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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired March 26, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
We begin this week with a story that has pulled at heartstrings around the world, the fate of a severely brain damaged Florida woman is at stake.

Terry Schiavo has been in a persistent vegative state for 15 years. She has been kept alive by around-the-clock are and fed by a tube that her husband Michael is battling to have removed. He says that Terri deserves to die with dignity. Her parents, however, have fought to keep her alive.

As CNN's Anderson Cooper reports, every twist and turn of this bitter legal dispute has been picked up by the media.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: She is the talk of talk, Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who hovers somewhere between death and life.

All over the country, people are ringing in with their very public opinions about this family's once private ordeal.

They didn't stop calling at the Dorie Munson (ph) show in Seattle.

CALLER: They're just looking for a way to abuse her further.

COOPER: Phone lines it up in LA.

CALLER: She'll get better as soon as she is allowed to have standard approaches to therapy.

COOPER: Words were exchanged in Chicago.

CALLER: We're just giving her the normal humanitarian aid of food and water. She's just getting what any human being would get, or a dog, or an animal would get.

COOPER: On New York's public radio, WNYC, Brian Lair (ph) hosted a quiet discussion that quickly got loud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is kind of the perfect talk radio storm. You have the personal and the political all coming together.

COOPER: Even on TV, Terri Schiavo's story played agonizingly close to hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever seen anyone in her condition come out of it?

COOPER: Who hasn't or will not someday witness an ailing loved one struggling. How many of us will one day be forced to decide when and how their life will end.

All over radio, people want to know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have no problem executing the retarded or juveniles for that matter. They don't love children. It's the fetus they love.

COOPER: Is this really the government's business? Should the courts have the right to decide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The politicians shouldn't be getting involved. They're not doing a good job anyways dealing with politics, now they're going to try to get into the medical field.

COOPER: What happened to this family, to Terri Schiavo's tearful parents, with the haunting video of her blinking eyes. What of he husband, who swears Schiavo believed this half-life was no life at all.

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO'S HUSBAND: This is about Terri Schiavo, not the government, not President Bush and Governor Bush. They should be ashamed of themselves.

COOPER: America is talking about it all, now that this family's life and death dispute has taken on a life of its own in the courts and Congress, enough life to summon the president back from his ranch. Enough to put medicine and religion on the defensive.

What happens to Terri Schiavo means so much to so many. It could someday be their own Terri Schiavo caught in the lurch, their wife, their daughter or even them. And then who gets to decide? For now, it seems everyone is having their say.


RODGERS: This story has all the ingredients: medicine, politics, ethics, compassion and religion and family in-fighting.

To discuss this further, I'm joined from Washington, D.C. by Linda Feldman of the "Christian Science Monitor."

Linda, this is a case of hard cases making bad law. Have you had any personal conflict writing this story? Has it been difficult?

LINDA FELDMAN, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": It hasn't been difficult, but it is a story that is difficult to kind of let your own emotions enter into your thinking as you're working on it. It's hard -- I find it difficult to watch the video of Mrs. Schiavo and, you know, that appearance that she is making eye contact and smiling. I feel particularly not only for her but for her parents. As a mother myself, I can't imagine what it would be like to see your child in that condition and to have my child's spouse wanting to end the feeding.

But I also respect the law and respect the laws that have the due process that she has had, that he husband has had.

RODGER: Tell us why the video makes it so much harder to decide this case, please.

FELDMAN: The video is, as I said, it shows her -- it's like a Rorschach inkblot. People look at those videos of her and I think they see what they want to see, and they see different things every time they look at it.

You see her blinking, you see her moving, you see her perhaps even making some eye contact with her mother and smiling, but as many physicians have said, we don't know what she's thinking or if she's thinking or if she's feeling anything, and it could be jus an instinctual reflex.

RODGERS: But she's not in a coma and good people can look at those pictures, good God-fearing people, can look at those pictures and say, look, she's smiling. She's reacting. How can you let someone like that die?

FELDMAN: That's right, and that's what makes this so difficult.

But, again, we have to go back to the laws that have been carried out over these years of litigation, which is that Michael Schiavo, her husband, is her legal guardian, and it was his decision, and he convinced a judge that it would be her wish not to be kept alive in this circumstance.

So this is where we are with the laws having been carried out and then the family conflict escalating for years and years and years, to the point where it had reached the Supreme Court.

RODGERS: Is that the issue before the courts? Is this woman being kept alive against her will?

FELDMAN: Yes. The issue before the court, actually, right now, is, well, it's been turned down. The Supreme Court has denied a hearing on this and denied a request to have the tube reinserted, so we're really at that level of whether or not the tube should be reinserted, so that the federal courts can relegate the entire case.

RODGERS: We saw a poll here in London that said almost 80 percent of the public believes that the husband should decide this case. Not the court, not the judges, not the politicians, not the Congress, not the president. Is that another key issue here, who decides the fate of a spouse?

FELDMAN: Yes. It's central, and in the vast majority of cases, it is the spouse who is the guardian, and Americans believe that that is also proper, that your spouse, when you're married, your spouse is your next of kin and that should be their decision.

I think one of the mysteries in this case is why Michael Schiavo hasn't divorced his wife and handed her back to the care of her parents. As we all know, Michael Schiavo has in effect a new wife. He has a woman with whom he has had two children. He appears to have moved on in his personal life, and so I think to many people the logical solution is for Mr. Schiavo to move on, relinquish guardianship and hand Terri back to her parents, but he appears to believe very strong that she would not want this and that she would want to pass away and not have any kind of means, including a feeding tube, to keep her alive.

RODGERS: Do you have any personal comment on what at times seems unseemly media coverage of this case?

FELDMAN: The media coverage, with all due respect, especially with television, where you get the same pictures over and over again, and you get people commenting on television who, frankly, don't know anything.

You have physicians speculating based on having watched a videotape. You get family members who say things that, you just don't know. There was some woman saying she thinks she could hear Terri Schiavo even speaking, saying that she wanted to live.

But I have to say, in defense of television and cable television, this is an extremely compelling story, as you said. There is a bit of everything in here. There is family intrigue, life or death, the clock is ticking, the U.S. Congress, the president, the Supreme Court, they've all been touched, especially with this president, who has very strong religious beliefs and speaks often of a culture of life. This is sort of a perfect storm of incredible media attention.

RODGERS: Linda, thanks very much for joining us.

FELDMAN: Great. Thanks, Walt.

RODGERS: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, royal wedding jitters. And this time, it isn't the groom.

Find out more in just a moment.


RODGERS: Welcome back.

To wed or not to wed. It's taken Prince Charles and Camilla decades to figure out how to get married. But the decision itself now seems the easy part.

Next month's royal wedding appears at times to be verging on a royal farce.

The latest: Charlie's mum, the Queen of England, is going to be a no-show. She is the only member of the royal family to shun the ceremony.

This is, of course, great fodder for the tabloids. To discuss the saga further, I am joined by royal watcher Richard Fitzwilliams and Sally Cartwright, publishing director of "Hello" magazine.

Sally, this really is the grandest of soap operas. 56-year-old man has to ask mommy's and daddy's permission to get married. Mommy agrees to pay for the reception, but she's going to stiff the wedding. If it were the Americans doing this, you Brits would have a heck of a run at us, wouldn't you?

SALLY CARTWRIGHT, "HELLO": We manage to have a heck of a run at ourselves as it is.

I think it's a great shame that she's not going to attend the ceremony in the registrar office, but she will be there for the part that is undoubtedly more important to her, the ceremonial blessing in the Chapel Royal at Windsor Castle. That's for her, as head of the Church of England, is what matters.

RODGER: Is it just that the queen doesn't like her new daughter- in-law?

CARTWRIGHT: I don't think there is any proof of that at all, no matter what the tabloids say.

I think the registrar office is over the road, it's not a particularly grand place, it's very small. It's going to attract a huge amount of media attention as it is.

She is going to stay in Windsor Castle and be ready to welcome them when they come back, and I'm sure it will be a welcome.

RODGER: A registrar's office beneath the dignity of a queen -- Richard.

RICHARD FITZWILLIAMS, ROYAL WATCHER: Yes, I think that this is probably the reason.

I mean, there is no question that the arrangements for this wedding have been very often symbolic. The problem was the change of venue. Originally, as we know, it was supposed to be a private wedding in Windsor Castle, then it turned out that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hadn't checked the 1994 Marriages Act, which would have meant that if they had married at Windsor Castle, anybody could have for the next three years, and I think we can be safely assured the queen would have attended that.

But she has never attending a registry office in her life, and I don't think that she believes now is the time to begin. It isn't in actual fact a snub. But we did expect the queen would be there, so it certainly hasn't looked good, and it's been one of the many problems that has bedeviled the arrangements for this -- the matter of the titles, the matter of its legality and the matter of the venue.

RODGERS: Camilla becomes the Duchess of Cornwall. I was in Cornwall talking to people this last week. She is not well thought of down there. Is it -- is the resentment spawned by the lingering love for Princess Diana?

FITZWILLIAMS: I don't know whether it is so much lingering love for Princess Diana. There is a certain amount of that. But on the other hand, for the last 2-1/2 years, some of the revelations that have come out certainly haven't helped the Princess of Wales' memory in this era of kiss and tell.

But I do think that most people believe, and I have to say rightly, probably, that Camilla was the main reason for the failure of that marriage, that very broadly, despite Diana's flaws, the prince is blamed for this.

I thought it was a good idea, the title Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Cornwall, for Camilla. There have been predecessors -- Caroline of Ansbach (ph), the wife of George II, was duchess of Cornwall, and so was Mary of Tech (ph), who was later to be Queen Mary, wife of George V.

But she isn't popular, that's one of the problems when it comes to the matter of the title and her becoming queen or not.

RODGERS: Sally, why aren't people just rejoicing and saying, "Hooray! Prince Charlie finally gets to marry the woman he loves."

CARTWRIGHT: I think a lot of people are feeling that way, but the problem is, with the British press in particular, that they are never the ones who are interviewed. There is a general feeling of satisfaction as far as we're hearing that they are at last getting married. They've been in love for 35 years. Goodness knows, it's time for them to get married.

The British public, I think, is broadly supportive, but there isn't that huge joy and rejoicing that there was for his first wedding.

RODGERS: Richard, when I was in Cornwall I heard some very severe, even cruel things, about Camilla. Why are people so cruel toward here? I mean, she was -- they called her a trollop right to my face.

FITZWILLIAMS: Well, I think that she has had a lot of pretty unfortunate nicknames. She was known by Diana as the rottweiler. That has stuck. The tabloids --

RODGERS: That's my point. Why are people so cruel here?

FITZWILLIAMS: Because she's got an unfortunate image when it comes, say, to country sports. She loves to hunt. So do quite a large number of other members of her particular class, but that image has stuck.

The fact that also people feel she has been a third in a crowded marriage. Remember, the Princess of Wales' "Panorama" interview. The fact that Camilla -- everything that she has tried to do, the rehabilitation of Camilla after the Princess of Wales' death in 1997, she more or less disappeared from public view, people disliked her so. She isn't glamorous like the Princess of Wales, but of course that's the very reason, as Sally was pointing out, they are in love, and the very difference between her and the Princess of Wales, is the reason in my belief that this marriage will be a success, because they've got so much in common. A similar sense of humor. They're not competing. And that she will be the ideal support.

What I do think is so unfortunate is that the arrangements for this wedding, because that is where we're seeing a lack of public enthusiasm, as you mentioned, manifest itself in a certain amount of hostility of the press and the fact also of the matter of the title, which won't go away.

RODGERS: Sally, is the prince being disingenuous by saying she is never going to get the title of queen?

CARTWRIGHT: I don't think he is. Princess Consort is a title with a perfectly respectable ancestry. Prince Albert was Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. It will work. And if it needs an act of parliament, which doesn't seem at all certain, then that will happen.

I think she is wise in not wanting to be queen. That would be treading too near the grave.

RODGERS: Richard, same question to you, essentially. Yes or no? Do you think we'll ever have a Queen Camilla here?

FITZWILLIAMS: That's a very hard question to answer. Yes or no. Because this is the whole point.

I think one of the dangers of the mess which we're in because of the matter of the title, it's clear as mud. The act of parliament has to be passed to prevent Camilla being queen, so she becomes queen unless there is such an act, which I can't see, and this has to be in 15 other Commonwealth countries, which are monarchies.

On the other hand, she has made it known that she wishes to be, at this stage, Her Royal Highness the Princess Consort, which certainly has echoes of Prince Albert. But it is confused. What we needed in this is clarity and we'll get are constant opinion polls to see how popular she is and whether eventually, when Charles ascends the throne, she will be crowned. It's thought not at the moment, but that could change.

Remember the word "it is intended." That's where I think we've got the question mark.

RODGERS: "Ah, the course of true love never did run smooth," "Midsummer Nights Dream."

Richard and Sally, thank you so very much.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, a soldier's portfolio. We see behind the barracks in Baghdad.

Stay with us.


RODGERS: Welcome back.

Drinking beer in Baghdad, catching a few rays in the sweltering desert sun, shedding tears over the death of a comrade.

These images offer a glimpse into the after-hours life of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. They're being published by "Gentleman's Quarterly" magazine to mark the second anniversary of the conflict.

The response has been staggering. More than 10,000 photographs were submitted.

To discuss this further, I'm joined by Devin Freidman, senior editor at "Gentleman's Quarterly."

Devin, what do you think these pictures tell us and show us about the war that we haven't previously read in newspapers or seen on television?

DEVIN FREIDMAN, "GQ": Well, this is the war from the soldier's perspective.

We've seen the war from the perspective to talking heads and from politicians, but we wanted to take the filter out and let the soldiers show us the war that they see, you know, from what they do when they're not on patrol -- you know, there is a great picture of a snowball fight they had - - to some of the awful things they've seen and the more emotional moments that they have encountered.

RODGERS: Photographs can be extraordinarily eloquent. Which is your favorite, the most poignant, the one that most bespeaks the conflict?

FREIDMAN: You know, I just think that the breadth of the whole package really bespeaks it to me, because you have so many individual's pictures that you see, and each one sort of tells you a story about one moment in one of these guy's lives.

You know, there is a great picture of a guy sleeping. You know, there are a lot of pictures of soldiers sleeping in really weird places, you know, under mats, in holes. There is one guy sleeping on a huge almost throne in one of Saddam's palaces. And there is one guy who has just come in from patrol and his head is between his legs and there is a heat lamp on, and he's sort of lit only by the heat lamp, and you sort of get the idea of what he's been through and the sort of few minutes of rest he gets before he has to go out and do it all over again.

RODGERS: Are you publishing photographs of maimed and wounded soldiers or flag-draped coffins?

FREIDMAN: Not a lot. You know, there are a couple of pictures of memorial services or a 21 gun salute. Or, you know, there is a close-up of dog tags of I think like 23 members of a Marine division that were killed.

But we decided not to show -- a lot of what the soldiers took pictures of and a lot of the pictures that were sent in were of dead soldiers and dead Iraqis, because these guys took pictures of what seemed exceptional to them and so they sent that in, but we decided that it wasn't respectful to those people, to show them in the magazine.

RODGERS: What is your motive? Is this cheerleading or are we going to see pictures here which will anger the Bush-Cheney White House?

FREIDMAN: The great thing about this for us is that it is totally apolitical. All we want to do is be a conduit for these guys to get to show us the war that they live.

You know, we don't have any political agenda and the soldiers don't have any political agenda other than staying alive and doing a good job and coming home.

RODGERS: In previous wars, soldiers wrote letters home. Do you think photographs, videotape, these pictures that you're publishing, are replacing letters home? And will the record be more or less complete because of this change of venue?

FREIDMAN: Well, it will be different. I think you're right. These are kind of letters home.

You know, if you ever watch those documentaries about the Civil War, you see these long, eloquent letters that were composed on battlefields, and you read them and you really get a sense of the person who wrote them and that war, and this is the same thing.

This is our first digital war, and it's not because there were smart bombs being dropped that we could watch from CNN. It's because digital photography became cheap and it became democratized, and every soldier could afford to have a camera.

You know, I was in Iraq and everyone had a flash drive that they carried around their neck, and they'd plug it into your computer and say, "This is what I saw." And the crazy thing is that, you know, once the satellite links were set up, these guys could experience something and send it home that night. So it was instantaneous. Their family members got an idea of what was going on as it actually happened to them.

RODGERS: Devin, one last question with a short answer: what's the response been?

FREIDMAN: Pretty amazing. We're really happy and we feel like this is something that the soldiers are really excited about, and that's made us pretty excited.

RODGERS: Devin Freidman, thanks very much for your insights.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Walter Rodgers, thanks for joining us.



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