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He Stopped Making Sense long ago


Remember skeevy Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris, who made big news earlier this year when it was revealed that he and his wife Marsha had "rehomed" two little girls they'd adopted because the girls were either suffering from "reactive attachment disorder" or maybe possessed by demons. The rehoming never would have made much news, except for one unfortunate detail: Just months after the girls went to live with Harris family friends Eric and Stacey Francis, Eric raped the older girl, who was six at the time. Last Friday, the ABC News program "20/20" did a story on the Harrises and their failed adoption; it was a fairly complete retelling of the story, but in the rush to get to the happy ending for the girls -- who are now with another adoptive family and apparently thriving -- "20/20" left out some key questions.

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Arkansas Times reporter Benjamin Hardy, who originally broke the story back in March, notes that while the "20/20" piece told most of the Harris story, it left several important elements out, too -- most notably, the influence that Harris may have exerted over the state Department of Human Services (DHS). That's no small matter, since Harris sat on the committee that oversaw DHS, and there are still unanswered questions about how much he pressured the department's Division of Children and Family Services to approve the adoption, which several local DHS caseworkers opposed, since the girls had experienced severe abuse. The caseworkers didn't want the girls placed with a family that already had children, as the Harrises did. Says Hardy:

The Harris rehoming was always two stories at the same time: the wrenching, intimately personal story of a failed adoption and three victimized children, and a larger story of political influence being deployed to serve powerful people and marginalize the interests of others. 20/20 did a fair job presenting the first story. It failed to acknowledge the existence of the second, unfortunately.

[contextly_sidebar id="fcgD7UTo92lTNgpwKWAebqHzH4zcJpop"]Hardy's critique of the ABC story is top-notch. There were enough omissions, especially about how Justin Harris may have thrown his political weight around, to fill another hour of TV. We'd also agree with Hardy that "20/20" spent perhaps too much time explaining how the three sisters came to live with the Harrises, why the Harrises gave up on adopting the oldest, most severely troubled girl, and what problems the two younger sisters had in the Harris home. While it does make for exciting TV, there may have been too much attention paid to a babysitter's convincing allegation that the Harrises believed the girls were possessed by demons.

That's great storytelling, but the part after they were rehomed, when Eric Francis raped one of them, is given fairly short shrift.

Here's the segment on the former babysitter, Chelsey Goldsborough, followed by the segment on what happened after the Harrises gave up and rehomed the girls with the Francises: