Pulling the Plug on Fairness
How can WorldNetDaily claim to offer "comprehensive" coverage of the Terri Schiavo case when it tells only one side of the story and hasn't talked to the other side for more than two years?
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily tosses out the superlatives when it describes its coverage of the Terri Schiavo case, the brain-damaged woman in Florida caught in a bitter battle over her life between her husband and her parents. Links at the end of each story call it "unparalleled" and "in-depth." A special page of links to its coverage calls it "comprehensive" (as of this writing, the newest link on that "comprehensive" page is from April 2004).
WND's "news" coverage is none of those. It's heavily biased in favor of Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and against her husband, Michael Schiavo, as ConWebWatch has previously noted. WND reports nearly every aspect of the story from the Schindlers' view and often refers to Terri Schiavo by the name her parents use, "Terri Schindler-Schiavo." WND also lists the Schindlers' web site as a source for "[c]ourt documents and other information."
Despite the fact that the Schindlers regularly make allegations of neglect and abuse against Michael Schiavo, WND has made no attempt to obtain comment from him or his attorney since May 2004, while the Schindlers' allegations against Michael Schiavo regularly stand unchallenged in WND articles.
Typical of WND's bias and disingenuousness is a March 5 story which detailed that "[a] Florida judge will hear arguments next week on whether the state's social services agency will be allowed to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case with an investigation of alleged abuse by her estranged husband." According to the story, Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) "said the allegations came through its anonymous abuse hot line."
But if you read the court petition (the version WND linked to is on a site operated by the Christian Communication Network, which serves as "an experienced press-relations person" for "pro-life and pro-family groups"), it states that the "approximately 30 detailed allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation" arrived via "a 34 page document received by the DCF hotline on February 18, 2005, and February 21, 2005." In other words, it's not a casual allegation. WND can pretend that the 34-page allegation of abuse is "anonymous," but it meshes with the plans by the Schindlers' lawyers to prompt a "flurry of legal activity," as reported in an Associated Press article reprinted on NewsMax, to fight the court ruling that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is to be removed on March 18. And a Feb. 25 WND story by Art Moore contains a long list of the complaints that the Schindlers have made against Michael Schiavo, which undoubtedly parallels the list "anonymously" sent to the DCF.
And in that 14-paragraph story, the only response to the allegations by Michael Schiavo is offered this way: "At a hearing two weeks ago, his attorney, George Felos, said the DCF's attemp [sic] to intervene 'reeks of political arm-twisting.'" In other words, WND did not contact Felos for this story but pulled a comment from a earlier hearing.
That is how WND reporters have written their Schiavo stories: Focus on the Schindlers' allegations, while giving Michael Schiavo little or no chance to respond. Moore's 46-paragraph Feb. 25 story -- including that bulleted 13-point list of specific allegations by the Schindlers against Michael Schiavo -- offers only two paragraphs to Felos taken from the hearing (the same comment quoted in the March 5 story), and no apparent attempt was made by Moore to get a response from Felos regarding the Schindlers' allegations, even though the article includes comments from the Schindlers, a "Schindler family spokesman," the Schindlers' lawyer and "a well-known Christian advocate for the disabled."
A Nov. 1, 2004, story by Sarah Foster (whom WND called "one of the most prolific writers in the nation on the case") noted that "David Gibbs, the new lead attorney for Terri's parents, was unavailable for comment," but a comment by Felos was cribbed from what he "told the Associated Press." An Oct. 28 story by Foster cited what a state attorney defending the legality of "Terri's Law" "told WorldNetDaily," while a quote from Felos is attributed to what "Felos told reporters," indicating that Foster either declined to ask Felos any questions in a gathering of other reporters or she lifted the quote from another source. In a 35-paragraph story by Foster in July 2004 on how the Schindlers "have not given up hope" of keeping their daughter alive, there are only two paragraphs quoting Felos based on what "he told Associated Press."
WND's refusal to talk to Michael Schiavo or his attorneys dates back even longer. A June 18, 2004, article by Foster that quotes Felos but does not specify a source for the comments, but the same comments appeared in a June 17 article in the St. Petersburg Times.
The last documented attempt by WND to contact Michael Schiavo or his attorney occurred in a May 16, 2004, article, which noted that "George Felos did not return WorldNetDaily's phone call seeking comment." However, the article is stuffed with biased and loaded statements by Foster over Felos' actions regarding allegations surrounding Michael Schiavo's denying the Schindlers the right to visit Terri Schiavo. Foster wrote that Felos issued a press release with a headline that "screamed" and containing "ominous" statements that "triggered a two-day feeding frenzy by the media," adding that "Felos made additional allegations to provide extra color." Foster was also quick to point out that "there was no merit whatsoever to these or any other allegations," inserting a comment from a lawyer for the Schindlers that Felos was "a deliberate attempt to smear someone's name."
Doesn't that sound a bit like the Schindlers' allegations against Michael Schiavo, for which WND has made no attempt to substantiate, let alone allow Michael Schiavo to rebut? And it reeks a bit more like WND's unquestioning reporting during the 2004 presidential campaign of false, unsubstantiated rumors about John Kerry allegedly having an affair.
The last time Michael Schiavo apparently specifically talked to WND was way back in a Nov. 14, 2002, article by Diana Lynne, in which he said, "I moved on with a part of my life. I'm sorry that the Schindlers can't move on with any of theirs." WND repeated the statement in stories from November 2003 and December 2003. The last time WND apparently had a conversation with Felos was in a Nov. 13, 2002, article by Lynne, a statement also recycled in other WND articles nearly a year afterward. Deborah Bushnell, the court-appointed attorney for Michael Schiavo's legal guardianship over Terri (which had supported some actions the Schindlers opposed) was last quoted in an August 2003 article.
Addtionally, WND has been silent on questions about William Hammesfahr, a neurologist brought in by the Schindlers for a 2002 hearing who claims that Terri Schiavo is not in the "persistent vegetative state" claimed by Michael Schiavo. An Oct. 23, 2002, Miami Herald article notes that Hammesfahr "charges cash for treatments and advertises himself as a nominee for a Nobel Prize based on a letter his congressman wrote to the Nobel committee." An Oct. 25, 2003, St. Petersburg Times article noted that Hammesfahr "offered no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results to support his claim" that Terri Schiavo could be helped.
And a Oct. 25, 2002, St. Petersburg Times article pointed out that Hammesfahr was accused by the Florida Department of Health of physician of falsely advertising his treatment and exploiting a patient for financial gain. The department's administrative complaint claimed that Hammesfahr "engaged in false, deceptive or misleading advertising" involving "a treatment that is contrary to current neurological knowledge."
CNSNews.com has also provided original coverage of the Schiavo case. Like WND, it uses the "Terri Schindler-Schiavo" naming convention; also like WND, it has been loath to talk with Michael Schiavo or his attorneys. (CNS' page of archived coverage on the Schiavo case, unlike WND's, is mostly up-to-date.)
CNS' March 4 story on that "anonymous" abuse complaint against Michael Schiavo, written by Jeff Johnson, notes at the end that Felos "has previously denied that his client was mistreating Terri in any way. He accused DCF's actions of being politically motivated." A March 3 story by Johnson cites and links to what Felos told the St. Petersburg Times. The single paragraph in an otherwise pro-Schindlers March 1 story by Johnson cites what Felos "told the Associated Press." Another March 1 story by Johnson takes an unattributed quote by Felos from the Associated Press. A Feb. 23 story cites what a "volunteer spokesperson for the Schindler family" told CNS compared with what Felos "told reporters."
CNS has at least declared that it won't be quoting Felos directly; a Feb. 22 story notes that Felos "has refused to speak directly with the Cybercast News Service since September of 2003." Johnson detailed Felos' complaint -- and CNS' response -- in a Sept. 17, 2003, article:
"In one of your articles ... I was described, not by someone else, but by the author of the article as a 'euthanasia attorney,' or 'pro-euthanasia attorney,'" Felos claimed, "which is inaccurate. I don't support euthanasia, I never have, I've been very clear about my position."
Given the overall bias against Michael Schiavo in the stories by both WND and CNS (plus the fact that the above complaint is made in an article that accuses Felos of a conflict of interest because he is in the same fraternal organization as the brother of a court-appointed physician in the case), it's understandable that Felos has not been enthusiastic about speaking with either of them.
ConWebWatch takes no position on the Terri Schiavo case; rather, we are taking a position in favor of fair and honest journalism. However one feels about Michael Schiavo, fairness dictates that his side of the story should get more than a token boilerplate paragraph among the reams of uncritical attention WND and CNS have lavished on the Schindlers' allegations.
When a "news" organization prints only one side of a case and has barely talked with representatives of the other side, as WND and CNSNews.com have, the last thing that coverage can be called is "in-depth" or "comprehensive."