Teen Whisperer or Teen Tormentor: As Congress Takes On Troubled Teen Programs, Times Inadvertently Plugs One

10/23/2007 03:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

While I've gotta give The New York Times kudos for its strong editorial "When Tough Love is Too Tough," calling for greater oversight of the "troubled teen" residential industry, I must simultaneously take them to task for running a glowing review of a book by a counselor who worked for 10 years for one of the most notorious organizations in that business.

Mike Linderman, author of The Teen Whisperer served as "clinical director" of Spring Creek Lodge, a Montana program linked with the infamous World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP, also called WWASPS).

Calling Linderman "brusquely compassionate," the Times Styles section approvingly cited him for that work. But it failed to even mention the history of serious abuse allegations and lawsuits involving Spring Creek Lodge -- many of which include the decade in which Linderman worked there.

Take this 2003 Times story, headlined "Program to Help Troubled Youths Has Troubles of Its Own." In it, investigative reporter Tim Weiner notes that "some children and parents call [Spring Creek Lodge] physically and psychologically brutal." He goes on to detail stories of teens locked in solitary confinement for months [photo of the claustrophic isolation room known as "the Hobbit" at Spring Creek is here], fed only beans and bananas. Linderman worked at Spring Creek at the time and apparently was employed by the program until some time in 2006.

Weiner quotes the mother of one teen, Michele Ziperovich, saying "He came out 35 pounds lighter, acting like a zombie. When he came back, he was worse, far worse." Weiner also reports that former employees have corroborated the teens' stories and that one was arrested for sexually assaulting teens in the isolation room.

In 2005, a Spring Creek staffer shot a man seven times and then killed himself. And in 2006, Spring Creek was sued after a teenage girl committed suicide there-- the suit says that the facility "was not designed or operated to provide quality or even adequate care" and that its employees "planned and operated Spring Creek Lodge Academy in such a manner that physical, educational, mental or emotional harm was consistently and foreseeably caused to the children at Spring Creek."

The Times mentions nothing of this controversy -- essentially allowing the author to claim that The New York Times endorses his book and by association, Spring Creek Lodge.

Nor does the review inform readers that when Linderman worked at Spring Creek, it was affiliated with WWASP, which has had no fewer than eight programs shuttered following abuse allegations. In Mexico, police filmed kids chained in outdoor dog cages at one program -- a program to which kids at Spring Creek were often sent if they didn't behave.

Spring Creek Lodge is currently the subject of a large class action suit -- with over 100 plaintiffs claiming serious human rights violations occurred there and at other WWASP programs.

I think parents considering taking advice from the "Teen Whisperer" might want to know that he has been accused as well of being a "Teen Tormentor" and party to institutionalized child abuse.

And we wonder why people distrust the media...