Accuracy in Media

Even at this late date, after Terri Schiavo is dead and gone, the media keep getting the facts wrong about the case. On the CBS Evening News, correspondent Joie Chen said that Rep. Tom Delay and other Republicans were “infuriated by court decisions not to enforce the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube after lawmakers passed a law in a nearly unprecedented effort to do so?” That’s not what the law said. The law declared that the federal courts would have jurisdiction to establish the facts in the case. The federal courts were not ordered to come to any conclusion, only to examine the evidence. That’s a right automatically given to convicted killers like Scott Peterson, who are facing execution. 

Tragically, the courts ignored what Congress required, and Schiavo was starved to death. But that is beside the point in regard to the misleading Joie Chen story.

Here’s what the law said: “Any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo shall have standing to bring a suit under this Act. The suit may be brought against any other person who was a party to State court proceedings relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain the life of Theresa Marie Schiavo, or who may act pursuant to a State court order authorizing or directing the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life. In such a suit, the District Court shall determine de novo any claim of a violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo within the scope of this Act, notwithstanding any prior State court determination and regardless of whether such a claim has previously been raised, considered, or decided in State court proceedings. The District Court shall entertain and determine the suit without any delay or abstention in favor of State court proceedings, and regardless of whether remedies available in the State courts have been exhausted.”

This is a long way of saying that the Congress wanted the federal courts to take a fresh look at the case. The law went on to say that, “After a determination of the merits of a suit brought under this Act, the District Court shall issue such declaratory and injunctive relief as may be necessary to protect the rights of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution and laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life.” In other words, if the court determines that her rights were violated by the withdrawal of her feeding tube, the court could order her feeding tube reinserted. But that was dependent on the court finding this was warranted by the facts or merits of the case.

Since Joie Chen of CBS News got the basic facts wrong, is it possible that she didn’t even bother to read the law? The other possibility is that she read it and didn’t understand it. It is amazing, on a matter that has gotten so much attention and publicity, that the essential facts of the case can be ignored by a major news operation. But that’s CBS News for you. If the facts get in the way, ignore or distort them.

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