Friday, June 17, 2005

The Schiavo Autopsy Was Conclusive ... Except For Those Who Prefer Conservative Media's "Alternate Universe of Facts"

Terri Schiavo suffered severe, irreversible brain damage that left that organ discolored and scarred, shriveled to half its normal size, and damaged in nearly all its regions, including the one responsible for vision, according to an autopsy report released June 15.

Although the meticulous postmortem examination could not determine the mental state of the Florida woman, who died March 31 after a judicial and legislative battle over her "right to die," it did establish the permanence of her physical condition.

Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible . . . no amount of treatment or rehabilitation would have reversed" it, said Jon R. Thogmartin, the pathologist in Florida's sixth judicial district who performed the autopsy and announced his findings at a news conference in Largo, Fla.

The condition of her brain was "consistent with a persistent vegetative state," said Stephen J. Nelson, a neuropathologist in Winter Haven, Fla., who was consulted by the medical examiner's office.


That should end the discussion, right?


How about this, from a leading conservative:

Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and a heart surgeon, acknowledged on June 16 that Terri Schiavo had suffered devastating brain damage and said his assertion three months ago that she was "not somebody in persistent vegetative state" did not amount to a medical diagnosis. Frist (R-TN), appearing on three network TV shows, agreed with the autopsy conclusion that Schiavo had suffered severe, irreversible brain damage.


Certainly, that should be enough to satisfy the "pro-life" crowd -- the true believers who watched a three-year-old video of Schiavo, her eyes open and appearing to smile, and decided, in an improbable diagnosis via television, that Schiavo was not in a "persistent vegetative state."

But that's not the case.

In fact, the events of the last 24 or so hours have proven that the "pro-life" crowd doesn't want to be confused by medical facts. They choose to believe what they believe, and the "conservative media" is more than happy to oblige.


Sean Hannity revisited the accusations that Michael Schiavo had abused his wife, even though the autopsy found no signs of abuse, and the courts had previously discredited his two main accusers, two nurses -- frequent guests on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes as well as MSNBC' Scarborough Country.

To ratchet up the emotion, Hannity & Colmes brought in two members of Terri Schiavo's family, knowing that it would make good television. Remember, ratings are more important than facts.

Certainly, it's heartbreaking to lose a child, a sibling, a spouse. Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, want to believe that their daughter interacted with them and tried to speak. Even after the autopsy results were released, they disputed them, maintaining their stance in the face of science.

And that's understandable. There was a report on the local news in New York a few days back of a mother who was distraught over the death of her son that she tried to pull his body out of his casket during his wake. Unbearable grief can cloud one's judgment, leading to conclusions and actions that one would not normally consider.

But while one can understand the grief of Terri Schiavo's family, it's harder to understand why Hannity would want to take advantage of that grief for the sake of his show. Appreciating the Schindlers' steadfastness is one thing, substituting it for medical facts is another.


Then there was the June 15 edition of Scarborough Country:

Here's Joe Scarborough's teaser, which throws out the same red meat as Hannity:

SCARBOROUGH: The Terri Schiavo autopsy completed, and the doctor came out today, talked about what was going on. Still a lot of questions. The case still not resolved, and her family darkly raising the possibility that they still don‘t know how she died, pointing fingers at the husband.

After the commercial break, Scarborough contradicted the crux of his teaser, saying that the medical examination had proven "she wasn't strangled, she was not abused."

So again, you have the emotional response of Terri Schiavo's family, vs. medical facts. Scarborough could have began with a teaser acknowledging what he ultimately said less than a minute after the break -- but hey, that wouldn't bring in the ratings, right?

Scarborough then brought in Randall Terry, president of the Orwellianly titled Society of Truth and Justice. Terry was a self-appointed spokesman for the Schindlers during Terri Schiavo's final days back in March.

Here's the amazing back and forth:

SCARBOROUGH: Obviously, you have been very close with the family throughout this entire process. I got to tell you, you look at the report, no brain activity. That‘s what the husband said before. Blind at the time of death. Not strangled. Not abused. But, most importantly, again, she had no capacity for recovery. It sounds like this autopsy straight down the line makes the husband to be—you know, makes the husband out to be — be right. And it makes you and Terri‘s family out to be wrong.

TERRY: Well, think with me, Joe. In the last month of Terri‘s life, you had innumerable friends and family go in to see her. And one by one they came in front of the camera and said, Terri did this. Terri responded to this story.

SCARBOROUGH: Do you believe them?

TERRY: Well, that‘s what you get to. Either all of them were lying or they were witnessing the activities of a brain-dead person.

So there you have it. Terry makes the improbable claim that there's a conspiracy under way, because, after all, a lot of grieving friends and relatives were sure that Terri Schiavo was responding to them. Terry's not a doctor, and neither were any of the emotional friends and relatives. And even though the medical facts say one thing, Terry prefers the emotional argument.

But it gets worse. Terry, who again is not a doctor, decides to play one on television:

TERRY: It‘s not just the family. They would have — every single one of those people would have had to have been involved in a lie. And I was there. I was on the ground. I was talking to them. The assertion that they were lying or that she was brain-dead is ludicrous. There‘s so much about the human brain that we don‘t know. ...

Terry then has a brief back-and-forth with Scarborough, who simultaneously seems to realize how ridiculous Terry is being, but at the same time makes no effort to derail him.

It's as if Terry is coming up with his argument on the fly, which is always dangerous on live television:

TERRY: What you could have is, you could have this. You could have a doctor who‘s not a specialist in the brain. You could have the reality that the brain is still so uncharted in so many areas. It‘s an art, partly, not just a science. This — you can have it both ways. You can have—there are parts of the brain — you know, I feel silly talking about the brain with a doctor. So, we‘ll let her talk about the brain‘s capacity to rewire itself. But the bottom line is, I believe that those witnesses were credible. I know that the attorney was credible.


As I suspected, there were no sightings of Dr. William Hammesfahr, a regular guest back in March on the conservative talkfests. Hammesfahr is the ultimate proponent of alternate facts on Terri Schiavo -- claiming that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, and that with treatment, she could have recovered.

Even though Hammesfahr was unable to back those claims in court, Hannity and Scarborough trotted him out, because he could provide "the other side of the story" -- the alternate "facts" necessary to get good ratings on a controversial issue. Hannity and Scarborough -- and via the radio, folks like Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage -- never bothered to point out that Hammesfahr couldn't prove his claims in court. That would have made him persona non grata, rather than red meat they could toss out to their audiences.


No one should discount the Schindlers' grief, or the emotion-laden claims of Terri Schiavo's family. But for the rest of the universe -- the "conservative media" included -- it's time to accept the medical facts. Let Terri Schiavo rest in peace, and let Michael Schiavo move on, without having to deal with unfounded accusations of abuse or strangulation -- accusations that have been disproven by his late wife's autopsy.


Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Thanks for stopping by. This is a great site. I look forward to spending more time here.

12:30 PM  
Blogger PhineasBg (Jay) said...

Excellent work, David. I updated my blog entry at concerning Schiavo to link back to here. I'll definitely be checking your blog out often!

1:19 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

The Daily Show had a great piece on Frist talking about Schiavo that you can watch here. I've posted a partial transcript here.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Robert Jakobson said...

Your blog is worthy of admiration.

The issue itself, however, is sad.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Schiavo case has blackened the eye of the conservatives, whether they will admit to it or not.
Still, I think there are more pressing issues right now.
How about the Republicans attacking Rep. Dick Durbin merely because he relayed on the House floor documented eyewitness testimonials of FBI agents of what has gone on at Gitmo.
The Right's media response has been shocking to say the least and a complete insult to anyone with intelligence. The Bushies do not even bring up in their commentaries the FBI testimonials of which Durbin referred.
Instead they resort to the usual tactics calling him "an enemy of America" or a "friend to terrorists," merely because he dared to speak out on the truth!
When the facts make the Administration look bad, ignore the facts, or kill the messenger, I guess.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Durbin info has definitely made the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere, as well as on the right-wing cable and radio shows.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have to admit i have not been able to keep up with news the past few days. is durbin the guy who read a report and then compared the actions to hitler and stalin or something. if so the above blogger conveniently left that out, eh? Honestly, although the report itself is interesting and clearly bears investigation, the hitler references (from both parties) and the like really serve no purpose. In fact they have the opposite effect-give the other side something to focus on other than the substance of the report. Stupid things to say.

Schiavo: i do not feel bad at this point for thet family. they know they are being used by hannity and the like. hannity is a pig. and not credible ever. i understand the family's grief; i can even understand they think she was alive (hey i know people who believe in ghosts talking to them also). doesnt matter. you would think in their grief they would turn down publicity appearances. i think there are darker issues going on therre but doesnt matter.

the only issue that mattered in that case was whether the husband or the family had the right to decide in the absence of clear evidence as to her wishes. husband does. the rest is just political hay and discussions about right to life v right to die crap. those questions divide the country and there are numerous examples of it every single day. this story is so overplayed that i no longer feel bad for the family.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the above blogger and others who would prefer to accept the Republican spin of what Durbin said, instead of taking a few moments and research for themselves what he really said, I've included the text of his brief statement below to demonstrate it could hardly be considered a direct comparison to Hitler or Stalin.
A "stupid thing to say"?
Durbin was merely speaking out the truth: if anyone heard or read of these tortures as described by the FBI, they would believe they were hearing of one of those past torturous regimes.
I beg the question:
Why are Bush apologists wasting so much energy on attacking Durbin, when if they really cared about the truth they would read the FBI emails and come to their own conclusions? See to find links to the full FBI testimonials, which only a few, right-wingers of course, have unconvincingly tried to discredit.

Durbin had said on the Senate Floor, "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings"

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are so missing my point. first off, stop the garbage about me accepting right spin, you annoying leftist. i am not a conservative. you embarrass me. i fully admitted i had not seen the news and actually heard something about it on air america.

and i stand by what i said. by making that comparison, he opened the door to the annoying yet somewhat successful antics of the right to focus the issue on the comparison to hitler rather than the true substance of the report.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Dancer said...

Yes, only an "annoying leftie" would suggest that someone actually read the transcripts before shooting off their mouth. The old "I heard something about it" is prime example of how many on the "right" operate when putting out information/opinon without doing any actual fact checking.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous E.R. Satz said...

Randall Terry: "Either all of them were lying or they were witnessing the activities of a brain-dead person."

I vote for "all of them were lying".

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not "only an annoying leftie" would say--but this one did. i probably read and analyze more news than mr or mrs leftie you speak of. in that particular case, i hadnt heard about it in detail and if you took the time to read my post, you would recognize that my point was not about the substance of the report, but about his comments. as i have now said twice, despite your idiotic attempts to suggest i dont know what i am talking about and spouting off or something, i stand by my statements. How about arguing on the merits of what i said instead of your tired old rhetoric calling me a conservative, etc.....all of which is garbage. embarrassing.

9:14 PM  

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