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A Less-Than-Whole Story

How can WorldNetDaily write a comprehensive article about Terri Schiavo when it has never done so in the past? Plus: paints Schiavo case as "political fodder for the left" while ignoring how it's political fodder for the right, and WND's Joseph Farah misreads Schiavo polls.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/25/2005
Updated 3/26/2005, 3/30/2005

Note: WorldNetDaily has updated the article since its original posting (and the original posting of this article), following a letter from ConWebWatch to WND. The changes WND made, which address some of the concerns raised in this article, are detailed here.

"The whole Terri Schiavo story" is what an extremely long March 24 WorldNetDaily article purports to offer. But given the fact that the article is "mined" from WND's "extensive archives" -- which are highly biased in favor of Schiavo's parents and against her husband -- the "whole story" presented here is anything but.

WND news editor Diana Lynne makes an attempt to portray her article as a way of explaining the "little-publicized nuances" of a case that is "anything but clear-cut." But she also betrays her bias in the second paragraph by repeating President Bush's statement that "there are serious questions and substantial doubts" in the case.

As WND has portrayed it, those "serious questions and substantial doubts" are all about Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo. Though Lynne does provide WND's most complete documenting to date of Michael Schiavo's side of the story, he's not the focus. Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, are given much more space, their accusations against him and their views of Terri's alleged condition described in much more detail.

Lynne repeats the WND boilerplate that the cause of Terri Schiavo's collapse, which resulted in severe brain damage, is disputed: "Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, blames a cardiac arrest induced by a potassium imbalance associated with bulimia. The Schindlers suspect he tried to strangle her, based on court testimony by a neurologist that Terri had suffered a neck injury when she was admitted to the hospital." A link is provided to a 2002 article detailing that court testimony.

The testimony is provided by Dr. William Hammesfahr, whom Lynne describes in her article as a "Nobel Prize nominee." But Lynne fails to note questions about Hammesfahr's credibility. As ConWebWatch has noted, Hammesfahr's claim to be a "Nobel Prize nominee" is fraudulent because the basis for it -- a letter written by a congressman -- is meaningless; congressmen have no official standing to nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize. Additionally, Hammesfahr has been disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine, another fact Lynne fails to mention, even as she alleges that one of the doctors who examined Terri on behalf of Michael Schiavo is a "renowned proponent of euthanasia." (Update 3/30/05: The disciplinary action was appealed to the Florida Court of Appeal, which overturned it.)

While Lynne makes sure to describe Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, as a "right-to-die proponent," she doesn't even mention the Schindlers’ attorney, David Gibbs III, let alone anything about his background. But Gibbs has at least as much of an agenda as Felos does. Gibbs is a graduate of Liberty University, the college founded by conservative activist Rev. Jerry Falwell. As the blog Liquid List notes, Gibbs is the son of David Gibbs Jr., founder and president of the Christian Law Association, a fundamentalist Christian "ministry of legal helps." According to Liquid List, CLA raises about $3 million a year in donations, about $1.85 million of which goes to the Gibbs Law Firm, headed by -- that's right -- David Gibbs III, who is also the CLA’s corporate secretary.

And while Lynne is careful to detail how much Felos has been paid out of a malpractice settlement Michael Schiavo received, there is no mention of how much Gibbs has been paid and where that money is coming from. (Update: Lynne also shows no apparent interest in the finances of the Schindlers and their supporters, some of which has been detailed by The Washington Post.)

(Update: Lynne's story includes a photo of Bob Schindler credited as being taken by "Gary McCullough, Christian Communication Network." Lynne fails to note that McCullough is a spokesman for the Schindler family and a media adviser to another Schindler family spokesman, Randall Terry. McCullough told the Tallahassee Democrat that "the Schiavo case grew from 10 pickets and a couple of TV cameras at her parents home to a national debate in 18 months because of careful 'packaging.'" McCulllough told The Washington Post that he "advised the family to make regular but concise statements that would drive the story." Lynne also fails to describe the history of Terry, the former head of the extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and of McCullough, who was a media consultant to Paul Hill, who was convicted and executed for the murder of a doctor who performs abortions. Lynne says nothing about this media campaign on behalf ot the Schindlers, perhaps because WND is a cog in it.)

But Lynne's most egregious errors come in her exclusion of positive information about Michael Schiavo in favor of joining in the Schindlers' demonization of him. For instance, Lynne quotes Bob Schindler as claiming that Michael Schiavo "tried to stop her medication for an infection. ... She would have died but the nursing home where she was at the time overruled him and treated her. ... Then he put a Do Not Resuscitate order in her medical chart."

But a 2003 report by Jay Wolfson, a court-appointed guardian ad litem for Terri Schiavo -- a report Lynne doesn't mention in her article -- tells a much different story:

In early 1994 Theresa [Terri] contracted a urinary tract infection and Michael, in consultation with Theresa's treating physician, elected not to treat the infection and simultaneously imposed a "do not resuscitate" order should Theresa experience cardiac arrest. When the nursing facility initiated an intervention to challenge this decision, Michael cancelled the orders. ... Michael's decision not to treat was based upon discussions and consultation with Theresa's doctor, and was predicated on his reasoned belief that there was no longer any hope for Theresa's recovery.

Lynne also fails to mention Michael Schiavo's actions in trying to rehabilitate Terri in the years immediately following her collapse. Wolfson, meanwhile, offers details that "the evidence is incontrovertible that he gave his heart and soul to her treatment and care."

While Lynne notes that "the Schindlers argue, on the basis of his admitted adultery ... that Michael Schiavo has a conflict of interest and is unfit to serve as Terri's legal guardian," Wolfson again offers something quite different:

It took Michael a long time to consider the prospect of getting on with his life -- something he was actively encouraged to do by the Schindlers, long before enmity tore them apart. He was even encouraged by the Schindlers to date, and introduced his in-law family to women he was dating.

Lynne and WND are not telling "the whole story"; they are telling a story full of holes.

* * *

A March 24 article claims that the Terri Schiavo case is, in the words of its headline, "Political Fodder for the Left," but CNS has never reported evidence that the Schiavo case is apparently political fodder for the right.

While the article by Susan Jones notes that calls Congress' "interference" in the Schiavo case an "ugly and shameful incident of political grandstanding," no evidence is offered of why MoveOn might feel that way -- which it ought to know because its co-workers down the hall at the Media Research Center are furiously trying to spin them away.

A March 23 MRC CyberAlert notes that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was caught on tape saying: "One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America" and that "the Schiavo case was sent by heaven to focus attention on the helpless." CyberAlert author Brent Baker then tries to paint DeLay's comments as "innocuous," noting: "As if that's something to be embarrassed about."

Baker followed up in the next day's CyberAlert, playing blame-the-messenger because comments that "undermine DeLay" were released by a "left wing source," specifically the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Baker adds: "One wonders about the ethics of such a 'secretly recorded' tape and of the media being so eager to use it."

ConWebWatch has wondered about that, actually -- a year ago, to be precise, when made a big deal out of memos by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee allegedly stolen by Republican staffers who had secret access to the Democrats' computers. The memos have been used by conservative groups to accuse Democrats of colluding with special interest groups to block Republican judicial nominations. But the only mention of it on MRC is a January 2004 CyberAlert bashing MSNBC's Keith Olbermann because he allegedly "salivated" at the possibility that the stolen memos could be "Watergate, Junior."

One wonders about the ethics of an alleged media watchdog that has such blatant double standards.

* * *

WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah has his elbow firmly on the pulse of the American public.

"I know I speak for the vast majority of Americans when I say: Feed Terri Schiavo. Give her life-sustaining water," Farah wrote in his March 24 column.

But polls reveal that the majority of Americans support the decision to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, and not just the ABC News poll WND has tried to discredit as biased. Polls by Gallup, CBS News and Fox News have reached the same conclusion. (The blog Mystery Pollster examines the alleged bias of polls on the Schiavo case.)

The Media Research Center, meanwhile, is trying to use the CBS poll as an example of bias. A March 24 CyberAlert item claims the poll undercuts previous CBS reporting that suggested that Congress' effort to throw the Schiavo case into federal courts was politically motivated. The poll numbers, Brent Baker writes, "would indicate House Republican leaders are hardly following public opinion."

Well, "politically motivated" can also mean that politicians were pandering to a specific subset of voters -- in this instance, conservative voters, as DeLay's comments cited earlier indicate -- and not necessarily to a broader demographic. And the fact that Congress' action isn't popular with voters has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the action was politically motivated in the first place, as Baker wants you to think.

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