Monday, March 21

What Deep Division? On Right to Die, America Decided

In attempt to appear "fair and balanced" to the radical right, media ignore or cover up popular opinion polls that clearly demonstrate it is in the radical minority.

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.

Imagine how differently the televised debate would have unfolded over the past few days if journalists had simply done their job and asked Terri Schiavo's pro-life proponents why an overwhelming percentage of Americans disagree with them about this case. Indeed, polls taken over the past two years show that Americans are adamant that the spouse, and not the parents, should decide on a loved one's right to die. And in the past week, an overwhelming majority -- 87 percent -- of Americans polled by ABC News and the Washington Post said that if they were in the same state as Terri Schiavo, they too would want their feeding tube removed.


"Baffling" is also the only word to describe the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article this past Sunday that reported Americans are "split about 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of letting Schiavo die" (emphasis added). The paper then referred to a Fox News poll from "last year" that was "typical," in which 61 percent of registered voters said they would remove the tube and let her die; [and] 22 percent would leave it in place." If that poll was typical, why did the paper contradict itself by reporting that Americans are actually split 60-40 on the issue?

Television coverage was even more barren. NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday featured its weekly roundtable of journalists, who discussed the Schiavo issue. Yet neither host Tim Russert nor guests Ron Brownstein (Los Angeles Times), David Broder (Washington Post), John Harwood (Wall Street Journal) or Gwen Ifill (PBS) ever mentioned any polls on the Schiavo case. That show was the model, across the dial, for television coverage over the weekend: Avoid the polls and -- indirectly -- any suggestion that Congress was acting in an radical manner.