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Starving Fairness, Feeding Bias

After a brief anomaly of actually sort of telling both sides of the story in the Terri Schiavo story, the ConWeb is back to bizarre assertions, dubious sources and beating up on Michael Schiavo.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/23/2005
Updated 3/24/2005, 3/31/2005

The Terri Schiavo case is demonstrating once again that, like death and taxes and poor people, ConWeb bias is something we will always have with us. Here are the most recent examples of how coverage has been handled -- or rather, mishandled.

Fairness, sort of

There was an ever-so-brief flowering of fairness -- well, what passes for fairness where the ConWeb is concerned -- on March 18, the day Schiavo's feeding tube was disconnected after years of litigation pitting Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo (who favors disconnection so the severely brain-damaged woman can die with dignity) and Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (who oppose it on the grounds that despite the majority of medical evidence to the contrary, Terri can be rehabilitated).

The first part of WorldNetDaily's March 18 story on the removal of the feeding tube actually let a few statements by and about Michael Schiavo or his lawyer, George Felos, stand with a minimum of biased trappings. A March 18 story at leads with Felos' reaction to actions by Congress to intervene in the case and devotes a whole six paragraphs to Felos' remarks.

This is a change from the recent past, when it paid little, if any, attention to Michael Schiavo's side of the story.

By the end of the weekend, though, it was back to the usual ConWeb game of bias, distortion, and just plain ol' hatred of Michael Schiavo.

Dubious sources

Both WorldNetDaily and NewsMax have reported on the inflammatory allegations of Carla Sauer Iyer, a former nurse for Terri Schiavo in the mid-1990s; her most notorious claim is that Michael Schiavo allegedly said, "When is that bitch gonna die?" But neither WND nor NewsMax note that Iyer's accusations, detailed in a 2003 affidavit, were rejected by Judge George Greer, who has presided over most recent activity in the case. Greer called Iyer's contentions "incredible to say the least," noting that the Schindlers have never asked Iyer to testify at any hearing before the filing of the affidavit despite the fact that Iyer's claim that she notified the Schindlers about the activities she allegedly witnessed. (Update: Another March 22 NewsMax story rehashes the affidavit of another former nurse, Heidi Law, but fails to note that Greer dismissed her accusations as well.)

WND's March 22 story begins by regurgitating Iyer's unsubstantiated claim -- made on Fox News, of course -- that "Michael Schiavo once tried to kill his wife Terri with insulin shots," but it's not until paragraph 17 is it noted that "Schiavo repeatedly and strenuously has denied allegations of abuse."

That's actually a step up from NewsMax, who parroted Iyer's accusations without even giving Michael Schiavo a chance to deny them.

NewsMax used another March 22 story to promote Dr. William Hammesfahr's claims that he can help Terri Schiavo. But like with Iyer, it ignored questions about Hammesfahr's credibility. (Update: The Media Research Center cited Hammesfahr as an example of a "dissenting expert" in a March 22 "Media Reality Check," but like WorldNetDaily and NewsMax has been silent about the Nobel and disciplinary questions.)

First, Hammesfahr is proclaiming that he is a Nobel Prize nominee based on a letter a congressman wrote, a claim NewsMax eagerly repeated. But as ConWebWatch has previously noted, that claim is based on a letter written by a congressman -- and, as Media Matters points out, congressman are not eligible to officially nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize.

Second, in all of the touting of Hammesfahr's alleged ability to help Terri Schiavo -- WND quotes him in a March 23 article designed, ironically, to discredit a doctor on Michael Schiavo's side -- left unmentioned is the fact that he was disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine for overbilling a patient. The same board noted that Hammesfahr's procedure, the kind he has proposed for Terri Schiavo are "not within the generally accepted standard of care" though it declined to rule that they harmful to his patients and noted that some patients improved after treatment. (Full disclosure: I wrote the article linked above on Hammesfahr's disciplinary action for Media Matters.) (Update 3/30/05: The disciplinary action was appealed to the Florida Court of Appeal, which overturned it.)

(Update: A March 23 story claimed that a neurologist's review "indicates that Terri may have been misdiagnosed and is more likely that she is in a state of minimal consciousness rather than" a persistent vegetative state, as does a March 24 WND story; NewsMax copied the CNS story. But both articles fail to note that the neurologist, William Cheshire, has never examined Terri Schiavo but merely observed her, and that he is an active member in Christian organizations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube's removal.)'s slant's Schiavo-related output on March 21 was three stories containing 90 paragraphs, only 16 of which were devoted Michael Schiavo's side of the story.

On March 22, CNS ran four stories:

  • The first noted that the Schindlers' lawyer, David Gibbs III, threatened eternal consequences for the federal judge who refused a request to immediately reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube;
  • The second was a surprisingly bias-free accounting of the federal judge's ruling;
  • The final two restored CNS' usual slant: a story in which a "spiritual adviser to the Schindler family" claimed that Terri Schiavo was undergoing a "modern-day crucifixion," and an article featuring almost exclusively negative reaction to the ruling.

CNS is also demonstrating its bias by continuing to use the name "Terri Schindler Schiavo," the Schindler family's preferred name.

WND's poll-bashing

Back at WorldNetDaily, it also plays semantics games with a poll whose results it disapproves of. A March 22 article accuses an ABC News poll that found 63 percent of respondents approved the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube of being "deceptive" because its description of her condition in the question posed to respondents said that she had "no consciousness":

Since to most people, the phrase "no consciousness" suggests a coma and "life support" suggests a ventilator or other machinery, it's not surprising that many Americans -- visualizing a comatose woman in a heart-lung machine -- would consider Schiavo's life not worth living. The poll question also omits any reference to the fact that Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, has been living with another woman for years, has sired two children by her, and is waiting for Terri to die so he can marry his girlfriend.

As ConWebWatch has previously noted, WND has its own problem with polls -- nitpicking those it doesn't like, cherry-picking the results of others, and treating unreliable, easily manipulated opt-in online polls as meaningful.

Coming attractions

Another March 22 WND article -- mostly an attempt to sell subscriptions to its Whistleblower magazine before a planned price increase -- details some of the topics planned for upcoming issues. Among the topics is "[a] groundbreaking issue on 'Life and Death in America,' which will explore as never before the Terri Schiavo case -- a story WorldNetDaily brought to national attention."

The article continues: "That's right, although it's front-page news in every newspaper in the nation today, WND was reporting this story way back in 2002 when virtually no other national news organization cared about it (the only other coverage then was in local Florida papers). WND has been on the cutting edge of this story ever since."

Well, "cutting edge" on one side of the story, anyway. We suspect that examining and admitting WND's own highly biased coverage in the Schiavo case will not be among the subjects Whistleblower will "explore as never before."

Terri Schiavo and Abu Ghraib

NewsMax may never top its bizarre assertion that Terri Schiavo is being tortured and deserves Geneva Convention protection, but it tries to replicate it in a March 22 article.

The article begins: "Liberal Democrats who were beside themselves with rage over what they called the 'torture' of terrorist suspects by GI guards at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have been totally silent on the starvation torture of Terri Schiavo."

The article does not note that unlike Terri Schiavo, the Abu Ghraib detainees have not had years of access to a court system in which their condition was examined and debated.

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