60 Minutes show on Charles Cullen: A missed opportunity for education

Editor’s note: The following commentary was provided by the Lovefraud reader who posts as “Jennifer.”

Another example of the (gross) misrepresentation of  psychopathology / psychopathy in the media ”¦

The most recent episode of “60 Minutes” (which aired last Sunday, the 28th) contained two segments on Charles Cullen, a former nurse who is now considered to be the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.  (Cullen was a staff nurse in several New Jersey hospitals and it’s now thought that he may have murdered an estimated 400 people, via lethal injection.)  His harrowing story is chronicled in the newly-published book, The Good Nurse:  A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, by the journalist Charles Graeber (who originally studied/trained in medicine).

I was struck by two of the most glaring aspects of the presentation of this story…  The first pertains to the overwhelming degree of avoidance, denial, and mismanagement demonstrated by colleagues and especially those senior-level hospital administrators who failed to conduct the necessary investigations into his past (his employment history revealed a series of “forced” resignations, which were never questioned).  And, even when a pattern of suspicious deaths began to emerge in the departments in which he worked, Cullen was not immediately terminated…

The second pertains to the blatant omission of any analysis and/or commentary by a mental health professional, of any stature, with respect to the serious mental illness/personality disorder, i.e., psychopathy, that was being (broadly) presented to the general public.  (For example, in various scenes, Cullen is questioned about his random selection of victims, his motive (or, lack thereof) for killing, and his stunning lack of conscience, when confronted by family members of the victims, or, the judge.  He claimed to understand that what he was doing was wrong, but asserted that he was unable to suppress his homicidal impulses and that he was, therefore, resigned to to the fact that he would continue to murder his patients.)  His “killing spree” lasted for (over) 16 years…

Why, for example, wasn’t Robert Hare, Ph.D., who’s the world’s leading authority on psychopathy, not asked to provide a commentary on Cullen’s behavior and how and why it blatantly reflects the most salient and serious features of the disorder?  Or, perhaps even more importantly, to emphasize the fact that while most serial killers are psychopathic, the vast majority of psychopaths are not physically violent/serial killers, but that they are always a great detriment to others and found in all segments of society?  In my opinion, the inclusion of this critical component would have diminished the “sensationalizing” of the subject matter and helped to achieve a more important and desired outcome, i.e., to provide a sound clinical/scientific explanation and evaluation of the case by an/the leading expert in the field.

The many disturbing aspects of this story and its airing, in this format, is a stark reminder of how and why psychopathology is (still so) pervasively misunderstood and, therefore, stigmatized in American culture/society. As a result, it continues to be erroneously portrayed in and conveyed by the (mainstream) media.


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I agree with lost everything in tht it is difficult to be in the legal process with an spath… My ex was convicted, and yet because he always got away with what he did to me prior to that, I thought he would manage to get away with it in court. You actually start to believe it is your fault until you are no longer around the person, when you can be safely more objective about the situation. So there was a benefit for my case which didnt go to court right away, as it was clear the more i talked to the attorneys and detectives, and medical professionals, how bad what he had done to me was. I had avoided seeking help after the first time he hurt me because he threatened me if i did, and the only way i ended up in court with him having been arrested was because the injuries were so bad that time, my friend insisted i get checked and when you go get checked in virginia, it becomes a matter of the state… It was out of my hands. That was a good thing though as i wouldnt have stood up for myself, so the commonwealth stood up for me. Im forever thankful to them for seeing what i did not want to admit i saw and lived. I lived the falsehood… “it isn’t that bad.”. When in fact, it was much worse.

so many probably avoid court because they believe they might get hurt further, won’t prevail, and perhaps because they have been trained to believe it is their fault. It’s terrifying.

Lost, you are right about this interview simply glorifying the stereotype of the serial killer and not those that leave their victims alive and abused, depleted, and confused…. That’s what happens more often than the serial killers.

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