“Shaken baby syndrome is the most mind-blowing story I have encountered in 26 years as a journalist,” says Susan Goldsmith, whose film The Syndrome has been nominated for a Jury Award at its premiere next month at the Kansas International Film Festival. “The deeper and deeper you go, the worse it gets.”
Even over the phone, Goldsmith crackles with the same energy that makes the trailer so compelling and no doubt earned the film its nomination. “When I found out how the promoters of the theory are trying to silence their critics,” she flares, “I knew I had to make this movie.”
She promises an “explosive” exposé, consistent with her web site’s report that the film “unflinchingly identifies those who have built careers and profited from this theory along with revealing their shocking pasts.”
The Syndrome profiles three of the most outspoken critics of shaking theory, forensic pathologist John Plunkett, pediatric neuroradiologist Pat Barnes, and neurosurgeon Ron Uscinski.
The film also features a few of the personal stories Goldsmith heard during years of research. “Those families, who have been ripped apart in so many ways, they keep me inspired,” Goldsmith insists. “If I was traumatized like that, I’d never want to talk about it, but you call them up, and all they want is to help get the word out.”
Goldsmith expects criticism from what she calls “the shaken baby industrial complex.”
“I’m used to being attacked,” she shrugs. “My job as an investigative reporter is to piss people off.”
Goldsmith has handled controversial stories before, including an article sympathetic to a convicted child molester—which later won a first-place award for crime and justice reporting—and a profile defending Nigerian anthropologist John Ogbu at UC Berkeley, tarred as a “Clarence Thomas” for his study of black high school students at an affluent Cleveland suburb. She’s often had trouble pitching her ideas, she concedes, “but I have never encountered the insane resistance I’ve seen to this story.”
Goldsmith says that people seem to go “fuzzy in the head” when the words child abuse are used, “and that’s a very dangerous place for us to be in.” The same human instinct that fostered the shaken baby nightmare also made it nearly impossible to explain her conclusions, she sighs. “Over and over, people would just say, ‘They must be shaking them.'” Recognizing the resistance to their topic within the film industry, she and her cousin Meryl Goldsmith found their own funding and made their own movie.
I’m excited: The Syndrome could be a watershed in the history of shaken baby syndrome. I confess I had the same thought about Lee Scheier’s 2005 Chicago Tribune treatment, Emily Bazelon’s 2011 New York Times Magazine piece, the 2011 NPR/ProPublica/Frontline series, and Deborah Tuerkheimer’s 2014 book, but every bit of exposure helps bring the truth to light, and this film promises to be a high-wattage experience.
I knew Goldsmith subscribed to this blog, but she says in fact she’s a “religious reader” and she has “learned a tremendous amount” from it. I am gratified and encouraged.
For a sampling of Goldsmith’s work and awards, click on her tab on the film’s web site.
November 2015 Update: You can now host a screening of The Syndrome, http://www.resetfilms.com/hostascreening/
Copyright 2014, Sue Luttner
If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this site.