Thursday, October 23, 2003

How the Mainstream Media Dropped All the Balls in the Florida "Right-to-Die" Case

H. L. Mencken once defined “truth” as “something somehow discreditable to someone somewhere.” And so it has seemed with the mainstream news outlets –e.g., CNN, PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, The Washington Post, the New York Times-- in their mostly one-sided and neglectful coverage of the Terri Schindler-Schiavo “right-to-die” case, especially in recent weeks.

For example,

The Late Great Comatose Vegetable Myth

Almost all major news outlets have consistently referred to Terri’s condition as either “comatose” or a “persistent vegetative state,” even after the release of secretly recorded videotapes of her (which can be viewed HERE), taken early this past year, which show her awake and responding to her parents, albeit in a subdued manner. One tape shows her tracking a balloon with her eyes and in apparent response to commands to do so. Another tape shows her smiling and looking up at her mother as her mother greets her.

Moreover, according to the Chicago Tribune, ”...[t]hree of [Terri] Schiavo's former nursing-home aides have filed affidavits that Schiavo was speaking rudimentary words and swallowing pudding and Jell-O in the mid-1990s.” (Courts to Choose Victor in Battle Over Woman's Life, October 12, 2003, Chicago Tribune)

A complete photocopy of the Affidavit about Terri’s condition pre-2000 by Nursing Assistant Carolyn Johnson can be read HERE. Nursing Assistant Heidi Law’s Affidavit can be read HERE. Regitered Nurse Carla Sauer Iyer's Affidavit can be read HERE.

Comatose? Vegetative? We don’t think so, and neither do the medical personnel who testified under oath to that effect on behalf of the Schindlers in their efforts to preserve her life, in addition to many neurologists and other experts who have viewed the videotapes since their release earlier this month. However, in almost all instances, the only medics interviewed by the press were those who testified for Michael Schiavo, many hired by his “right-to-die” activist lawyer George Felos, and many of whom just “happen” to be pro-euthanasia sycophants.

Follow the Money

Also left out of most mainstream media’s reports is the fact that, according to the Chicago Tribune, in 1992, Michael Schiavo filed a $20 million malpractice suit against his wife’s gynecologist, whom he deemed responsible for the heart attack which left her quadriplegic and severely brain-damaged. He argued that he needed such a large amount because he expected his wife to live a normal life span: ”…during a 1992 medical malpractice trial, Michael Schiavo did not bring up his wife's end-of-life wishes and pledged to use the money he was seeking for Terri Schiavo's care and rehabilitation.”

Mikey's Magical Mystery Memory Tour

But, notes the St. Petersburg Times in June 2001, once the court awarded only $2 million instead --$1.4 million for Terri’s care ($700K after legal and other expenses), which was placed in a trust fund, and $660K ($300K after legal and other expenses) for him in compensatory damages— Schiavo changed his tune: At that point, he “remembered” that Terri “told” him she made him “promise her” that he would not “let her live like that.” However, he could produce no living will to that effect, as required by Florida law. Nor could he produce any other concrete evidence of Terri’s “wishes.” Hmmmm. Maybe Felos used his telepathic powers on her.

Schiavo: A Credible Witness?

Moreover, the Tribune observes,

”[In 1998,] attorney Richard Pearse …issued a report to Judge Bruce Boyer, who then was handling the case. In the report, Pearse said Michael Schiavo was not a credible witness to his wife's end-of-life wishes because he waited several years before coming forward with the claim that she wanted to die. Pearse also noted that Michael Schiavo would benefit financially from her death and be able to move on with his life.”

Yet most of the major news media outlets neglected to bring up the original amount Schiavo sued for, much less the “reason” for that amount which he gave the court at the time. Nor have they pointed out the inconsistency, referred to by the Tribune, between Schiavo's 1992 pre-award testimony and what he has been telling the courts since winning his malpractice suit.

Uh, Who Paid for the Lawyers???

The mainstream media have also left out the fact that --as reported only in a couple of Florida newspapers between 1998 and 2001 (cf. the June 3, 2001 edition of the St. Petersburg Times)-- Schiavo, from 1994 to 2001, dipped into his wife’s $700K trust –earmarked only for her care— to pay for his legal fees in his attempts to get her feeding tube removed. Since 2001, the remaining $350K in Terri’s trust fund has been used for additional legal fees. As of October 12, 2003, of the $300K net of the award given to Schiavo, he has used zero for his legal fees. Again, said the Chicago Tribune earlier this month:

…After costs, Terri Schiavo's guardianship netted $700,000 and Michael Schiavo $300,000. Most of the $700,000 has been used for legal fees as Schiavo has pressed the case to fulfill what he says are his wife's wishes. According to Felos, Michael Schiavo has not used any of his own $300,000 for legal costs.

However, since the Tribune's October 12 was published, whenever interviewed on national radio and television --particularly CNN, MSNBC, and Sean Hannity's ABC Radio call-in program-- Felos consistently claimed that Schiavo has no more money left.

Paving the Way for Death

Except for the Chicago Tribune and some Florida newspapers, the news media seem also to have neglected to mention that, according to court records, from the time Terri’s health insurance and medicare coverage ceased to cover her care, Schiavo has consistently refused to release funds from her account to pay for any kind of rehabilitative therapy, such as therapy designed to help her swallow on her own and to better communicate with those around her. In addition, nursing home staffers Johnson and Law have testified (see links above) that Schiavo also ordered that no antibiotics be given to Terri for any infections she may develop.

In 2000, Schiavo also moved her from the nursing home she lived in since the early 1990s to a hospice with close ties to attorney Felos and the “right-to-die” movement. The hospice in question --Woodside House, run by the controversial Hospice of the Forida Suncoast-- is supposedly intended only for terminally ill patients expected to live for only a few months. Yet there was no indication at all that Terri's life was in danger either from illness or from her condition. Her life span --again by Schiavo's own admission during his 1992 malpractice suit-- was expected to be of normal length.

A Conflict of Interest

Another pertinent fact is a conflict of interest which the major news media have consistently neglected to mention, much less raise any scrutinizing questions about: According to local media (e.g., the St. Petersburg Times) as well as Schindler family members and friends, for the past seven years Michael Schiavo has been engaged to his live-in girlfriend, whom he met shortly after his 1993 malpractice award and with whom he has fathered two children. Obviously, Schiavo wasted no time finding another honey once his wife was in a nursing home and the money started rolling in.

The Culture of Death's Harry Potter Wannabe

Then there’s the matter of self-styled psychic and New Age mystic George Felos: NONE of the mainstream media have said so much as a syllable about Felos’ close, long-time, and well-documented ties to pro-death movements and groups, such as the pro-suicide Hemlock Society (now known as End-of-Life Choices), of which Felos was once a member. Nor have they mentioned anything at all about the Aleister Crowleyesque “thinking” and New Age beliefs which drive Felos’ pro-death ideology and law practice in the first place. Yet the very same media have wasted no time or space making much ado over the “religious right” beliefs and/or “anti-choice” affiliations of those who have been fighting for Terri’s right to live --up to an including the lawyers and politicians helping her parents.

Smoke or Swamp Gas?

In most instances in the real world, when the news media see even a wisp of smoke waft in –particularly from a conservative or Christian or pro-life direction-- they waste no time rooting out the fire behind it; or, should a fire fail to turn up, rubbing a couple of dry sticks together. Contrariwise, in their coverage of the Terri Schindler-Schiavo travesty, they seem to regard the massive cloud of smoke billowing in from Michael Schiavo’s camp as nothing more than a little Everglades swamp gas.

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