Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Much Schiavo Coverage Brain Dead

• August 07, 2008 • 11:04 PM

 

Coverage of the controversial Terri Schiavo case in some of the nation’s top newspapers was full of inaccuracies and misinformation, according to a study just published in the journal Neurology.

Schiavo, who died in March 2005, suffered a brain injury that left her in a vegetative state for 15 years. She was at the center of a public court battle among members of her family who disagreed over whether her feeding tube should be removed. A judge ultimately decided to allow the tube to be removed, and she died 13 days later at the age of 41.

A team of neuroethicists led by Éric Racine of the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal examined coverage of the case in four major daily newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times. The researchers analyzed 1,141 relevant articles published between 1990 and 2005.

As Dr. James Barnett writes in an accompanying editorial, they found that articles “frequently contained scientific inaccuracies,” as well as “inaccurate prognoses” and “an inability to distinguish expert opinion from diatribe.”

An amazing 21 percent of the articles reported that Schiavo “might improve,” which was a medical impossibility. Seven percent even said she “might recover.” Fewer than 1 percent included a medical description of a persistent vegetative state.

“The most serious media shortcoming was squandering the opportunity to educate the public about disorders of consciousness and end-of-life care,” Barnet writes. “During March 2005, they had the public’s rapt attention and could have provided the necessary background for people to understand these complex issues more clearly.” Instead, “many treated the dispute as entertainment.”

Today, of course, newspapers themselves are on life support. If coverage of the Schiavo case was this sloppy, how poor will it be when a similar event arises and when many reporters who specialize in health, medicine or science have been laid off?

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Add our news to your site.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow us


Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

Hunger and Low Blood Sugar Can Spur Domestic Quarrels

In an experiment, scientists found a correlation between low blood glucose and higher levels of spousal frustration.

Your Brain Starts Faltering After You Reach Age … 24

Sorry to break it to you, TSwift. At least in terms of cognitive functioning while playing StarCraft 2, you're finished.

Cavemen Were Awesome Parents

Toy hand axes, rock bashing, and special burials indicate that Neanderthals were cooler parents than previously thought, according to a new theory.

Bringing a Therapy Dog Into a Children’s Hospital Might Be a Terrible Idea

Despite the popularity of animal therapy in American pediatric hospitals, a new research review reveals that there's little support for its health benefits.

You Feel Closer to Your Destination Even When You’re Not

Simply moving toward or away from something alters the way you think about it, according to a new study.

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014