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Suddenly, Balance

WorldNetDaily has discovered the ages-old concept of journalistic fairness for the Terri Schiavo story, though hasn't gotten the message. Are they bothered that the inflammatory rhetoric they have promoted might be turning into retribution? Plus: Do we care what Pat Boone has to say about the Schiavo case? NewsMax does.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/4/2005

Could this be? Has WorldNetDaily actually resorted to the traditional journalistic practice of telling both sides of the story in the Terri Schiavo case?

Well, sort of.

As ConWebWatch has detailed, WND's coverage of the Schiavo case has not been a model of fairness. It has promoted the cause of Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and detailed every allegation of abuse and neglect by Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, while rarely providing Michael Schiavo's side of the story to the point of not contacting him or his attorney for comment for a two-year span. It wasn't until a little prodding from ConWebWatch that WND actually started providing any sort of balanced coverage.

WND's initial coverage of Terri Schiavo's death on March 31 resorted to its typical biased tactics; only two paragraphs of its first, 35-paragraph story on Schiavo's death note comments from Michael Schiavo's side of things, and it quotes without challenge accusations that Michael Schiavo barred Schindler family members from Terri's bedside at the time of her death.

But later in the day, there was something unusual -- an attempt at balance. Another WND story features the comments of Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos. However, while the story lets stand unrebutted a statement by Felos that the accusations hurled by the Schindlers (and faithfully reproduced by WND) "is not behavior that leads to reconciliation" -- WND normally lets the Schindlers' side get the last word -- the story does make sure to point out that Terri's brother, Bobby Schindler, accused Felos of having "some infatuation with death" and adds: "Despite saturation press coverage of the Terri Schiavo case, Felos's New Age spirituality has not emerged as an issue."

Maybe it's WND's idea of an April fool's joke, but an April 1 article is unusually balanced for a WND story, providing relatively weight to both the Schindlers' and Michael Schiavo's side and letting stand without rebuttal Felos' statement that "[u]nfortunately, because the parents could not win in a court of law what was waged against Mr. Schiavo was a smear campaign and a campaign of misinformation and hate." WND, of course, was a major part of that "smear campaign."

But is WND having second thoughts? On April 3, WND provided an outside link to a story noting that Michael Schiavo has sought police protection due to death threats. And the April 1 article adds a statement from the Schindler family urging supporters not to resort to violence. (WND also reproduces the entire statement.)

Does WND's newfound respect for journalistic balance after all these years of covering the Schiavo case -- WND is eager to tell you at the end of every new Schiavo article that it has covered the story "far longer than most other national news organization [sic]" -- mean anything? Or is it a belated recognition that in its zeal to demonize Michael Schiavo (as well as Judge George Greer, who presided over much of the case), WND may have helped unleash a genie of retribution that may not make its way back into the bottle? It's also interesting to note that while many of WND's Schiavo stories have carried bylines, the stories of March 31 and April 1 did not. Condoning the murder of certain people is something that WND has a history of doing, after all; maybe for once it's feeling a sense of responsibility for its words.

Yet, despite this recent spate of balance, WND has yet to tell its readers about the extremist anti-abortion backgrounds of Schindler supporters and spokesmen like Randall Terry and Gary McCullough or the bogus Nobel-nominee claim of Dr. William Hammesfahr. And the idea of slanting Schiavo stories isn't completely dead at WND; an April 2 article on reports that CBS is rushing a Schiavo movie into production for airing during the May sweeps period implied without evidence that Michael Schiavo is cashing in by selling the movie rights and rehashed several pro-Schindler spin points, including that it was Michael Schiavo's fault that Schindler family members weren't in the room when Terri Schiavo died. (This story turned out to be false.)

Meanwhile, the idea of balanced coverage of the Schiavo case, or tempering inflammatory statements against Felos and Michael Schiavo, has not made its way to Of the six original stories CNS printed on March 31 (here, here, here, here, here and here), four quote only the Schindlers or their supporters (one story notes that CNS "attempted to locate supporters of Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, at the Woodside Hospice to get their reaction to Terri's death, but none were found"), one story quotes only Felos, and the sixth criticizes Michael Schiavo for allegedly saying that he had requested an autopsy for Terri Schiavo when the autopsy is required by law.

An April 1 CNS article quotes a minister saying, "Let us now give Terri back to her family by calling her Terri Schindler," then adds: "As of the filing of this article for publication, neither Michael Schiavo nor his attorney had offered any response to the comments made at the memorial service. In accordance with previous instructions from Schiavo attorney, George Felos, Cybercast News Service did not attempt to contact him." Apparently, CNS is using the fact that Felos won't talk to its reporters due to its previous unbalanced coverage as an excuse to perpetuate said unbalanced coverage.

A March 31 CNS commentary on the Schiavo case by Christopher Adamo plays into the organization's bias, attacking Greer as exhibiting "an out-of-control and unaccountable wielding of power" in the case. Adamo noted that a congressman "subpoenaed her [Terri Schiavo] to appear before Congress, thus triggering a federal statute protecting her as a congressional witness" while failing to note the inherent absurdity in subpoenaing a person declared to be in a persistent vegetative state to offer testimony before Congress. Adamo also fumed that "[t]his country's judiciary is out of control" in a manner that would presumably be fixed by installing more conservative judges on the federal bench, despite the fact that Greer is not only a state-appointed judge, he is a conservative Christian.

Over at NewsMax, the factual part of the Schiavo case has provided through Associated Press articles, even though NewsMax's offices are located in Florida, where the Schiavo case took place. But the slant was added by reprinting press-release statements issued by conservative groups such as Focus on the Family and the American Life League, as well as a statement from the Schindlers. The folks at the Associated Press must be a bit chagrined that these press releases get the same " Wires" byline as AP stories.

Another March 31 NewsMax story featuring statements by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and the Rev. Pat Robertson that the Schiavo case shows how the judiciary is "out of control" claims to be from "NewsMax Wires" though it appears to be only a transcription of an appearance of the two on Fox News.

When you're subjected to coverage such as this, it's easy to see why WND's stumbling attempts at balance on the Terri Schiavo story seems like a revelation.

* * *

After years of railing against liberal entertainers getting involved in politics, NewsMax has felt the need to inform its readers of what entertainer Pat Boone thinks about the Schiavo case. In a March 31 article, Boone writes:

"We must have a government of laws, not of men," we keep hearing.

Well ... what Congress enacted and the president signed last Palm Sunday, mandating a de novo court review that would necessitate at least an interim reconnection of Terri Shiavo's feeding tube -- that was a law. What kept Terri Shiavo's feeding tube disconnected -- that was a man. That irreducible contradiction is at the center of the storm we now sail into.

Glad you could clear that up for us, Pat. Unfortunately, you're wrong. (And even though Boone is wrong, it seems impossible to describe anything Boone does as "inflammatory" since his entire entertainment career was built on the premise that he was anything but.) Let's go to another NewsMax columnist, occasional conservative Susan Estrich, for a different view:

Congress may have had the intent, as my friend Sean Hannity keeps pointing out, to give the parents an opportunity to have a de novo review in the federal courts, but the fact is that they built into the standard for making the most important decision – the stay decision – a conclusion about the likelihood of the parents' proving that the state judges were wrong. Now where I come from, we call that a set-up, or a C paper.

In order to get your de novo review, you have to get a stay first. In order to get a stay, you have to prove that there is a substantial likelihood that you will actually succeed in the de novo review that you'll now never get.

NewsMax was also quick to let us know how Mel Gibson felt about the Schiavo case, as was WorldNetDaily, which even threw a mention of him in its so-called "whole story."

James Hirsen, NewsMax's chief celebrity-basher, wrote a book, "Tales from the Left Coast," that purports to describe how "biased politics have corrupted the entire entertainment industry" and "the tangled web of influence the Hollywood elite have over politicians in Washington, D.C." He has a new book coming out, "Hollywood Nation," presumably on the same subject. ConWebWatch last noted him baselessly attacking a movie he had never seen, the documentary "The Hunting of the President." Hirsen's idea of wit is best capsulated in a 2004 column, in which he notes that "in wrongheaded hands, movie cameras can be dangerous instrumentalities. Do you suppose we could institute a mandatory background check before a liberal's allowed to buy one?"

Somehow we suspect that Hirsen's concern for the influence of Hollywood over politics (as well as that of WorldNetDaily and the rest of the ConWeb) applies only to celebrities who spout liberal ideas.

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