The Terri Schiavo case has been one of the most media saturated stories in recent times. And yet, many people, apparently, still don't know the basic facts--even news reporters. This was brought home to me strongly today in three different manifestations.
First, I was a guest on Fox and Friends this morning. Fox News sent a car to bring me into San Francisco to do the show. The driver was very friendly and asked me what I was going to be interviewed about. I told him and he said, "Why don't they just let the husband decide?" I replied, "Well, some people think that a man who has lived with another woman for almost ten years and has two children by her, has lost the moral right to make these decisions." The driver was shocked. "He has? Why haven't I heard this before?" I replied that it had been reported in some outlets and far less in others. "Well, that's different," he said. "He should give her to her parents." I doubt he was buttering me up, since there would be no tip involved. But it was clear that the driver thought he knew a lot about the Schiavo story but really knew very little.
Then, when I was at Fox News waiting to do my "talking head" shtick, I watched a live spot from the hospice where Terri is dehydrating to death. Asked why the courts thought Terri would not want to live, the reporter said that several of her FRIENDS had come forward to say she told them she wouldn't want to live in this condition. Of course, that was just plain wrong. NO friends have come forward saying that and at least one has stated Terri would want to live. Those saying Terri would want to die are all very tight with Michael Schiavo, e.g., Michael, Michael's brother, and Michael's sister-in-law. When a news reporter can't even get one of the most basic and important facts about this case right, how can news consumers be expected to know the truth?
Finally, during the afternoon I was at a party. I met a very nice married couple, and as we were chatting they found out I have advocated publicly in support of the Schindlers. Both frowned deeply told me they were worried about the feds getting involved in their end-of-life medical decisions despite their having written advance directives. I assured them the government would not interfere with their decisions and that besides, Terri did not have a written directive. "She didn't???" both husband and wife said, their jaws dropping in unison. And once again, as we discussed the case, their attitudes toward those defending Terri's life softened as they learned the real facts.
What are we to make of this? I think for many people who are not news junkies, stories like the Schiavo case become so much background noise. But, since there is no way to avoid the story, certain impressions sink in. Thus, the media's constant incomplete description of Michael Schiavo as merely "Terri's husband," made the driver think Michael was a loyal and steadfast husband like the driver perceives himself to be. The people I met at the party assumed that because the court found she would not want to live, that she must have had a written advance directive. Of course, none of this excused the news reporter.
The same probably applies to me with regard to the Peterson murder case. I TRIED not to pay attention. I really did. Yet, I know a lot about it because it was a constant presence--or, maybe I just THINK I know a lot about the case.
And this gets me to the importance of creating the first impressions people receive about a public controversy as an essential aspect of successful public persuasion. But this post is long enough already, so we'll deal with that subject one insomnia-ridden night.