Reporter's Notebook: 'Why Don't You Tell The Other Side?'
From Phil Williams:
"Why don't you tell the other side?"
That's been a repeated refrain that's appeared in comments posted in response to NewsChannel 5's continuing coverage of the international child-custody controversy involving Christopher Savoie.
The Franklin, Tenn., businessman became big news when he was arrested in Japan for allegedly abducting the two children who were abducted from him here in Tennessee by his ex-wife, Noriko Savoie.
Noriko's supporters ask, "Why don't you tell how he lured her to Tennessee and immediately filed divorce papers against her?"
Christopher's supporters reply, "Why don't you tell how she wanted to divorce him in Japan -- a country whose laws routinely force fathers (especially non-Japanese fathers) completely out of their children's lives?"
Noriko's supporters demand, "Why don't you reveal how Christopher emotionally abused his wife and made her life a living hell?"
Christopher's supporters answer, "Why don't you reveal how Noriko herself was abusive, always conniving against Christopher and threatening to cut him out of his children's lives?"
Noriko's supporters suggest, "Why don't you reveal tell how he cheated on her and married his current wife just days after his divorce became final?"
Christopher's supporters respond, "Why don't you tell that the relationship with his current wife didn't start until after he and Noriko had already separated?"
All of that reflects why I ended the first part of my investigation into the child-custody controversy by saying, "As with a lot of divorces, this one's also complicated."
Still, just like there's a bride's side and a groom's side at weddings, it's only natural that some viewers want to take sides in the divorce.
Adding fuel to that debate was a recent Associated Press story, published in The Tennessean. It began this way: "A friend says Noriko Savoie felt trapped -- she was a Japanese citizen new to the U.S. whose American husband had just served her divorce papers."
So why didn't we report how she had been tricked into an American divorce?
Because all the available evidence suggests that it's just not true.
Associated Press: "A friend says Noriko Savoie felt trapped -- she was a Japanese citizen new to the U.S. whose American husband had just served her divorce papers."
Judge Jim Martin: "She came here knowing that he wanted a divorce."
While we aren't in a position to retry the whole messy divorce, Williamson County Judge Jim Martin heard both sides.
"She clearly understood that, when she was coming to the United States, she wasn't coming here to reconcile," Martin said during a March hearing.
"And it was clear as it could be in mediation that she came here knowing that her husband was involved with another woman, and she came here knowing that he wanted a divorce."
Neither party objected to the judge's characterization during that hearing.
Since we as journalists don't sit on either the bride's or the groom's side in the divorce, we've focused on what Williamson County courts have ruled.
First, the courts have ruled that Noriko voluntarily entered into a divorce agreement in which she pledged to live in Tennessee with the children.
And she received her own victory. She was awarded close to $800,000 in cash -- a settlement that she would have been unlikely to receive in Japan's legal culture.
"So while it may be hard for her to watch her children lose Japanese identity," Judge Martin said, "that's part of what she bargained for."
Secondly, testifying under oath before Judge Martin, Noriko swore that she was not planning on abducting the children to Japan.
"I have never thought about taking [the] children away from their father, never," she insisted.
Finally, contrary to her sworn testimony, she disappeared to Japan with the children "in violations of the Orders of this Court," wrote Williamson County Judge Tim Easter. The judge awarded full custody to Christopher.
As a result, Franklin police obtained a warrant for Noriko's arrest.
Of course, the story veered into dramatic, new territory when Christopher landed himself in jail -- and an international incident -- for allegedly trying to abduct the children who were abducted from him.
Since we have the only interview with him about the child custody dispute, we're in a unique position to let the public see him and hear the desperation to which he felt pushed by his wife's illegal actions.
As for Noriko's side, I've worked closely with CNN's Tokyo correspondent to help her get an on-camera interview with Noriko. A CBS News producer also tried. So far, Noriko has declined.
Noriko's former attorney, Marlene Eskind Moses, did not return our initial telephone calls to talk about her former client's perspective -- although she did call later to defend Judge Martin's role in the case.
By phone, Ms. Moses told me she has talked with Noriko in Japan, but cited attorney-client privilege in refusing to say what her former client told her or whether she has told her former client that she needs to return to the States.
Added to all of those points is the concern expressed by the U.S. government about Japan's policy of shielding parents who abduct their children from other countries.
So others can debate whether or not Noriko was justified in violating court orders and in lying under oath, as they can debate whether Christopher was justifying in trying to grab the children to bring them back to Tennessee.
We'll continue to focus on what should be indisputable -- that laws were broken and now two children are caught in the middle.
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