Doubts Raised On Schiavo Memo

A week after the discussion began in the blogosphere, ace media critic Howie Kurtz discovers that the media reports of a “Terri Schiavo Republican talking points memo” were sketchy at best but nonetheless largely absolves the reporters in question.

Doubts Raised On Schiavo Memo

While there is no hard evidence that the memo is fake, there are several strange things about it, including the basic fact that no one seems to know who wrote it and that the noncontroversial part of it is lifted from a Republican senator’s press release. ABC and The Post say their reports on the Schiavo memo were accurate and carefully worded. The document caused a stir because it described the Schiavo controversy as “a great political issue” that would excite “the pro-life base” and be “a tough issue for Democrats,” singling out Florida’s Sen. Bill Nelson. Two days after the memo was reported, the Republican-controlled Congress approved a bill, signed by Bush, to transfer jurisdiction of Schiavo’s case from Florida courts to the federal judiciary in an effort to restore the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube.


Neither report said Republicans had written the memo, although they may have left that impression, and they included no comment on the memo from party leaders. ABC’s Web site went further than Douglass’s on-air report with the headline: “GOP Talking Points on Terri Schiavo.”

Ed Morrissey is blistering in his assessment of Kurtz’ piece: “Kurtz once again acts as an apologist rather than an objective news critic, yet another disappointment he can add to his non-coverage of the Eason Jordan scandal.” While I’m generally a fan of Kurtz’ work, I’m hard pressed to disagree here. In his attempt to be impartial, Kurtz takes routine disclaimers are evidence that the reports were fair. This is nonsense: The reports were trumpeted as Republican talking points memos and implied that GOP leadership was involved. One can’t proclaim one thing in bold headlines and the lede, casually mention that there is some doubt about the story in paragraph 19, and then claim it was an evenhanded report and that any inferences made by the audience is not the fault of the reporters.

Michelle Malkin agrees:

ABC News’ web site referred to the memo as “GOP Talking Points.” ABC’s White House correspondent, Kate Snow, said on Good Morning America that the memo was circulated by Republicans. The Post is less culpable, but its second article about the memo (not the original article co-authored by Mike Allen) implied the memo was drafted and/or circulated by Republicans.

Then there’s this article, published in the Seattle Times but running with a Washington Post byline, which states that the memo was “distributed to Republican senators by party leaders.”

By failing to raise these points with Schneider and Allen, Kurtz lets the Post and particularly ABC News off the hook too easily.

Quite right.

Betsy Newmark weighs in as well, pointing out, “This is why writers should avoid passive verbs if at all possible. It’s particularly invidious in an incident like this where the subject of that verb is key to the whole story.”

Update (Apr. 7): Senator Martinez̢۪ Office Source of Schiavo Memo

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. johnny7 says:

    This stunk from day-one.

    Don’t look for Kurtze to ‘expose’ anything… he’s just another liberal hack who would ‘rather’ see those damn bloggers muzzled.

    CBS and Dan Rather laid it all out there for everyone to see. The MSMedia is leftist, it adores liberal candidates… and despises conservatives(see Tom DeLay). It will forge documents in order to subvert a Federal Election and later say it was just ‘lazy’, reporting techniques.

    Why isn’t Linda Douglass of ABC asked to divulge who let her in on the ‘Republican’ memo? How did she know WHO wrote it? Why did Mark Halperin of ABC(the same shmuck who said to ‘go-easy’ on John Kerry) come out on the Monday after gushing about this ‘newz-coup’?

    My point is… anybody who watches/listens/believes the MSMedia is a damn fool!