Commentary by Cheryl Eckstein


 "Terri Schiavo and the Tabloidization of the Media by Armstrong Williams

 Saturday, April 9, 2005 "


At first I thought "Terri Schiavo and the Tabloidization of the Media" was going to be a good article. However it turns out to be another article replete with misinformation-such as Williams referring to Terri's condition as terminal. While Williams does not directly say she was comatose, he intimates she was.  And how sad that Williams is offended by images of a feeding tube. The facts remain; Terri was not terminal.  A number of physicians agreed she could live another 30 years.  She was not comatose, she was brain damaged.  Now -  about the "Tabloidization of the Media " I think Williams completely missed the importance of the media being there. No doubt the media's ulterior motive was to secure the best spot for a death watch -  but up until her death, we witnessed Terri's incredible will to stay alive and the resolve of family, friends and supporters to save her.

Certainly there are unsung heroes you may or may not know of,  working behind the scenes rather than in front of the camera, who couldn't or wouldn't take the time to think of themselves or their personal needs, such as the sleep they were missing and needed.  Why? Because they trying to think of ways to save Terri that may have been missed.

 Who will ever forget  Cheryl Ford, RN who over 2 years ago left her Pacific northwest home to live in Florida so she could lend her support to the Schindlers! Also, she wanted to make sure we got the facts and not disinformation the media regularly tries to feed us.

Personally, many times I felt as though CNN was my shaganappi to Terri's family and supporters. I did not feel like an intruder. I witnessed euthanasia bootleggers like George Felos who seemed to lick his lips as he spoke of how beautiful her dying had become - but instead he showed the world how sadistic he is.

Body language is often a major tell tail sign of sincerity or dishonesty. A person may utter words of compassion, but their face tells a different story. Who will ever forget the faces of the parents and siblings as they looked as if directly into our eyes anxious to tell us what was really happening.

Who will ever forget a mother begging for her daughter's life?

What about the nurse who ended up losing her job and was slandered for speaking the truth - women, men - children with tape across their mouths -- children, parents and elderly praying night and day. One man tells the media he is a baker - he had flown 5 hours just to stand outside Terri's Hospice to pray. He said he had to fly right back out so he could get home in time to work.

Who can forget Kate Adamson who told us what it was like to be in the same condition as Terri and felt the pain from being starved and dehydrated for 8 days .. but thanks to her husband she was alive to tell her story.

Most important, we saw videos of Terri - we saw how she would light up and glow the moment she heard her mom and dad's voice.

We saw and heard her respond with laughter to her dad's jokes. In one clip I noticed her eyes fluttering much faster as her mother drew closer to kiss her on the cheek.

We saw the depth of love from her siblings - who kept their poise in spite of their private pain.

Talk about presumption - Williams opined "Do you think she would want to be stripped of all dignity during the last moments of her life?"  Terri lost her life, not her dignity.

All that which gives dignity its meaning was lost on George Felos,  Dr. Cranford, Michael Schiavo, and Judge Greer. Somehow these men managed to seal Terri's fate ... and we became witnesses of this most illicit denouement.

The beloved Pope John Paul II loved and used the media to his advantage. Right up and onto his death - through to his funeral, so many of us were given the chance to witness the love and devotion of millions that many held for this great man. We heard stories that otherwise would have been missed by the press or overlooked by us. I agree there are definitely places where the media does not belong. However I don't believe this was one of them.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Terri Schiavo and the Tabloidization of the Media

Armstrong Williams
Saturday, April 9, 2005

I believe that life is sacred, regardless of whether you are comatose or cognizant.

I believe God has a plan. I also believe that helping terminal patients means spending time with them, and treating their pain. It doesn't mean removing their feeding tube. It doesn't mean actively facilitating their death. That's not helping a patient, it's murdering a patient.

So I believe the Terri Schiavo case is important. What I don't believe is that anything was accomplished by beaming her image out on 24-hour newscasts and effectively stripping the final few days of her life of any dignity.

Like hyenas circling around pre-killed carrion, the media swept in, mounting a 24-hour death watch. They camped out at the hospital, mounted cameras in her hospital room, and intruded upon her final few days. This isn't news, its tabloid media, and it's remarkably successful in reducing great national issues into trivial dimensions.

This trend toward tabloidization started with the cable network explosion in the '90s. Overnight, the television market splintered. Competition became brutal, as fledging networks vied for the viewing public's attention. The question became how to distinguish your network from the competition.

The answer came from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who used his Fox television station to belch out one enormous orgy of tawdry and titillating television morsels. His populist model proved wildly successful. Soon others followed suit, until shocking and salacious imagery became the dominant mode of expression on TV.

We've now reached a point where this tendency toward tabloid media has infected even our so-called hard news outlets. Indeed, what's striking is not that television networks would camp outside Terri's hospital room, but that our so-called hard news outlets would depict the issue with so little depth or introspection.

This case raised profound questions. Should there be a presumption toward death for comatose, terminally ill patients? Is physician-assisted suicide a legitimate medical practice? Should Congress pass tough federal legislation that would subject doctors to harsh penalties if they actively cause a patient's death? Or should this matter be left to the judiciary to decide?

These rousing questions were supplanted by images of feeding tubes and bed pans and politicians who would knock over old ladies to get some air time.

The worst part was how the politicians camped out on Terri's doorstep claimed to be fighting for what she would want. Do you really think Terri would want to have her final few days beamed around the globe for public consumption? Do you think she would want to be stripped of all dignity during the last moments of her life?

It is tasteless and shameful, even by political standards, to suggest that this media circus was for Terri's good. Terri has been in that bed for years. Where were the politicians until last month? Where are they now, when serious and profound issues about the sanctity of life remain? Where is the federal law to deal with this issue?

This wasn't a policy debate. It was political grandstanding. It was a political ad campaign. Somewhere along the line, the bigger issues about the sanctity of life fell by the wayside. In the rush to get on TV and spout out sound bites and beam images of Terri across the globe, the politicians and TV stations degraded the final few days of Terri's life. That they did this in the name of protecting Terri is a shame and a crime.

This was about political grandstanding. It was about TV stations using images to shock people into paying attention.

This is what hard news is becoming. It's about summing up complex situations with images designed to shock the audience into paying attention. This is how we learn about the world around us. No longer do we learn through subject and verb, but rather through a verbal hybrid of images and slogans designed to make it easy for our eyes to absorb what's going on. Finally, we are left to judge serious issues like race not based on thoughtful discussion, but on a barrage of visual constructs.

What the Terry Schiavo case tells us is that this tabloidization of the news has reached some sickening level of artificiality. The media have become first-person participants, intruding on the lives of subjects, rattling the cage as they did with Schiavo's relatives, and then filming the fallout for public consumption.

We don't discuss issues. We gulp images. And so, even the most compelling issues in our lives are distilled into pictures of feeding tubes. This is meaningless and offensive, even by television standards.




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