Just Above Sunset
April 3, 2005 - The Art of Controlling the Interview, and the Craft of Selling Advertising Slots

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It seems there is a good reason one really shouldn’t ask medical experts to appear on news interview shows. It seems they don’t like playing along with the standard narrative.

Media Matters reports that on the March 28 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough interviewed Dr. Ronald Cranford, one of the two neurologists selected by Michael Schiavo to examine Terri Schiavo pursuant to an October 2001 appellate court mandate. As part of that duty, Cranford "reviewed her medical records and personally conducted a neurological examination of Mrs. Schiavo," according to the June 2003 Florida appeals court review of that hearing.

It’s not often you hear a guest say to a news anchor, in this case NBC’s Lisa Daniels – “… this is all bogus. It's all just a bunch of crap that you are saying. It's totally wrong.”

And this, regarding the host? “And Joe doesn't have any idea what he is talking about. And you don't have any idea what you're talking about.


And even better, this exchange –


DANIELS: Doctor, was a CAT scan -- Doctor, your critics would ask you, was a CAT scan used? Was an MRI taken? Were any of these tests taken?

CRANFORD: You don't know the answer to that? The CAT scan was done in 1996, 2002. We spent a lot of time in court showing the irreversible -- you don't have copies of those CAT scans? How can you say that?

The CAT scans are out there, distributed to other people. You have got to look at the facts. The CAT scan is out there. It shows severe atrophy of the brain. The autopsy is going to show severe atrophy of the brain. And you're asking me if a CAT scan was done? How could you possibly be so stupid?

SCARBOROUGH: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait a second.


Things were, at that point, clearly slipping out of control. And the host really wanted to control the interview.

And then there was this -


SCARBOROUGH: Why don't you go ahead and tell the rest of the story there? Why don't you tell us that the radiologist that looked at the two CAT scans said she showed improvement in 2002 over 1996? You know, you seem so sure of yourself. The Associated Press reported yesterday –

CRANFORD: Joe, the judge didn't believe him.

SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. Hold on a second. You're so sure of yourself -- respond to this. AP had a report yesterday. They said seven doctors have looked at her. Four said she was in persistent vegetative state. You were one of them, hired by Michael Schiavo to do that. There were three others that looked at her that disagreed. How can you be so absolutely sure that everybody that agrees with you is 100 percent accurate and everybody on the other side is a charlatan?

CRANFORD: Joe, Judge -- Judge [George W.] Greer disallowed, didn't believe what [Dr. William] Maxfield [a doctor selected by Terri Schiavo's parents] said. You got your numbers wrong. There were eight neurologists saw her. Seven of the eight said she was in a vegetative state. Only one said she wasn't.

SCARBOROUGH: I am quoting an Associated Press report from yesterday.

CRANFORD: Joe, you've got to get your facts straight.

SCARBOROUGH: I have got my facts straight.

CRANFORD: Get your facts straight. You've got your facts way off.


And on it went. You can read the whole transcript by clicking on the top link.

What to make of this?

The hosts of these shows are working on a particular persona each is marketing – and the hook for this show is in its catchphrase – “Talking about the issues that matter to the average Joe.” That sells. And the marketing guess seems to be the “average Joe” wants to hear that the doctors have it all wrong, or that they really don’t agree, and the evidence is we are starving to death a woman who is actually getting better. Great drama for the news network.

Except the doctors pretty much agree, and she isn’t getting better, and never was, and the facts are there for all to see. And the tests were done. And there’s not much more to say – unless you don’t like the facts.

But ratings matter.

And CNN is changing too.

CNN Seeks New Ways to Battle Fox News
Jacques Steinberg, New York Times, March 23, 2005

This is a long item on Jonathan Klein, the new president of CNN, and his plans to change CNN to improve its ratings.



One of Mr. Klein's mantras - a version of the same one he invoked when announcing in January that he intended to cancel the afternoon shout-fest "Crossfire" - is that the network's prime-time programs should spend less time reporting the news of the day and more time spinning out what he hopes are emotionally gripping, character-driven narratives pegged to recent events.

But he has also sought to take a page from the playbook of local television news and encourage some reporters to put more of their personalities in their reports. It is not insignificant that he is being advised in this effort by Joel Cheatwood, a former news executive in Miami and Chicago who is well known for using loud sound effects to amplify crime stories and for the failed effort to make Jerry Springer a commentator in Chicago in the late 1990's.

In a segment last Wednesday on the program "Paula Zahn Now," for example, Rick Sanchez, a former local news anchor who worked for Mr. Cheatwood in Miami and who joined CNN last year, strapped on a device known as a shock belt - worn around the waist, it can deliver 50,000 volts of electricity to a person's body - and then gave a simple command: "Do it."

Moments later, Mr. Sanchez moaned audibly, crumpled to the floor, and, still panting after being helped to his feet, reported: "It hurts. It's painful. But no one's dead."

Mr. Sanchez was attempting to show first-hand how a device like the shock belt might have prevented the courthouse rampage in Atlanta in which a judge and three others were killed by a rape suspect.

The morning after his program was broadcast, Mr. Klein was euphoric.

"I thought it was great," he told several dozen producers and editors, gathered by videoconference from around the country for their regular 9 a.m. assignment meeting. Mr. Sanchez will join Anderson Cooper's evening news program on CNN early next month as a full-time correspondent.


Yeah, well, that’s the state of the news media now.

By the way, for a video of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show having fun with this particular CNN report, go here and in the right column click on Professional Journalism item.

When news becomes just one of the products a major corporation sells, or uses to sell advertising slots, we get what the corporation thinks we want – silly crap and lies that, well, maybe could be true if you're paranoid. (And that raises the question of whether folks want to feel paranoid – whether they really want to believe that there are evil plots afoot and tons of folks who want to abduct our kids from schoolyards, and tens of thousands of kids who will sneak into those very schools and murder their classmates, and judges who want everyone to die, and that most if not all foreigners want to kill us because that hate freedom, and there’s a master plot by liberals to destroy Christianity and all the rest? And then there's... the French! You know, you CAN use that paranoia about the world being a creepy place with everyone out to get us all – and sell a lot of tampons or cream cheese. But that’s another issue.)

Those who want Professional Journalism? There’s the PBS “News Hour” and “BBC World Report” out there, I guess. Dull stuff. With low ratings.



Excerpts from a comment from Digby over at Hullabaloo, who calls Scarborough “a man with the mental capacity of a Vidalia onion (a small Vidalia onion)” -


… I'm mighty proud of Dr. Cranford, and I think the medical profession should be proud of him too. One of the most outrageous aspects of the whole sorry Schiavo circus was the willingness, nay, eagerness of complete idiots -- and even their inferiors, the cable news people -- to second guess the doctors. People you wouldn't trust to fix your downstairs toilet suddenly thought they know more about neurology than men and women who spent, oh, ten or twelve years of their lives learning to be doctors, and another two or three decades as practicing board-certified neurologists, and who repeatedly, over the course of ten years, two trials and more appeals than you can shake a catheter at, examined, tested and diagnosed Terri Schiavo -- making her probably the world's most over-treated patient. A poster child for excessive medical procedures.

I mean, I don't think the pope has gotten as much medical attention as Terri did. I doubt Leonid Breshnev had that many doctors. The CAT scans, MRIs and hyperbaric vaso...vaso...whatever tests alone probably added a couple of percentage points to GDP -- at a time when millions of unfamous Americans have no health coverage at all. But that's another outrage. Right now we're talking about how the Terri Schiavo case produced a national epidemic of TV faith healers (as if we didn't have enough of them already.)

Even the doctors second-guessed the doctors -- from 800 miles away. When the Senator from HCA, Bill Frist, got up in front of the cameras and offered his own personal diagnosis of a patient he'd never met, based on nothing more than a couple of video clips (wave to the camera, Terri!) you really had to wonder what comes next. Will Frist decide to perform open heart surgery on Dick Cheney, based on the vice president's appearance the next time they let him out in public?

"You look a little pale today, Dick. Why don't you get up on the table and let me rip out your left ventricle." (Actually, I'd be in favor of that.)

When the Frist for President Committee starts airing his ads, the FEC (or the FTC, or somebody) should make the bastard put in a disclaimer, something along the lines of: "I'm not a quack, but I played one on television . . ."

Frist, though, isn't an idiot -- just a politician who's had his ethical standards surgically removed in order to enhance his career. (Think of it as the inside-the-Beltway version of a Hollywood face lift.) But the mind-numbing stupidity displayed on the cable channels throughout the whole Schiavo saga truly was a sight to behold.

Nobody expects broadcast journalists to be medical experts. That would be like expecting the workers at your local sewage treatment plant to host a gourmet cooking show (actually, the odds on that one are probably higher.) But Christ, doesn't basic common sense suggest that an RN who tended Terri Schiavo six years ago might not be as believable as three board-certified neurologists who gave her a full medical examination in 2002? [Editor’s note: Regarding the nurse see Just Above Sunset here.]

Apparently not, even though the nurse's testimony was found not credible in a court of law and the neurologists' testimony was. Both were equal in the eyes of cable news -- just two more opposing witnesses to be examined on Scarborough Country, with Onion Joe as both judge and prosecutor, and the millions of semiconscious couch potatoes out there in living-room land as the jury.

We're fortunate, I guess, that the only life at stake in this particular kangaroo court was that of poor Terri Schiavo. For better or worse, good or evil, her time on this earth is over. But when I think of the thousands, or even millions, of lives that could ride on the next big trial-by-media -- when the topic might be war with North Korea or the reality of global warming or the copyright laws governing the music industry (I'm kidding! I'm kidding!) -- I get worried. Because right now, the corporate media (and the dumbed-down culture they've helped create) are looking more and more like the intellectual equivalent of Dr. Kevorkian. And any of us -- or all of us - could be their next patient.

Leaving me with the heartfelt question: Where is Dr. Sponge Bob when we really need him?




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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Paris readers add nine hours....