3.21.2005

Wagging the Dog

This Schiavo right-to-die mess in the press is a perfect example of what's wrong with the mainstream media right now. The story is everywhere in the news; you'd think it was another tsunami, and yet the whole time what I'm wondering is... what's so special about this case? Families are forced into this difficult situation all the time, whether because of accidents, terminal illnesses, old age.... The body never breaks down all at once, and modern medicine draws out that excruciating process even longer. Furthermore, while I have no actual data at my fingertips and I haven't done any reporting myself, I know that no family can be totally unified in its decision to "pull the plug." Intra-family dynamics are always terrifyingly, tragically complex, and while Terri Schiavo might be the first braindead patient to have Congressional legislation passed on her behalf, she's definitely not the first, I'm sure, to have inspired an impassioned and no doubt painful debate within her family about the right course to take.

What pisses me off is that everyone's focusing all this attention on whether or not they'll pull the poor woman's feeding tube, while virtually nobody is covering the real story: Why now? What's makes Terri Schiavo so special? Could it possibly be grandstanding by the conservative majority in Congress to push its invasive anti-choice ("right to life") agenda? Maybe? Y'think? I shudder to think all the stories that AREN'T being covered right now while the press goes crazy over the latest Big Story.

Luckily, there is always Salon. I swear, even if you're too busy to keep up with all the stories in the news, if you see Eric Boehlert's byline on Salon, read the article. This guy is a true reporter. Here's an excerpt from his latest piece on this mess:

With cable television's coverage of midnight congressional voting and the reports of President Bush's cutting short his Easter holiday to fly back to the White House, the saga over Terri Schiavo's feeding tube has consumed the media landscape. Since last Friday, cable news channels have covered little else other than this right-to-die case, while reporters and pundits have mostly ignored a crucial element of the story -- public opinion.

Recent polling data, in outlets from Fox News to the Washington Post, shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans back the position of Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, that he, and not his wife's parents, should have the final say about removing the feeding tube of his wife, who has been severely brain-damaged and incapacitated for the past 15 years. The polling data seriously undercuts the notion that Americans are deeply divided on the Schiavo case. Yet ever since March 18, when Republicans began their unprecedented push to intervene legislatively in a state court case that had already been heard by 19 judges, the press has all but disregarded the polls.

The Schiavo episode highlights not only how far to the right the GOP-controlled Congress has lunged -- a 2003 Fox News poll found just 2 percent of Americans think the government should decide this type of right-to-die issue -- but also how paralyzed the mainstream press has become in pointing out the obvious: that the GOP leadership often operates well outside the mainstream of America. The press's timidity is important because publicizing the poll results might extend the debate from one that focuses exclusively on a complicated moral and ethical dilemma to one that also examines just how far a radical and powerful group of religious conservatives are willing to go to push their political beliefs on the public.

What makes this guy a real reporter? He's asking questions nobody told him to ask.

1 comment:

jfh said...

all day i've been thinking about this schiavo mess, and you said just the things i'm thinking. and thanks for the tip about the salon reporter.