Accuracy in Media

Opponents of Terri Schiavo’s right to life had to have been happy with media coverage of the case. First, there was the “GOP Talking Points” memo that made Republicans look bad by depicting their interest in the case as completely partisan. That was seized upon by many media organizations, even though there was never any proof that Republican Senators had even read it. Second, there was heavy publicity given to a flawed ABC News poll finding that 63 percent of people said they supported the decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube and 70 percent were opposed to congressional involvement. Columnist Michelle Malkin was among those noting that respondents were given misleading information about Terri’s status and fate. Mickey Kaus of Slate.com said the poll was badly worded and biased.

Here is how ABC framed the main poll question: “As you may know, a woman in Florida named Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her parents and her husband disagree on whether or not she should be kept on life support. In cases like this who do you think should have final say, (the parents) or (the spouse)?”

A follow-up question asked: “If you were in this condition, would you want to be kept alive, or not?” The answer was that 78 percent said they would not want to live under similar conditions.

Malkin commented that the use of the loaded phrase “life support” in the question evoked images of a comatose patient being artificially sustained by myriad machines and pumps and wires. She added, “Terri was on a feeding tube. A feeding tube is not a ventilator. Terri can breathe just fine on her own.”

Of course, a feeding tube is regarded by many as life support but it is the only form of life support in the Schiavo case. The poll question also claimed that Terri “has no consciousness,” a controversial and debatable assertion. 

A concerned citizen, Stella Jatras, countered that the news media should have asked the question:  “Do you believe that Terri Schiavo should be in the hands of her loving parents or in the hands of her cheating husband.”  Jatras added, “I grant you that the polls would have given a different result.”

Bob Knight, a former news editor for the Los Angeles Times and former Media Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who directs Concerned Women for America’s Culture & Family Institute, suggested some other questions: 

? Are you aware that Michael Schiavo is living with another woman, has sired two children by her, and admitted melting down his wife’s wedding ring to make jewelry for himself?

? Did you know that Michael Schiavo never mentioned any alleged statement by Terri that she did not want to be kept alive this way until years later, when a settlement was reached in a malpractice lawsuit awarding him more than $1 million for Terri’s rehabilitation, and around the time he moved in with the other woman?

? Did you know that the description of Terri being in a “persistent vegetative state” is disputed by more than 30 physicians, including a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic?

? Did you know that Carla Iyer, a nurse who cared for Terri in the mid-’90s, filed an affidavit (available at www.terrisfight.net) saying that Michael openly pined for Terri’s death, prohibited the nurses from providing even the smallest comfort, such as a cool washcloth, apparently tampered with Terri’s charts showing any rehabilitative progress, and reportedly asked, “When is that b—ch going to die?”

The point is that polls can provide different answers depending on the information in the questions. Of course, the strange irony is that the media claimed that the Republicans were exploiting the case for political gain, even though the ABC poll showed that the Republican position was unpopular. Perhaps that meant that the poll was indeed flawed.

It’s true that other polls showed similar results. But we did not see one poll that asked people if they were aware that Congress was giving Schiavo’s parents the simple right to have a federal review of the facts of the case. That’s something that the liberals have guaranteed to convicted killers on death row. In fact, the taxpayers provide the lawyers for these killers in the federal courts if they cannot afford one.




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