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The Post-Mortem on the Post-Mortem

The ConWeb figures out how to go into attack mode on the Terri Schiavo autopsy report -- even bringing that "Nobel Prize nominee" doctor out of mothballs.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/20/2005
Updated 6/21/2005

What do you do when an official, unimpeachable account of an event runs contrary to the position you have publicly argued? You have three options: 1) agree with the account; 2) find other areas to attack; or 3) attack the account anyway.

But when you're the ConWeb, and the subject is the Terri Schiavo autopsy, Option 1 won't work, at least not for long. Too much has been invested in pushing the accusations of Terri's parents and vilifying her husband and his lawyer to go back and accept the coroner's conclusion that Schiavo had massive and irreversible brain damage.

Articles previewing the autopsy release rehashed some of the ConWeb's old biases -- you know, the kind that made WorldNetDaily run a false story.'s preview article took a subtle dig at Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, claiming: "Doctors employed by Michael Schiavo and by the Florida court that ordered her feeding tube removed testified that the collapse was caused either by a potassium imbalance or heart attack. Doctors hired by Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and many independent physicians who reviewed the case files or examined Terri believed she was the victim of a physical assault." The statement insinuates that the doctors on the side of Michael Schiavo and the court never examined her, and that the "many independent physicians" who sided with the Schindlers did examine her, which they didn't. WorldNetDaily's preview article reflected some of its belatedly-discovered balances, while noting: "Some legal analysts, while respectful of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's efforts, criticized the governor for not using the executive powers they believe he had to take Terri Schiavo into protective custody." WND fails to mention that these so-called "legal experts" included Alan Keyes, Larry Klayman and D. James Kennedy.

When the results were released, actually did follow Option 1 at first. Its main story on June 15 was well balanced, and a second story focused further on the autopsy results. The day's third story on the report puts Option 2 into motion, claiming that the autopsy results "do not change the moral aspects of her death."

WND's first article on the results puts a little Option 2 spin into motion, noting that "Schiavo's brain was about half of normal size at the time of her death," but not what that finding meant -- that she could not have been rehabilitated. A follow-up story the next day went full Option 2, following CNS in claiming that the autopsy results have "no bearing on the moral evaluation of the high-profile "right-to-die" case and noting that David Gibbs, attorney for the Schindlers, "questioned the finding of no abuse and said the report leaves many questions unanswered." It also hinted at the new line of attack against Michael Schiavo: "Gibbs said it's troubling that Terri Schiavo collapsed at 4:30 a.m. Feb. 25, 1990, but her husband did not call for help until 5:40 a.m."

NewsMax's first original story went straight for Option 3, challenging the finding the Terri Schiavo was blind: "Although millions of Americans watched Terri Schiavo follow people and objects with her eyes as they moved about her hospital room, the doctor who conducted the autopsy reported that she was blind." But NewsMax also reported that Florida Sen. Mel Martinez -- whose 2004 campaign NewsMax shamelessly campaigned for, at least after the would-be candidate NewsMax also shamelessly campaigned for to the point of NewsMax editor Christopher Ruddy donating money to him dropped out of the race -- said he had "second thoughts" about Republicans' efforts to involve the federal government in the case.

Eventually, WorldNetDaily joined NewsMax in Option 3 land. A June 17 WND article quotes "an attorney who specializes in medical ethics cases" questioning the autopsy's results, and a June 18 commentary by Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue West -- successor to the Operation Rescue once operated by Schindler family adviser-turned-Florida lieutenant governor candidate Randall Terry -- claiming that because the coroner used "technical medical terminology, which is lost on most," he must surely be "a student of the famous science fiction author George Orwell" by using "Schiavo New Speak." A June 20 column by Barbara Simpson also implies that Michael killed Terri and equates him with Michael Jackson: "Would either of those men deserve the title "father" or deserve to be celebrated on Father's Day?"

(Update: WND completely abandons any attempt at balance in a June 21 article on Terri Schiavo's burial, noting that "The Schindler family claims there is evidence Terri's sudden brain injury was caused by Michael Schiavo himself" without noting that Michael Schiavo has, in the words of past WND stories that bring it up, "vehemently denied" it.)

WND also joined NewsMax in plugging the new Schiavo-related book by Mark Fuhrman as one of the initial items available in its new book service promising what WND editor Joseph Farah calls "in-depth reviews on the best books of interest to patriotic, politically incorrect, freedom-loving Americans like you and me. ... titles that are slammed, panned, or studiously ignored by the "lamestream," establishment media." But the "review" of Fuhrman's book on the WND Book Service site is, in fact, the promotional text from Fuhrman's publisher; NewsMax has the same "review." (One question: How can Fuhrman promise to answer "What was Terri and Michael Schiavo's marriage really like?" when only "Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, as well as their medical and legal advisers," and not Michael Schiavo, are listed as cooperating with Fuhrman on the book?)

NewsMax, meanwhile, quoted Fuhrman as insinuating that Michael Schiavo tried to kill Terri by saying: "There are other ways of depriving someone of oxygen that are very soft. The most common is someone in their sleep with a pillow over their face." Fuhrman, like Gibbs, also claimed that "there are serious problems with the timeline on the night of Terri's collapse."

Nowhere in any original NewsMax or WND article -- even WND's so-called "whole story" -- is Michael Schiavo's side of the time issue told: that is merely a confusion of times. "There is no hour gap or other gap to the point Michael heard Terri fall and called 911," Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, told the Associated Press, calling the assertions by Gibbs and Fuhrman a "baseless claim to perpetuate a controversy that in fact doesn't exist."

On June 19, both WND and NewsMax hauled out Dr. William Hammesfahr for his comments -- and both stories prominently state the discredited claim that he was "nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work in medicine." Even though ConWebWatch was able to previously convince WND to drop the unfounded claim, WND calls him a "Nobel-nominated physician" in the headline. (Update: WND has since changed the headline to remove the Nobel reference.)

A June 20 NewsMax article by Phil Brennan makes a number of questionable claims in rehashing the case. He attacks "the many dubious claims of her husband, his lawyers and their allies in the media" and recycles some of the claims in Newman's commentary.

Brennan also copiously cites what he calls "the authoritative The Empire Journal." How "authoritative" is this online-only journal? It has at least three times uncritically passed along to its readers the false claim that Hammesfahr is a "Nobel Prize nominee." In its article on the claim that Michael Schiavo is reportedly seeking a book deal, it fails to note the cooperation of the Schindlers and their retinue with Fuhrman's book. That article also states that "[a]lthough Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos, consistently maintained that it was a right to privacy case, the Terri Schiavo right-to-life case became one of the most well-known and open cases in the world with virtually no privacy for the incapacitated woman" without noting that it was the Schindlers, not Michael Schiavo, who made the case the very public matter it became.

As long as Terri Schiavo continues to serve the purposes of the ConWeb, look for it to stay in Option 3 mode for the foreseeable future.

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