Sunday, October 26, 2003

Florida Report: The Persistently Vegetative Press

As I mentioned in my last post, On Friday afternoon the Schindlers held a press conference. All of the local TV news operations showed up, and most of the local radio and print outlets were represented. Unfortunately, none of the national news organizations (CNN, Fox, or the Big Three networks) covered it. The experience of seeing the news conference and then watching the news coverage was an object lesson in media bias at work.

Now, before I cast about with opprobrium, I will say that some of the media reports have been very fair and accurate. The Schindlers aren't looking for fawningly sympathetic coverage, but they would like what they say to be accurately presented and not ignored. I was most impressed by the local "Bay News 9" coverage. They included in their report a substantial quote from one of the doctors at the press conference, who said that in his medical judgment Terri was NOT in a persistent vegetative state. The CBS affiliate also did a decent job. The worst coverage was by the local NBC affiliate, Channel 8. They showed footage of one of Terri's doctors explaining her brain scans, but with the anchor's voice-over comments, not the doctor's words themselves. The anchor concluded with the observation that the doctor's treatments were not recognized by some association of disability physicians. They failed to mention that the effectiveness of his treatments was recognized by the Florida Board of Medicine. The intent of the Channel 8 piece was clearly to "report" on the news conference while conveying the message that it wasn't to be taken seriously.

I was also impressed by a young reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, who was working on a story about the faith of the Schindlers. He spent almost two days with us at the hospice and elsewhere, and interviewed Bob and Mary and the other Schindlers for several hours. His article will be published in Sunday's paper, and I'm looking forward to reading it, as he was obviously intent on doing a good job on the story.

Unfortunately, some reporters just won't do that kind of work. I met a woman here who does Traffic & Weather for a local radio station. She has become quite friendly with the Schindlers, and is very supportive of Terri's cause. She got fed up one day with the news anchor for her station when he reported Terri as being brain-dead. She spoke to him afterwards and explained that Terri isn't brain-dead, she is disabled with a brain injury. He was unconvinced, so she gave him all sorts of information: court testimony from doctors, sworn statements from people who have seen Terri respond purposefully to those around her, etc. Well, several days later, he reported another story about Terri, and again described her as brain-dead. This time she really let him have it, and she demanded "didn't you READ any of the material I gave you?" He replied by saying, "oh, come on, we don't need to read all that stuff, it's all in the papers anyway." She then asked him, "are you a reporter, or do you just plagiarize what the newspapers say?" All too often, that's how your news gets made.

The reporter from the NBC affiliate repeatedly asked most of the people who spoke at the news conference "why are you doing this? Why are you saying all of these things here and now? He said this in a tone of real bafflement. He couldn't understand why the people at the press conference would want to tell the world how their knowledge and experience of Terri gives the lie to the established party line that Terri is a vegetable. The best response to that question came from Bob Schindler himself. He said, "we've been saying these things for years and we've been ignored. We've been ignored by you and ignored by the courts. I've stood here again and again and said that Terri isn't in a vegetative state, only to see you report that she is. You guys have been killing us. You guys have been killing Terri."

Some of the reporters did a double-take when Bob said "you guys have been killing Terri." But during the course of the news conference, I saw comprehension dawning on some of their faces. And most of them were very attentive during the doctors' talks, and asked questions which indicated they had been paying attention. So perhaps, just perhaps, some of them might realize that simply parroting the lines given by Terri's husband and his attorney isn't sufficient, and has done real harm up till now.

The truth will save Terri. Let's pray and work to get the Truth out!