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Another Less-Than-Whole Story

A WorldNetDaily reporter's book on the Terri Schiavo case is as biased and incomplete as WND's coverage of it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/24/2005
Updated 2/12/2006

WorldNetDaily's press for the WND Books-published "Terri's Story" insists that the book is "definitive" and "comprehensive." The book jacket claims that the book "provides the background and depth missing in most of the national news coverage" of the Terri Schiavo case.

It's not, and it doesn't.

"Terri's Story," written by WND reporter and news editor Diana Lynne, is less interested in the truth than it is with making Terri's relatives and their supporters look good and demonizing Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, and his supporters -- in other words, the same agenda as WND's regular reporting on the case, much of which was done by Lynne. ConWebWatch has documented the biased, misleading WND reporting on the Schiavo case (look to the green box on the left for the links to our coverage). The bias is immediately evident in the book jacket, which makes sure to call her "Terri Schindler Schiavo" -- the name preferred by Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler and their supporters, and the name used in much of WND's coverage of the case.

The bias continues throughout in the book. Lynne's preface starts by overheatedly describing the day Terri Schiavo died, 12 days after a feeding tube was removed from the stomach of the incapacitated, severely brain-damaged woman, as "September 12, 2001, all over again for many Americans." Lynne then describes those who supported the years-long judicial process that resulted in Terri's death as supporting the "self-serving agenda of a group of ideologues." While Lynne tosses around terms such as "advocacy organization" and "right-to-die organization" and as following "the playbook of abortion proponents," she described supporters of the Schindlers as "a grass-roots effort" that included "a trio of nurses, a housewife, the mother of a disabled child, a computer guru, a talk-radio journalist, a public relations wiz, a law school classmate, and a group of Franciscan brothers from Minnesota."

Lynne's first reference to George Felos, Michael Schiavo's lead attorney, was to describe him as someone "who admits to having a 'fascination with death and dying'" (p. 13). Lynne's first reference to Schindler attorney David Gibbs III added no other description of him. In fact, Lynne's first description of Gibbs as anything other than an attorney doesn't appear until page 275, where she describes him as being "as pro-life as George Felos is pro-death."

While Lynne documents every bad thing ever said about Michael Schiavo, Felos and other supporters of Michael Schiavo's side of the case -- and even George Greer, the Florida judge who presided over much of the case -- she has little bad to say about the Schindlers and their supporters, and their statements are presented as the final word on many questions and issues raised in the book. Lynne even devotes an entire chapter of the book to documenting "conspiracy theories" about why the Schindlers didn't prevail, largely centering around Scientology.

Even as Lynne claims that the book's purpose is to "fill the gaps in public knowledge about the case left by most [news outlets]," she leaves many gaps unfilled, as she did in her March 24 WND article that purported to tell "[t]he whole Terri Schiavo story." After ConWebWatch pointed out the article's bias and information gaps, Lynne reworked the article somewhat, though not informing readers that she had done so. Still, the article perpetuated those biases -- just not quite as egregiously.

That same disregard for telling the whole story pervades "Terri's Story," even as she excoriates one media account of the case for its "obvious reliance on one side's perspective and the denial that there were two sides to the story" (p. 304).

So, what won't you find in "Terri's Story"?

-- The Schindlers' money trail. While Lynne goes into great detail about how much the lawyers for Michael Schiavo made on the case, she says absolutely nothing about the funding of the Schindler family's fight and, at one point, states without challenge that "Gibbs said he covered the case pro bono" (p. 276). She further claims that the assistance of "pro-life" groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund and the Life Legal Defense Foundation ("a small nonprofit in California") as "peripheral" (p. 276) and "in measured response to the efforts of End-of-Life Choices, formerly known at the Hemlock Society, to use the Terri Schiavo case to promote its right-to-die agenda" (p. 275).

For the full story, we have to go to another book on the Schiavo case, Jon Eisenberg's "Using Terri." Eisenberg points out that a multimillion-dollar network of conservative foundations supported and promoted the Schiavo case. Gibbs and his family control a foundation, the Christian Law Association, that paid $12.7 million to Gibbs' law firm and another Gibbs-related law firm between 1997 and 2003 -- "Just where all that money came from is a secret I couldn't penetrate," Eisenberg writes -- and it's logical to assume that strange self-dealing money trail continued while Gibbs was representing the Schindlers. Lynne's only mention of the Christian Law Association was in describing its mission this way: "to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and help defend constitutionally guaranteed liberties."

Additionally, Eisenberg notes, the conservative Alliance Defense Fund paid a previous Schindler lawyer, Pat Anderson, at least $300,000 for her work on the case. Lynne wrote only that the ADF "bankrolled a portion" of Anderson's work (p. 275) and quoted Anderson as saying that the case "ruined me financially" (p. 142).

Lynne also refuses to acknowledge the direct contributions of others to the Schindlers' side. As Eisenberg writes, Jay Sekulow of the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice served as one of the Schindlers' attorneys for a time, but Lynne notes only that he commented on the case on Fox News. Anti-euthanasia activist Wesley J. Smith was a behind-the-scenes "informal adviser" to the Schindlers, a fact Lynne does not note when she references Smith's writings.

-- Randall Terry and Gary McCullough. Two of the Schindler family's most prominent supporters and spokesmen, Randall Terry and Gary McCullough, don't show up at all in the book's otherwise comprehensive index (or anywhere else in the book that we can tell), even though they regularly appeared in WND articles on the Schiavo case and in TV interviews to support the Schindlers. Why? Perhaps because their history of extremism might make the Schindlers look bad.

An October 2003 WND article described Terry as "well-known as an anti-abortion activist and for his efforts with Operation Rescue." Left unstated here and in other WND articles citing him is the kind of extremism Terry engaged in as part of Operation Rescue -- aggressive protests against abortion clinics (Terry has claimed he "has been arrested over forty times for peaceful opposition to abortion"); calling Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, a "whore" and an "adulteress" and arranging to have a dead fetus presented to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. A follower of Terry, James Kopp, was convicted in the 1998 murder of a abortion doctor.

Terry, in fact, is the person who was in charge of publicizing the video the Schindlers secretly made of their daughter and released in October 2003 that purported to show that Terri wasn't in a persistent vegetative state. As a June 2004 WND article noted: "Terri's dad gave a copy of this tape to pro-life activist Randall Terry the day before she had her feeding tube removed, and Terry released it to the media." Yet in her description of the video's release, Terry is not mentioned.

(Lynne describes the videotape as being five minutes long (p. 153), but failed to add that it was edited from four hours of videotape shot by the Schindlers. Eisenberg, an attorney on Michael Schiavo's side of the case, writes that the Schindlers and their attorneys refused to make the full four hours of video available to him, nor would they let him visit Terri Schiavo. Lynne also fails to specify whether the video of Terri seen by physicians who filed sworn affidavits based on it (pp. 154-155) -- cited by the Schindlers as evidence that Terri was not in a "persistent vegetative state" -- was edited or unedited.)

McCullough, who served as a spokesman for the Schindlers, previously worked for Operation Rescue under Terry. He also served as a media consultant to Paul Hill, who was convicted and executed for the murder of a doctor who performed abortions (and is quoted as saying, "Paul Hill is my friend. No, I won't denounce his actions"). McCullough also funneled money to a group led by Clayton Waagner, the anti-abortion extremist who sent fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics.

Update: There may be another reason Lynne didn't mention Terry and McCullough: She didn't want her readers to know how much orchestration and manipulation went into putting the Schindlers' version of the Terri Schiavo story in the public eye.

Terry laid it out in an article on the website for his group, the Society for Truth and Justice, written in October 2003, shortly after a judge granted the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube (which was reversed via the passage of "Terri's Law" by the Florida legislature). Terry led off with a quote from Robert Schindler, Terri's father:

Our family asked Randall Terry to come, and we gave him carte blanche to put Terri's fight in front of the American people. He did exactly what we asked, and more. Randall organized vigils and protests, he coordinated the media, he helped us meet with Governor Bush, which gave us the momentum to pass the law that has saved Terri, for now, from death. My daughter is alive today because of Randall Terry's efforts.

Terry also laid out his seven-point plan for publicizing the case, which he developed with McCullough, who Terry called "my 'media man,' " adding that he "has worked with me since the early days of Operation Rescue. He helps me with the press in every conceivable way":

1. A 24-hour a day, non-stop vigil in front of the hospice where Terri was held starting the next day (Monday) at noon.

2. Focus our public cry for help squarely on Governor Jeb Bush.

3. To garner national press coverage, we would use a noon press conference Monday to notify the media that Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, was leading efforts to make Terri’s plight known to the nation. (We did this because in the news media world, this announcement was sure to get their interest, and get the press present at the hospice. The family’s voice could then be heard across the nation through the media, who up to this point had largely ignored Terri’s plight.)

4. We crafted a short statement asking Florida Governor, Jeb Bush to intervene ("Governor Bush, I appeal to you as one father to another, please save my daughter") and communicating to Terri’s errant husband ("he could have the money, we just want our daughter.")

5. We would need a motor home to park near the hospice where we could strategize and rest. We needed food, water, and signs for those who responded to our call to join the vigil.

6. We would solicit local clergy and politicians for support.

7. Those present would send out emails and make phone calls to everyone they knew locally to come to the vigil. Furthermore, we would utilize larger lists, such as "" and "Terri’s list" to alert people around the nation to what we were doing, and implore their help. (People came from all over Florida as well as Georgia, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. And Focus on the Family and other national organizations rallied their troops, as well.)

Far from being the "grass-roots effort" portrayed by Lynne, the Schindler family publicity machine was an orchestrated media campaign conducted by professional, committed activists.

-- Dr. Hammesfahr's Nobel "nomination." There's not a word about the bogus Nobel Prize nomination claimed by Dr. William Hammesfahr, touted throughout the book for purportedly being able to help Terri. That "nomination," which Hammesfahr prominently touts as part of his credentials -- and which Lynne had noted in her original "whole Terri Schiavo story" at WND until ConWebWatch called her on it -- was made by a Florida congressman; it is as meaningless as if Lynne herself "nominated" him because 1) they are not valid nominations as far as the Nobel committee is concerned; and 2) genuine nominations are kept secret and Hammesfahr wouldn't know if he received an actual nomination. That Nobel descriptor accompanied cites of Hammesfahr in two other WND news articles, as well as in columns by Mychal Massie and Kevin McCullough.

In fact, to find any mention of this at all, you have to go to another WND-published book, Alan Skorski's Al Franken-bashing screed, "Pants on Fire." Skorski's rebuttal, which is way too appropriate coming from a book whose title derives from a playground taunt: "So excuse us all ... if the doctor's nomination didn't exactly follow the proper nominating protocol."

Interestingly, WND writers weren't so deferential when supporters of convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams backed a call for his clemency by noting that he was also a Nobel Prize nominee. Farah, in a Dec. 5 column, wrote that Williams was "inexplicably nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize" for "writing two books about kids and gangs that no one read!" Doug Powers wrote in a Nov. 28 column: "Suffice to say the nomination didn't come from the families of the people Williams is convicted of murdering or those who have had the crap beat out of them by Crips." A Nov. 28 column by Michael Ackley uses the nomination to satirically attack the meaninglessness of the nomination by nominating a nobody named Howard Bashford: "Henceforth, we expect any media mention of Howard will refer to him as 'Nobel Peace Prize nominee Howard Bashford.'" And a Dec. 21 column by Burt Prelutsky noted that "the only amusing aspect of this entire matter is that the man was constantly being identified as a Nobel Prize nominee. ... The truth of the matter is that anybody can nominate anyone for a Nobel prize."

-- The source of skewed polling. While criticizing various polls as having "leading" and "loaded" questions that "grossly distorted" what Lynne wants to portray as the facts surrounding the Schiavo case, Lynne cited a Zogby poll that, when asked a question crafted to support the Schindler supporters' description of Terri Schiavo's circumstances -- "a disabled person who is not terminally ill or in a coma, and not being kept alive by life support" -- "an overwhelming 80 percent responded they should not be denied food and water" (pp. 311-312). Lynne doesn't report that the Zogby poll was paid for by the Christian Defense Coalition, who had an agenda on the Schiavo case: As ConWebWatch previously noted, it held a vigil in the home neighborhood of Michael Schiavo and conducted lobbying and public events to get the Florida legislature to pass a bill to "save Terri Schiavo's life."

Lynne's WND writings since "Terri's Story" was released in October -- many of them based on the book -- continue her bias for the Schindlers' side and against anything associated with Michael Schiavo. An Oct. 10 article featured a 12-item list of "salient facts of the case" that the media "consistently failed to report" -- all of them negative toward Michael Schiavo and mostly ignoring his side of the story. An Oct. 11 article focused on medical examiner Jon Thogmartin's autopsy of Terri Schiavo without giving Thogmartin an opportunity to respond to criticism (and also cites Hammesfahr without mention the bogus Nobel claim). A Dec. 12 article discusses "right-to-die activists" without noting that supporters on the Schindlers' side, such as Terry, McCullough and Gibbs -- are equally "activist." An Oct. 18 article uses biased semantics, describing any law that allows "refusing or withdrawing medical care and treatment" as "pro-death," while laws that give the "opportunity to request life-sustaining procedures be utilized, not avoided" are described as "pro-life." And in a Dec. 3 article, she attacked anyone who disagreed with her (and the Schindlers') view of the Schiavo case as "largely uninformed and misinformed," adding that this is something "which WND's continuing coverage seeks to correct"; she also claimed that "Those who favored Terri's death seek silence."

A Nov. 10 article by Lynne goes after Michael Schiavo, saying that the mere act of Michael and Terri Schiavo getting married set the stage for her death, ominously writing of Robert Schindler: "He felt he was losing his little girl. He could not know her marriage would lead to premature death."

A set of unbylined WND articles -- Lynne's involvement in these is unclear -- goes even farther in viciously smearing Michael Schiavo. A Nov. 4 article on his endorsement of a gubernatorial candidate in Virginia prominently states that Schiavo was "[d]ubbed 'America's most admired widower this side of O.J. Simpson' by American Spectator," a smear repeated four days later, in an article portraying anonymous posts on an Internet message board as representative of criticism of Schiavo's endorsement And a Dec. 8 article suggested that his creation of a political action committee was "revenge" against the Schindlers and their supporters.

Lynne claims that she wants her book to "provoke critical thinking and dialogue" on the issues raised by the Schiavo case, but as long as she persists in refusing to tell the entire truth about it, genuinely informed thinking and dialogue will not happen. All of WND's insistence that "Terri's Story" is "definitive" and "comprehensive" can't hide the fact that Lynne has crafted a book that is biased and incomplete. Lynne and WND, sadly, appear to have no intention of ever telling a "definitive" story of the Terri Schiavo case.

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