Thomas's children. However, it seems like the children's interests might have been better served if Delgado and Longoria had never filed their lawsuit against Nikki Araguz in the first place, and had not thrust themselves, Nikki Araguz, and Thomas Araguz's children, into a national spectacle.

Nikki Araguz (left) with her husband Thomas Araguz
Meanwhile, the various forms of verbal deception and misrepresentation practiced by the media seem worth examining, and worth juxtaposing with some assessments of what is relevant to a court of law regarding the law and the facts of this case. At the heart of this media barrage of irrelevant character assassination, inadmissible hearsay, and mischaracterizations of Nikki Araguz in attempts to attack her credibility, is an undercurrent of bigotry and vilification of all transsexual and intersex people that assaults not just Nikki Araguz, but the entire intersex and transsexual population, and objective public conscience.

A prime example of this deceptive yellow journalism is the recent commentary article written by Lisa Falkenberg and published in the Houston Chronicle. While Falkenberg's article's first sentence begins by claiming to address what has been lost in the headlines (the sons of Thomas Araguz), her article goes on to remain lost in the same sensationalism and avoidance of verifiable facts that has generated those very headlines. If as Falkenberg says, Thomas Araguz's nine year old son Trevor is still waking up crying for his father, and his younger son Tyler still doesn't understand that his father has died and is still waiting for him to come home, why didn't their mother Heather Delgado and their grandmother Simona Longoria focus on their emotional needs rather than on filing a lawsuit and spending their time focused on hurling verbal epithets at Nikki Araguz? Falkenberg goes on to describe the children as the only "innocents". However that deceptive language makes the inference that there is something less than innocent about Nikki Araguz. This lawsuit concerns only one issue really, which is who inherits the proceeds of Thomas Araguz's financial estate. It is not about the character of the individuals involved at all, and their character is not a legally determining factor. For Falkenberg to bring innocence or guilt into judgments about a civil legal proceeding that is strictly about the inheritance of money is quite devious.

Falkenberg's devious writing goes further when she places "our children" in quotes when referencing a statement made by Nikki Araguz, in an effort to signal to readers that Falkenberg questions the credibility of that characterization, when in fact nobody disputes the fact that Nikki Araguz had been caring for those two children over the course of the past two years, and during that time had been a step mother to them. Using the double quote method of attacking the credibility of characterizations, Falkenberg goes on to place the phrase "birth defect" in double quotes, without giving details about the fact that Nikki Araguz's own mother has reported that Nikki was born with partial "androgen insensitivity syndrome" (AIS) (2), in which a person's body is unable to process or respond to testosterone. The Houston NBC television station's web site reported on this as follows:
... they said Nikki Araguz suffers from a rare birth defect called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a person has all of the physical traits of female, but has no uterus.

"This is not a case of someone who took hormones to prevent from developing into a male. This is a case of a person who was born with a defect," said Nikki Araguz's mother.
While the description quoted just above is slightly medically and scientifically inaccurate, it at least demonstrates that the evidence presented about Nikki's congenital medical condition is more than an obtuse reference without further explanation as Falkenberg contends. Some of the best evidence presented thus far that Nikki was born with the AIS condition, has been the video documentary made of her at age nineteen, in which it is obvious that her body then, and even now, has never been influenced by testosterone. At age nineteen, without any exogenous estrogen treatment, Nikki's body was that of a normal looking and quite beautiful woman. Any responsible journalistic presentation of those facts would include some scientific and medical explanation of that condition and the practical impact it has on the lives of people born with it. However, no such explanations about the relevant science have appeared in the corrupted work of the yellow journalists reporting on this event in Texas. To do that would give Nikki Araguz and her mother credibility, and would give credence to the statements she has been making, which appears to be something the Texas news media seems loath to address. A detailed article on the science of sex determination is available on this site.

Then Falkenberg reveals her own personal bias about the case. However, Falkenberg fails to backup her claims and conclusions with supporting evidence or basis. Instead, Falkenberg simply leaves the impression that much of the Texas press has made, that she has pre-judged the situation without ever giving due consideration to the most relevant facts, and has chosen instead to pass personal judgment on Nikki Araguz based on irrelevant character assassination factors. The conclusion Falkenberg reaches midway through her article is that:
It's getting harder and harder to believe, though, that Nikki's motives are really about the children's well-being, or the marriage rights for transgender Texans, no matter how much transgender activists need her case to help their worthy cause. It seems increasingly probable she's just out for the money.
Falkenberg's conclusions are ridiculous for numerous reasons. First of all, Heather Delgado is the person who created the current legal warfare against Nikki Araguz, and it is Heather Delgado and Simona Longoria who are the people pursuing their quest for money that would otherwise belong to Nikki, with the clear implication that they are the greedy people, not Nikki Araguz. Their lawsuit against Nikki Araguz is a fool's errand anyway, since attorneys fees are likely to consume whatever financial gain they might otherwise receive from it. Of equal importance is the fact that there isn't any way for Nikki Araguz to defend the validity of her marriage to Thomas Araguz, while disconnecting her defense of it from her right to inherit his financial estate. Falkenberg's conclusions also fail to address the central and verifiable facts, which include the undisputed fact that Thomas Araguz explicitly named Nikki Araguz the beneficiary of his life insurance policy and his pension plan benefits, and he even had the presence of mind to check the "other" box rather than the "spouse" box so that there wouldn't be any question about his intention to leave his estate to Nikki Araguz. Furthermore, while the plaintiffs have made primarily hearsay claims about what knowledge Thomas Araguz had regarding Nikki Araguz's medical conditions, AIS, transsexualism, or both, the email messages between Nikki and Thomas Araguz are pretty strong evidence, of which backup copies probably exist on an internet service provider (ISP) server, and the full transmission headers and ISP logs surely corroborate their authenticity. Darrell Steidley, one of the attorneys for Nikki Araguz has also filed an affidavit created by Thomas Araguz before this death in which he describes the truth of this knowledge about Nikki's medical condition, surgery, etc., and that he lied during the April 2010 deposition taken of him during the previous child custody lawsuit. Meanwhile, the pragmatic circumstances of Nikki Araguz's medical condition alone make the assertion that Thomas Araguz didn't know the configuration of Nikki's genitals preposterous, since it doesn't seem like any reasonable person would believe that he wasn't aware of the what genitals his wife had while sleeping with her for two years. Nobody seems to refute that Nikki Araguz had genital reconstruction surgery with Marci Bowers, M.D. (3) of Trinidad, Colorado on October 7, 2008, and anyone with even a cursory knowledge of such surgery or who has taken a few minutes to read Dr. Bowers' web site would realize that the ongoing post surgical care (4) is such that there is just isn't any way such a husband wouldn't know what was going on with his wife. The mere fact that Nikki Araguz was in Trinidad, Colorado for surgery leaves no question about the nature of surgery, since genital reconstructive surgery for transsexual people is pretty much all that Marci Bowers, MD does.

Falkenberg goes on to repeat the media's attacks on Nikki Araguz by asserting Nikki's history of petty criminal acts, and her admission that she and Thomas Araguz perjured themselves in an April deposition in an earlier but apparently ongoing, lawsuit over custody of the children. Certainly that perjury implies lack of judgment on Nikki's part and a lack of awareness about the legal system, but the present probate/inheritance lawsuit is not about personal judgment. This lawsuit about the legality of a marriage between a post-surgical intersex and/or transsexual female and a man who ostensibly had an XY sex chromosome pair, and her consequent right to inherit, which is an issue at law, not character or fact. Parenthetically, another important and relevant fact is that neither the DNA of Nikki Araguz nor the DNA of Thomas Araguz has yet been tested to determine the status of either of their sex chromosomes. It is possible that Thomas Araguz could have had mosaic chromosomes such as XYY or XXY, and not XY, and might still have been fertile enough to father children. For all we know, Nikki Araguz might have XX, XY, XXY, or XXXY sex chromosomes. Although there are other sources, the book "Man & Woman, Boy & Girl" by John Money (5) includes a survey of the various possibilities, as does Albert J. Solari's book, "Sex chromosomes and sex determination in vertebrates" (6), in which both describe the various biological mechanisms by which females with an XY sex chromosome pair are possible. What neither the court in Littleton v. Prange, nor the current news media, have considered, is the vast complexity of human biological sex morphologically, with its many possibilities other than simply XX female and XY male, and the medical, sociological, and legal implications of those complexities. What is relevant to the probate case are those medical facts about Nikki Araguz and Thomas Araguz, which the parties and the court will need to examine and determine, and which do not involve any of the media's irrelevant character assassination of Nikki Araguz. What is also legally relevant is the minor 2009 statutory change to Texas marriage law, and the decision in Littleton v. Prange. However, in order for a court to properly consider Littleton v. Prange, it will need to hear expert witness medical testimony about the genetic and morphological makeup of the parties, including DNA evidence, and physical examinations, before it could even honestly apply Littleton v. Prange. Neither that medical information, the facts about the genital surgery Nikki Araguz received from Marci Bowers, MD, or the intimate details of the what knowledge Thomas Araguz demonstrably had about her condition are character related.

Falkenberg concludes her article by quoting apparent statements from Simona Longoria, the mother of Thomas Araguz, in which Longoria claims that:
For her part, Longoria said she just wants the ordeal over, and for Nikki, and the publicity, to go away so her family can grieve. If Nikki ends up proving her marriage to Thomas was valid and gets the money, so be it, Longoria says. The family would move on.

"This has nothing to do with anybody being gay. This has nothing to do with anybody being transgender. It doesn't. That's not our fight," she says.

Her fight, she insists, is protecting two boys who lost their dad.

If only that were the priority for all concerned.
If Simona Longoria's priority actually were the best interests of Thomas Araguz's sons, financially and emotionally, it appears that their interests would have been served best if Longoria and Delgado had never filed suit against Nikki Araguz, since any financial gain from the lawsuit will surely be squandered on attorney's fees. In fact, Simona Longoria likely doesn't even have legal standing to be a party to the lawsuit in any event. However, Falkenberg's article fails to mention that the attorneys representing Nikki Araguz have already filed a motion to have Longoria removed as a party from the lawsuit on that basis.

Falkenberg's article isn't the only example of such yellow journalism, of journalism corrupted by a tacit if not entirely direct agenda whose primary intent is to generate public disfavor toward Nikki Araguz. The themes in Falkenberg's deceptive article are echoed throughout the Texas press and media, and even in some national accounts of the lawsuit. One example is a more recent article that has appeared in the Washington Times about the Delgado v. Araguz case. It was written by Kathryn Watson, who is apparently an intern at the Washington Times while a journalism student at Biola University, a right wing Christian evangelist college in California with an obvious political agenda that would render Watson anything but an objective journalist about the topic at hand. In fact, Kathryn Watson's article lacks even a basic level of fact checking or accuracy. Instead, the Washington Times article by Watson, is actually another tainted work of misrepresentative and often fictional speculation among the deluge of corrupted press surrounding the Nikki Araguz case.

Another serendipitous bit of timing with regard to the Nikki Araguz case is the August 4, 2010 federal court ruling in California regarding marriage. It is unfortunate that the Delgado v. Araguz case seems likely to make its way through the trial court and its appeals before a U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision is made about the legality of limiting marriage only to one ostensible XX female and one XY male. If the SCOTUS were to uphold the concept that banning same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, it wouldn't be legal or relevant for Texas courts, or any U.S. court to question the sexual morphology of the partners to any marriage any longer.

(1) Yellow journalism:

(2) Androgen insensitivity syndrome:

(3) Marci Bowers, MD:

(4) vaginoplasty post operative care:

(5) John Money, "Man and Woman, Boy & Girl"

(6) Albert J. Solari, "Sex chromosomes and sex determination in vertebrates"

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