AP Reporter Does Sloppy and Superficial Job on Battin Story

The Associated Press presents a challenge to those of us concerned with media coverage. With the growth of electronic media and the downsizing of newsroom staffs, the Associated Press and other wire services play an increasingly dominant role in reporting stories and framing the relevant issues contained in those stories. When they get things wrong, the misinformation spreads like a computer virus.

Criticism of AP coverage isn’t new for us. Two of the four entries on our “Journalists’ Hall of Shame” page are devoted to AP reporters. Chicago Reader columnist Mike Miner and Diversity, Inc. both covered NDY’s complaints regarding the AP-Ipsos poll on Kevorkian and assisted suicide earlier this year.

This latest example of AP reporting isn’t so much about outright misinformation as it is about sloppiness and superficiality.

AP reporter William McCall’s story about the Battin study is making the rounds now in Oregon and Canada. Typically, McCall goes to pro-life sources for criticisms. This is a pattern for McCall who has seldom if ever mentioned disability opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, even in those cases in which disability groups filed friend of the court briefs, as in Oregon v. Ashcroft and Gonzales v. Oregon.

In this story, McCall’s main source for criticism of Battin and the study comes from quotes lifted from a prolife site. Readers unfamiliar with Alex Schadenberg and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition might assume that it’s a prolife group rather than a broad coalition of people opposed to legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia:

“This is a study that, at best, can be referred to as propaganda,” wrote Alex Schadenberg, head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, on the http://www.lifenews.com/ Web site.

That’s not the worst of this article, though. McCall touches on the undisclosed author conflict of interest issue when he identifies Death With Dignity National Center as an organization that is devoted to influencing public policy. He leaves the defenses put forth by both Battin and the director of the organization unchallenged. Peg Sandeen, director of DWD National Center, described Battin’s role in the organization as “minimal.”

That description doesn’t survive close scrutiny, at least in terms of her work with DWD board member Tim Quill. As we reported yesterday, Death With Dignity Board Member Tim Quill published a commentary in BMJ that covers some of the same ground as Battin’s study – and refers to it. Clearly, the study was shared with Quill for his effort to “spin” Battin’s study and impact the policy discussion in the medical community in the U.K. Quill didn’t disclose his professional affiliation with Death With Dignity National Center, either.

What else didn’t make it into McCall’s article?

Well, although the Oregon experience with assisted suicide is discussed in glowing detail, there is absolutely no mention of the scandal with the Nursing Review Board and its failure to report two nurses who admit “assisting” in a patient’s suicide. There is no evidence the patient requested this “assistance” and the time delay is so great that there are doubts of a successful prosecution even in regard to assisted suicide charges, let alone a charge of manslaughter or murder. In fact, there is no way of knowing if the case we already know about that the Nursing Board mishandled is an isolated case or the tip of the iceberg. Without real oversight and accountability, there’s no way to know.

McCall could have learned about these things if he’d bothered to call us, as he obviously reached out to Compassion and Choices. He knows who we are. He talked at length with Not Dead Yet president Diane Coleman a couple of years ago. I don’t know why he hasn’t picked up the phone since then to see if we have a new slant or some new information on a story.

Maybe it’s that he already has his story and doesn’t need people like us to mess it up by providing information and perspectives that depart from the established script.

The script? It’s pretty clear here at the end:

Assisted suicide is still opposed by a number of major groups, including the American Medical Association and the Roman Catholic Church.

No room for disability advocates or activists in that cast of characters. –Stephen Drake