The Magazine

The BBC, Joan Didion, and more.

Jun 6, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 36 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook's Decline and Pratfall

We have retracted and deleted the item comparing the BBC's coverage of the International Institute for Strategic Studies annual report to Reuters's coverage of the same, titled "The BBC's Decline and Further Decline." The BBC story we cited was a year old, from May 25, 2004, and covered the release of the IISS's "Strategic Survey 2003/04." The Reuters story covered the release last week of the IISS's "Strategic Survey 2004/05."

Joan of NYRB

The Scrapbook almost spilled its morning coffee upon opening the June 9 issue of the New York Review of Books and finding that Joan Didion had written . . . well, a remarkably forthright and evenhanded account of the Terri Schiavo case. In fact, Didion's essay is easily the best treatment of the case since Eric Cohen's essays in these pages (see "How Liberalism Failed Terri Schiavo," April 4, 2005, and "What Living Wills Won't Do," April 18, 2005). Everyone should read it. We're not joking.

Now, we always expect that Didion's prose will be sharp. What we weren't expecting was that she would aim her blade at liberals, especially the type who labeled as "fundamentalists" all those who felt that Michael Schiavo shouldn't be allowed to kill his wife. Here's Didion:

That this was a situation offering space for legitimate philosophical differences seemed obvious. Yet there remained, on the "rational" side of the argument, very little acknowledgment that there could be large numbers of people, not all of whom could be categorized as "fundamentalists" or "evangelicals," who were genuinely troubled by the ramifications of viewing a life as inadequate and so deciding to end it. There remained little acknowledgment even that the case was being badly handled, rendered unnecessarily inflammatory. There was an insensitivity in the timing of the removal of the feeding tube, which took place on the Friday before Palm Sunday, meaning that the gradual process of dying coincided with a week that for Christians has specifically to do with sacrificial suffering and death. "Oh come on," someone said when this was mentioned on a cable show. There was a further insensitivity in the fact that the tube was removed at all. If the sole intention is to terminate feeding and hydration, there is no need to remove a gastric feeding tube. All anyone need do is stop plunging the formula into the tube. . . . In this case, in the absence of some unusual circumstance that remained unreported, the sole purpose of actual removal would seem to have been to make any legally ordered resumption of feeding difficult to implement.

And here's Didion on the badly reported facts of the case:

Theresa Schiavo was repeatedly described as "brain dead." This was inaccurate: Those whose brains are dead are unable even to breathe, and can be kept alive only on ventilators. She was repeatedly described as "terminal." This too was inaccurate. She was "terminal" only in the sense that her husband had obtained a court order authorizing the removal of her feeding tube; her actual physical health was such that she managed to stay alive in a hospice, in which only palliative treatment is given and patients without antibiotics often die of the pneumonia that accompanies immobility or the bacteremia that accompanies urinary catheterization, for five years.

Even after the removal of the feeding tube, she lived thirteen days. The removal of this feeding tube was repeatedly described as "honoring her directive." This, again, was inaccurate: there was no directive.

It just gets better from there. To quote our blogger friends: Read the whole thing.

Unretracted

Last week The Scrapbook noted that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote (yet again) of Dick Cheney's March 16, 2003, claim that Iraq had "reconstituted" its nuclear weapons. Cohen demanded a retraction. Problem is, Cheney had retracted that claim--some 20 months before Cohen demanded a retraction. Cohen apparently missed it. So he used his column to scold the White House for scolding Newsweek on its bogus Koran-flushing story. Wrote Cohen: "Suffice it to say that for the White House and the Pentagon to come down on Newsweek for making a mistake is the height of hypocrisy."

Newsweek has retracted its story; Dick Cheney has retracted his erroneous comment; Cohen has done nothing. What was that again about "height of hypocrisy?"