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Pseudo Schiavo

WorldNetDaily drives the publicity train of another alleged starved-woman case, and gives the other side the Michael Schiavo treatment. Plus: Why didn't WND or cover what was in the Schiavo abuse reports?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/20/2005
Updated 4/21/2005

WorldNetDaily must be going through some major Schiavo coverage withdrawal. Shortly after Terri Schiavo's death, it strained to promote another story as having Schiavo-like overtones.

An April 7 WND article by Sarah Foster (who also wrote several Schiavo-related articles) claimed that "an 81-year-old widow, denied nourishment and fluids for nearly two weeks, is clinging to life in a hospice in LaGrange, Ga., while her immediate family fights desperately to save her life before she dies of starvation and dehydration." The woman's name, Ora Mae Magouirk, doesn't roll off the tongue the same way as Terri Schiavo's, but for WND's purposes, it'll do.

The only apparent source for the information contained in the story -- except for the leader of the "patients' rights advocacy group" who claimed that what was allegedly happening to Magouirk was "really just a form of euthanasia" -- is Magouirk's nephew, Ken Mullinax, who fingered the woman's granddaughter as the Michael Schiavo-like caretaker-slash-villain who was allegedly denying the woman food and water.

Foster gave the same treatment to the granddaughter as she and other WND writers gave to Michael Schiavo: An April 9 story also tells only the nephew's side of the case, not the granddaughter's. Both articles claim that WND tried to contact the granddaughter; interestingly, the April 9 story notes that "WorldNetDaily has not been able to verify if food is still being denied," suggesting some vague awareness that it was relying on a single source for this story.

But as World O'Crap points out, there really is another side of the story that WND couldn't find in its journalistic heart to tell. An article in the local paper notes that the granddaughter testified at a court hearing that she "feeds her grandmother Jello, chips of ice and 'anything else she'd be willing to eat.'" It also happens that Mullinax tapped into BlogsforTerri, which was, like WND, apparently in need of a new cause to latch onto after Terri Schiavo's death.

It wasn't until the end of another April 9 story, this one by managing editor David Kupelian, that WND readers finally get a piece of the other side of the story, quoting a few details from the newspaper story and an e-mail from a reader who is a friend of the granddaughter.

An April 12 article by Foster reprises the familar family-members-barred-from-stricken-woman's-bedside WND made a big deal of in the Schiavo case. Again, the granddaughter doesn't get to offer her side of the story, though it's presented in a secondhand conversation filed as a court document. This time, Foster notes not only that WND couldn't contact the granddaughter, but that "The Birmingham News and the Atlanta Constitution reported that they too had been unsuccessful" in reaching her, her brother or their lawyer.

Finally, an April 14 article by Foster claims a "happy ending" in the case after family members were once again allowed to visit Magouirk. Once again, the granddaughter's side is not presented. In a passage emblematic of this entire episode, Foster wrote that the granddaughter "agreed to allow full visitation privileges, but only if Ken Mullinax promised never to talk to the media again or communicate in any way with Internet bloggers. Mullinax refused and was on Fox News Channel's 'Hannity & Colmes' yesterday, where he provided a nationwide audience with details of the case."

At the end of her story, Foster ingenuously quoted a lawyer for the temporarily barred family members as saying, "I think this family is interested in healing their differences, and I think they'd like to stop airing them publicly and get back to being a family." But Foster fails to point out, as her failed attempts to contact the granddaughter should have made clear to her, that the only family members "airing them publicly" were the lawyer's clients.

(Update: An April 20 update by Foster states that one family member "has no idea why [the granddaughter] decided to place Magouirk in a hospice with orders denying her food and water." Left unstated is that since Foster has never talked to the granddaughter, Foster doesn't either, and therefore has no business permitting others to endlessly speculate about it in her article.)

As it did for Terri Schiavo's parents, WND served as an all-too-willing tool for making a private matter public because one party didn't like what was happening. Being a willing accomplice for someone with an ax to grind is a lot of things, but it ain't journalism.

* * *

Once again, what WorldNetDaily doesn't choose to cover is as telling about its biases as what it does.

When the Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) released dozens of pages of documents regarding complaints that Terri Schiavo was being abused, WND did no original coverage, offering only an outside link.

Why? Because it pretty much clears Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, of most claims of abuse, a claim WND has heavily promoted.

According to the Associated Press story that WND linked to, 54 claims of abuse were filed with the DCF between October 2003 and January 2004 -- all of which were against Michael Schiavo, "with anonymous callers reciting a litany of similar allegations that Michael Schiavo wanted his wife dead, some even using identical language in their complaints."

According to the AP article:

DCF investigators said they made unannounced visits to Woodside Hospice and interviewed the facilities' doctors before clearing the cases.

"She appeared to be well cared for and here were no signs of any medical problems or distress," one 2003 DCF report noted.

"... During the time Mrs. Schiavo has been a patient of hospice, the spouse has always been courteous and very compassionate toward his wife," the investigator continued. "They (staff) have never heard him make any statements pertaining to wanting her to die. He is rarely alone with her when he visits and has never compromised her care."

As ConWebWatch has noted, WND has lovingly detailed accusations of abuse made by Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, against Michael Schiavo, while giving him little or no opportunity to respond.

Additionally, the AP story noted a complaint regarding the Schindlers:

In April 2004, an abuse report was taken alleging the Schindlers were selling videos of their daughter for $100 to raise money to pay attorneys. But investigators determined the videos offered on the Web site were separate from the donations, and amounted to a "gift." Investigators were unable to obtain financial information from the Schindler's foundation.

The investigators noted that the Schindlers' attorney would not allow the couple to answer questions except under such conditions "that amounted to a refusal."

Given WND's high reluctance to print anything negative about the Schindlers, it's no surprise that WND wouldn't devote any original coverage to it. Don't look for anything in this article to become a part of WND's so-called "whole story" of the Schiavo case., meanwhile, took an interesting approach -- it reported on the release of the records, but not what was in them. Perhaps this disinterest in the contents comes from following the dictate of Pamela Hennessy, media coordinator with the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, who CNS quotes as calling the records "of very little value to the public."

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