Saturday, March 26, 2005


Extremist Exploitation

The Daily Kos has an article entitled Blood Sport:
Over the last three days or so, however, the coverage on the Little Three news networks -- Fox, CNN, MSNBC -- has ceased to be humorous. There is a difference between bad coverage and willfully irresponsible coverage, and another line between willfully irresponsible coverage and dangerously irresponsible coverage. In the last three days, those lines have been crossed. Repeatedly. And it has been absolutely, definitively intentional.

... Against this background of exploitation and misinformation, the usual bevy of archconservative media pundits has in the last several days begun to increasingly endorse a premise that is, to any rational mind, remarkable: the notion that because the courts have ruled in this particular fashion, it is now time for individuals and government figures to disregard the courts, and take matters into their own hands.

We now have a situation in which two dangerous elements are coming together in a manner that is ratings gold for exploitative "news" outlets. Yellow journalism, finally returned in all glory.
  1. Excite and incite viewers with tales that Ms. Schiavo, awake and alert, is being "murdered" within the walls of her hospice by a conspiracy between an abusive husband, bloodthirsty "expert" doctors, and every single state and federal judge to hear the evidence in the case.
  2. Endorse the notion that it may now be time to take Ms. Schiavo by force.
... This isn't petty irresponsibility or sloppiness, to be chalked up to the dwindling resources of corporate newsrooms.

This is a decision on the part of producers to willfully bend the lines in a manner that promotes sensationalism and potential violence, by intentionally tossing known-false information into a wire-taut public conflict to enhance the "ratings value".

This is a bit beyond the point where mere boycotts are appropriate. We may be looking at a situation, in the very near term, in which a man like Michael W. Mitchell is being questioned at length into his motives for a politically motivated killing. If I were Sean Hannity, Martha MacCallum, Pat Buchanan, John Gibson, Bill O'Reilly, or another fixture of the screaming tabloid shows, I might be a bit concerned whether my name came up.
Follow-ups as well.

Gipperclone at The Political Spectrum has a different (and, IMHO, shallow) approach - blaming the media:
But there is one group of people, over and above Michael Schiavo and those overtly aligned with him, who have not gotten the credit they are due for helping to accelerate Terri's end. That group is the liberal mainstream media (MSM), and it is time that they received their due.

... The Washington Times' Jennifer Harper did an excellent job the other day chronicling the substance of just some of the most tangible anti-Terri efforts. She specifically cited a study conducted by the Media Research Center (MRC), an Alexandria, Virginia-based conservative watchdog organization that is dedicated to reviewing and documenting allegations of media bias.

The MRC's findings were quite intriguing. It noted that, of the 31 news reports produced by ABC, CBS, and NBC about the Schiavo case between March 17 and March 21, 2005, approximately 60% of them "concentrated on Michael Schiavo's argument that his wife be allowed to die," while approximately 40% of them "featured the plea of parents Robert and Mary Schindler to continue care for their daughter." The MRC also found that 59% of the stories on the subject harshly criticized Congress and the White House for promoting federal legislation aimed at allowing the Schindlers the opportunity to seek relief for Terri in a federal court.

Now, those of you that know me know that I do not think the issue of media bias is up for debate, but they are biased. But in fairness, I will concede that a 60%-40% split in terms of the type of news coverage is not grotesquely slanted; at worst, it means that three out of every five stories provided the pro-killing angle, which is really only slightly more than half. Not having seen or heard most of these particular stories, I will also make no assumption as to their tone (although I would be willing to bet, dollars to doughnuts, that the stories promoting Terri's parents' side of the debate did a less than exhaustive job, and were probably a bit snide).

What does clinch the bias for me are those recent polling data that have been bandied about as if they were the Word of God. An ABC News poll of approximately 500 adults conducted on Sunday, March 20, purported to show that about 60% of Americans disagreed with Congress's belated attempts to allow the Schindlers to seek federal relief, and that 70% of Americans disagreed with Congress's interference in such personal family matters. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of approximately 600 adults taken two days later showed similar results, finding that 56% supported the Florida courts' decision to starve Terri.
His argument cites a singular study (conducted by a right-wing media organization - of which there are many). However accurate the work may or may not be, it does little to add substance to his argument.

The fact remains that the public does not support the conservative position on the Schiavo case. And Gipper ignores the sanctimonious circus playing for the entertainment of the ignorant. His silence on this is loud and clear.


Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:
I hesitate to dive much more into this than I have in a few brief posts because this is such a murky and dark and difficult to reason through situation. There's no black and white to it. Clearly, you've got a family that truly believes they're watching their daughter being allowed to die for lack of nourishment. Whatever the antics of their supporters or the larger political purposes this is being put to, they believe it. And I can only imagine the sense of impotence and despair they must be experiencing.

From the relatively little I know of this case, there has been a truly unconscionable years-long campaign of slander and defamation against the husband -- accusing him of everything under the sun including attempted murder. But immediate families in such cases must always be judged by very different standards than the ones we rightly apply to the political sharks and outrage-addicts who swarm around these people to feed off their tragedy.

... The only clarity I've been able to see in this case or find in it is that there is a set of laws governing these issues in Florida and those laws appear to have been followed. Not only followed, but now submitted to numerous appeals. As for the medical questions involved -- specifically, Shiavo's level of awareness or consciousness -- from what I can tell, every independent doctor who has examined her has put her in the PVS category. Those who don't turn out to be either quacks or doctors who didn't do a complete examination.

That doesn't mean those legal or medical judgments are correct. But I know that those judgments have been arrived at by people with vastly more expertise and information at their disposal than I have.

Obviously, I lack any medical understanding to judge these issues myself and I don't know that much about the legal history of the case. But the one thing I'm quite clear on is that I won't get any more clarity on either point from the comic book coverage coming out of CNN and the rest of the cable networks. And the folks who've poured gasoline on this fire for cheap political reasons are truly beneath contempt.

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