updated 3/28/2005 1:17:54 PM ET 2005-03-28T18:17:54

Guest: Laurence Moskowitz, Barbara Cochran, Hilary Rosen, David Frum, David Shuster, James Gilmore, Michele Finn

ANDREA MITCHELL, HOST:  Terri Schiavo‘s parents are back in court, trying to keep their severely brain-damaged daughter alive.  But time and their legal options are running out.  Tonight, the latest developments in this life-and-death case. 

Sitting in for Chris Matthews, I‘m Andrea Mitchell.  Let‘s play


Good evening.  I‘m Andrea Mitchell, in for Chris Matthews. 

One week after Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube was removed, her parents are fighting against time as they try to get it reinserted.  Today, they filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, saying Schiavo‘s due process and religious rights are being violated.  And, in a Florida court, Terri Schiavo‘s parent say she can communicate and they say that she has indicated that she wants to live. 

NBC‘s Mark Potter is standing by for us outside Schiavo‘s hospice in Florida. 

But we begin tonight with NBC justice correspondent Pete Williams in Washington. 

Pete, is there any legal evidence based on the record—and you‘ve been following it throughout—that she can communicate this desire to live at this late date? 

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, every state judge that has looked at this question says no. 

Now, what the—what the filing from the parents‘ lawyers today is that, one week ago, the day when the feed and water tubes were disconnected, that a member of the law firm for the parents was at her bedside and said, you know, Ms. Schiavo, you can end this whole case if you would just say this sentence:  I want to live. 

Then, according to this affidavit filed by the family, Terri Schiavo said, “ah” and then “wa.”  And they say they believe that was her trying to make the sentence, I want to live. 

Now, we have not had contrary evidence from the lawyers for Michael Schiavo, but they have claimed before that a person in Terri Schiavo‘s condition can make noises and does make noises and that this isn‘t an indication of anything. 

MITCHELL:  Pete, hasn‘t that been one of the issues?  The judges have all ruled that, when you look at the entire tapes, for instance, that the noises and the motions and the responses are really randomized.  They are neurological responses. 

WILLIAMS:  That‘s right. 

MITCHELL:  And that they‘re not responding to parental prompts or in this case the lawyer‘s prompt. 

WILLIAMS:  That‘s right.  These are—you know, you have to ask yourself why does this claim now come in a week after it was supposed to have happened?  And the lawyers for Michael Schiavo in the federal court today, in asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals not to issue an injunction to restore the tubes, they say that the filings of the lawyers for the parents have become increasingly thin legally and that they are what they call last-ditch efforts, strictly appeals to emotion. 

MITCHELL:  Pete, they are back in federal court.  They‘re back in local court each time there is a different legal claim.  Can this go on forever?  When—if there are unlimited funds for this, when would this end? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, of course we know one way that it would end. 

MITCHELL:  Of course, sadly.

WILLIAMS:  And that‘s if Terri Schiavo‘s life ends. 

But, in terms of the claims, you know, the legal scholars I‘ve talked to say they could probably keep going as long as the patience of the courts hold out, which in this case probably will be a long time.  You know, the courts have really jumped through hoops to try to issue rulings very, very quickly.  And I think, given the fact that Congress passed a law, the high profile this has, the emotion involve and the legitimate claims on both sides, that they would have an extreme amount of patience and would keep these things coming. 

But, you know, the—the parents‘ lawyers face the same problem. 

They can‘t yet meet that legal hurdle they need to succeed. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you very much for all of your expertise on this, Pete Williams. 

WILLIAMS:  You bet. 

MITCHELL:  And let‘s now get the latest from Florida and NBC‘s Mark Potter, who is outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice. 

Mark, it‘s been quite an emotional scene there all day, has it not?

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely, another roller-coaster day. 

We‘re standing by for a statement from Bob Schindler, Terri Schiavo‘s father.  He is expected to come to the microphones in just a few minutes, as the crowd outside the hospice continues to wait for those two rulings, one from the appeals court, the other from that circuit judge, Bob Schindler coming to the microphones.  Let‘s go to him now. 


BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  And the effects of her starvation and hydration are showing more so. 

She is still responsive.  She saw her mother and she smiled to her mother again.  But she‘s not verbalizing, like she was before.  So, that‘s been a change.  And I hugged her and I kissed her.  And I got the lemon face from her again, which was encouraging.  But I told her that we‘re still fighting for her and she shouldn‘t give up, because we‘re not. 

But I think the people who are anxious to see her die are getting their wish.  It‘s happening.  That‘s all I have to say. 

POTTER:  Well, another emotional statement from Bob Schindler.  He spoke earlier today. 

This statement a little bit different.  Earlier today, he said that he thought she only had a few hours left.  Today, he gave a—just now, he gave a more hopeful picture of her, at least from the standpoint of the family, hoping to grasp on to anything.  This has been a very—a desperate day for the family and for their supporters. 

They realize that legal fight is ending, even though there are still a couple of rulings pending.  But the sense here, with all the prayers, the Good Friday services, the prayers for Terri, efforts to take water into her, the various things that have been going on here today, that this is a case that is winding down, a legal effort that is ending.  And there is a sense of desperation as they await the ruling from the appeals court and a ruling from the circuit court judge on that claim about Terri speaking.  That ruling should come by noon tomorrow—Andrea, back to you. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you very much, Mark Potter.

The Terri Schiavo case, of course, is not the first right-to-die case to be played out in public.  In 1990, Nancy Cruzan‘s family won the right to have her feeding tube removed after seven years of court battles and political interventions, as did Hugh Finn‘s family.  The popular local anchorman was kept alive with a feeding tube after suffering brain damage in a car accident in 1995. 

They fought for his right to die.  She ultimately prevailed, but paid an incredible emotional toll. 

Michele Finn is with us this evening to share her personal story. 

Michele, thank you very much for being willing to come forward and talk.  And I know it has taken a long time to get through this, and now you‘re reliving it through their family. 

First of all, in watching this play out in Florida, what is that family going through and how do you assess the competing tensions and emotions and legal claims? 

MICHELE FINN, BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION OF KENTUCKY:  They‘re both going through extremely difficult and emotional times.  And I feel for both sides of the family.  And then the government intervention in the case has I think exasperated it for both sides of the family. 

MITCHELL:  What about the parental claim?  You dealt with this from your late husband‘s family.  The parental claim that they should have the right to keep Terri Schiavo alive, that there‘s no real harm done to that, how do you respond to that? 

FINN:  I think that the spousal relationship should take precedent over that.  They know that person.  Their spouse is an adult, whereas—you know, I empathize.  I sincerely empathize with the Schindler family and that that is their child.  But the spouse should know that person as an adult and what their wishes are. 

MITCHELL:  Now, in your case, you said just now that political

intervention is making things worse.  In your case, the former Governor

James Gilmore in Virginia—and we‘re going to talk to him later tonight -

·         that his intervention hurt further.  How did you react to that?  And how did it impact your—what you were going through? 

FINN:  It came—actually, I was blindsided by it.  You know, it just never occurred to me that the governor of a state would intervene on such a personal and extremely sensitive issue for one individual person. 

And I can empathize with Michael Schiavo over that particular intervention.  The thing that really concerns me is not only Governor Gilmore‘s statements regarding this issue, but other U.S. congressmen regarding the erosion of people with disabilities.  It just seems so disingenuous to me, because, with my work that I have devoted to the Brain Injury Association, you know, I know that, for the over five million people in this country that have traumatic brain injury, government spending for those people is $2.55 per person per year, and that President Bush has zeroed out the amount of money that was allocated in the budget for the Traumatic Brain Injury Act that would also give money to states to help prevent these injuries in the first place and help give services for these people. 

MITCHELL:  Do you think, as a nation, that we learn anything from these cases, from seeing this family drama being played out on the national landscape? 

FINN:  I think that what people need to get out of this is that it is extremely important for you to make sure that you have your living will signed and that you have a surrogate decision-maker and that you discuss those issues with your family and friends, so that your family members do not have to go through the devastating effects of a decision like this in any kind of public forum. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you very much, Michele Finn.  Our best to you.  And, again, we are grateful to you for coming on and talking about this. 

FINN:  Thank you for having me. 

MITCHELL:  Coming up—well, coming up, the other side of the story, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, who intervened to stop the removal of the feeding tube that kept Hugh Finn alive. 

And later, the political tug of war over the Schiavo case.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MITCHELL:  Coming up, with time and the legal options running out, what can be done now to keep Terri Schiavo alive?

HARDBALL returns after this.



MITCHELL:  Much like Florida Governor Jeb Bush‘s involvement in the Schiavo case, James Gilmore intervened in the Hugh Finn case.  As the governor of Virginia, he filed a motion in state court to stop the withdrawal of Finn‘s feeding tube.  When that was denied, the governor went to the state Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal.  Hugh Finn died in 1998, of course, as we‘ve been discussing, after that feeding tube was removed. 

James Gilmore is with us this evening to share his thoughts on right-to-die cases. 

Governor, welcome.

We‘ve heard from Michele Finn on the pain that the government‘s intervention, your intervention, caused her.  What right does the government have to intervene in these cases? 

JAMES GILMORE ®, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR:  Well, you know, Andrea, that night, we were getting a late 11th hour report that the feeding tube was about to be withdrawn.  If we had taken no action of any kind, it would have been withdrawn and Hugh Finn would have died.  And so there wouldn‘t have been an opportunity to really investigate and to see what was going on.  And we were getting mixed information. 

We were getting information from the family, which came to us, brought the matter to us, and said that the reports that Hugh Finn was always in a vegetative state were not accurate, that they had communicated with him.  We had information from a nurse that we had sent up to conduct a preliminary investigation that he had spoken to her.  So, we were uncertain about what the situation was. 

We thought we ought to just take a time out, file an action, hold things in place until we could see what was going on.  And the second thing is that the law in Virginia gives the governor the perfect right to intervene to look after disabled people who can‘t help themselves and are completely vulnerable.  And that‘s what we thought we should do. 

MITCHELL:  But isn‘t the law clear that the spouse has the right of custody and that the spouse knows best what the person involved wanted?  Isn‘t that really what the law eventually did decide?

GILMORE:  Well, certainly—the courts certainly did eventually look into that and certainly did rule that way. 

But, at the same time, the governor certainly has the power in most states, in many states, to look after somebody who is completely disabled, completely at the mercy of someone else.  We do this, by the way, in child cases, for example, where the child is at the mercy of someone else and there is a state interest in making sure that someone is not taken advantage of or misused. 

This is a case of a disable person, a person who couldn‘t feed themselves and was being fed by a tube.  And, you know, I think you have to be very thoughtful about people who are disabled and make sure that they are properly being cared for. 

MITCHELL:  You know, these kinds of decisions are made all the time by families, and in Alzheimer‘s cases, in Parkinson‘s cases, in other cases where feeding tubes are involved.  And usually the doctor goes to the son or daughter or the person involved, the spouse, and it‘s done in a very almost routine way, even though there is a huge emotional impact for the family.  How can we handle these kinds of decisions if they‘re going to be to become national causes, the way this one has?

GILMORE:  Well, I don‘t think they should be national causes.  And I certainly don‘t think there should be any politicization. 

And I think the Hugh Finn case was—I‘m sorry to say, became a political football.  And, as governor, I was trying to intervene to make sure that disabled people and someone who was helpless could be looked after.  But I think that, usually, when a person is being kept alive artificially, that you certainly would expect the next of kin to be in a position to take that kind of position.  And I think that‘s what the courts were ruling. 

These cases, I think, were different.  This is not a person being kept alive artificially.  This is about a person who‘s being fed in the same way that all of us are fed.  It‘s just this person was disabled and couldn‘t have that done.  And, meanwhile, the family people had come to us and were expressing real concern over these—over the factual basis of the matter. 

MITCHELL:  You know, you said that we shouldn‘t make these cases political footballs.  Yet, Congress came back during a recess.  The president flew back from Waco in an extraordinary gesture. 

The governor of Florida is in some respects competing against Senate majority leader, at least in the political sphere.  How could this not be a political football?  You‘re a former Republican national chairman.  You can see the impact here. 

GILMORE:  Yes.  And I think that I would draw this distinction. 

In the Hugh Finn case, it was certainly just an onslaught.  And it was all being done in the legislature, which was very, very partisan and very, very political.  And I was very saddened by that, because I never intended anything like that to happen, when I was simply trying to exercise an appropriate power. 

In this instance, it looks to me like that what the really—issue was whether or not there is a federal right to have these matters seen in the federal courts or not.  The Congress and the president decided that there should be.  I don‘t think they were trying to dictate a result.  And, in fact, the result so far has not occurred that way. 

MITCHELL:  Well, no matter what the motivation might be, does this have an impact on shoring up the evangelical base and, despite the polling, where most Americans seem to feel that the government should not have intervened, does it help the Republican Party energize the very people who voted on—quote, unquote—“values” and were an important factor in this reelection? 

GILMORE:  I don‘t know if I can answer that, to tell you the truth. 

But I can say this.  I think we should not miss an opportunity to begin to address these issues in a quiet and sensible way.  And that has been a real challenge in these cases.  We may miss the opportunity to address the issue of what happens when a person is in a state like this and a family wants to look after the person, says they‘re happy to do that.  And why shouldn‘t we have a situation where the spouse can go their way and make their life and the mother and father can care for the disabled child? 

And we don‘t have that answer once again.  And I fear that we may be addressing these issues over and over again.  And maybe the legislature is the right place to discuss it. 

MITCHELL:  Well, you took a lot of heat for what you did.

GILMORE:  I did, indeed.

MITCHELL:  And I appreciate your having the guts to come in here tonight and talk about it.  Thank you very much.


GILMORE:  ... Andrea.

MITCHELL:  And some of President Bush‘s critics say that his attempts to get involved in the Schiavo case are not consistent with his past actions.  When we return, we will be joined by HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster for that story.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Andrea Mitchell, sitting in for Chris Matthews.

This week, in signing the Terri Schiavo passed by Congress, President Bush said that we should—quote—“err on the side of life.”  That is now prompting cries of hypocrisy because of a law the president signed when he was governor of Texas. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is here with more tonight.

David, what about the law that he signed?  What was it?  Was it an analogous case? 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Andrea, sort of.  It was called the Advance Directives Act of 1999.  And it basically said that, when a patient is on life support, and life support includes a feeding tube, the patients‘ surrogates, such as a spouse or family member, is given some power to make life-ending decisions. 

The life also said that, when there‘s a dispute among family members, such as the family wants to take them off of life support or wants to keep them on life support and the doctors disagree, that dispute then goes to a bioethics committee at that hospital.  The Hospital Bioethics Committee makes the decision.  If the family doesn‘t like it, they have got 10 days to come up with another hospital or to take this to court. 

One of the reasons that this came up this week, Andrea, is because of the case of Wanda Hudson one in Houston.  This is the first time that this law, signed by then Governor Bush in 1999, has actually been challenged.  She gave birth to a baby boy.  He was put on life support, had an incurable disease.  The doctors said he should be taken off life support.  He should be allowed to die.  She didn‘t want that to happen. 

But the doctors relied on this particular law in the end to finally go ahead and take him off life support, and the baby died this week.  The other thing, the other reason this has caught so much attention is, the bioethicists and the legal scholars in Texas who take a look at this law, they say, if you look apply the facts of the Schiavo case, Michael Schiavo would have been declared the surrogate and this case would have been resolved years ago. 

MITCHELL:  So, that does raise questions about consistency on the part of then Governor Bush and now President Bush.  I mean, the sanctity of life is I guess the umbrella issue, but when you make choices between family members, if there‘s a dispute in the case, who is to decide which family member in charge? 

SHUSTER:  Well, and clearly—the law makes it very clear that the surrogate would be the spouse and not other family members and that, if there is a dispute, it goes to this committee. 

The White House this week has been trying to draw attention away from what may seem like inconsistencies.

MITCHELL:  Yes, what is their response to this?  How do they explain what George W. Bush did when he was governor vs. what he is now saying as president? 

SHUSTER:  Well, what they‘re saying is that this law was originally intended to try to give some patients some power, because they point out that, back in 1999, there was no real power for a patient surrogates.  Basically, the doctors would make a decision and then family members had three days to fight it. 

They‘re saying, look, we gave some patient surrogates the power.  But other people suggest, well, wait a second.  This is a sense of inconsistency, because, on the one hand, you‘re allowing patients to make some decisions, patients‘ families to make decisions and here the federal government, based on this law, is allowing the federal government to try to intervene. 

MITCHELL:  Chris, the president seems to have stepped back somewhat, in that he is not out front as much as his brother is.  But it seems as though, after that initial flurry last weekend, they‘re looking at either the polls or they‘re looking at the court decisions and realizing that there‘s an inevitability about what is happening. 

SHUSTER:  I think that‘s absolutely right. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you very much, David Shuster.

And, when we come back, life-and-death politics.  Will there be a backlash against Congress and the president for getting involved in the Schiavo case? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 



MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Andrea Mitchell, sitting in for Chris Matthews. 

The Terri Schiavo case has launched a national political battle over who decides her fate.  Is it her husband, her parents?  Is it the courts, Congress, or even the president? 

For more on this debate, we now turn to Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and David Frum, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and a regular columnist for NationalReview.com. 

Welcome to both of you.


MITCHELL:  David, to both of you. 

David, we‘ve heard a lot today and actually for several weeks now about how painful these choices are.  We heard earlier tonight from Michele Finn about what she went through with her husband, her late husband.  Why is this the business of the government?  Why is this not, according to any libertarian or conservative point of view, something for personal decision-making and not for intervention? 

FRUM:  Well, the government is there.  It is government marshals that are keeping out the people who want to bring ice chips to this woman.  It is the government that is deciding that it is this branch of the family, rather than that branch of the family, that makes the decision. 

You know, it is not automatic that a husband or a wife gets to make a decision for the other. 


MITCHELL:  It is under Florida state law and under every judge.  It‘s 19 rulings and now more than that. 

FRUM:  Exactly.  Exactly.  But that is an act of the state that awards this guardianship to one or the other.  Normally, normally, it is not automatic that marriage gives you the right of life or death.  It is one of the things the state assigns.  So, the government is implicated in this. 

And it would be different—I think most people—I would feel it was different if the woman herself had spoken clearly and had left behind some kind of legal document. 

MITCHELL:  But the legal—the legal base, the foundation that‘s been established in all of these court decisions is that she did, according to three witnesses. 

FRUM:  If—the courts have believed it.  Many others don‘t.  And I think one of the things that is going to have large implications...


The courts have believed it , but many others don‘t?  Come on.  We‘ll leave aside the question that this raises about, all of a sudden, the conservatives who for a year have been talking about nothing but the sanctity of marriage, all of a sudden, marriage isn‘t that important anymore.  Parental rights are more important. 

The—this issue said—very clearly went the way so many issues do, which is, there‘s a dispute.  There‘s a family dispute.  It is the grandmother vs. the mother.  It‘ the father vs. the mother.  It is the husband vs. the wife.  It goes to court.  The facts are put out before the judge and the judge makes decisions.  These decisions have been made by judges on all sides of the political spectrum over and over and over again. 

MITCHELL:  But, Hilary, what if, in this case or some other case, what if the spouse has another vested interest and the courts or others involved, other family members believe that this person requires protection? 

ROSEN:  That‘s exactly the role of the court in this country, is to look at the facts and that, you might—he might have been able to fool one judge, two judges, three judges.  But these facts have been presented in so many different cases, in so many different forum, that it just would not be the case anymore. 

What has happened here is just the worst sort of political opportunism.  And it has turned into this by the Republicans, for no fathomable reason other than politics.  You‘ve got the conservative leaders on the phone with Congressman Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, with the members of Congress, urging on their supporters to keep at this, keep the money flowing, keep the energy going.  We‘re going to get this. 


ROSEN:  This is the reason why we‘re going further. 

MITCHELL:  The Democrats are too afraid to even speak out. 

ROSEN:  No, the Democrats are doing the right thing.  They‘re saying, we‘re not going to engage in political opportunism.  We‘re going to be more quiet.

MITCHELL:  Are they running for cover, Hilary?


ROSEN:  No.  Why—just because the Democrats have decided that this is not a role that they should be jumping out in front of, you can‘t accuse them of running for cover.  You can accuse them of showing appropriate restraint. 

FRUM:  When a politician shows restraint, part of it may be that uncharacteristic high-mindedness that Democrats succumb to every—once every 30 or 40 years, but it may also be cowardice, because I think one of the things that—to go to the politics, aside from the legalities, that I think many Democrats realize that, despite those polls that show 60, 70 percent of the public going one way, this is a very... 

MITCHELL:  More than that. 

FRUM:  This is a very dangerous issue for them.  Those polls—because those polls...

ROSEN:  That‘s ridiculous. 

FRUM:  Because, here in these TV studios, we‘re interested in the large ideological meaning of this case. 

But I think, in America land, people get very caught up in the particulars of the facts. 


FRUM:  And to take, for example, the view that many people take, and I think that you‘ve been speaking for, you have to believe certain things about the family. 

As people become interested in the particularities, who are the people, who are the personalities, they are going to come maybe to some different views about, you know, do you want to stand with one side of the family or do you want to stand with the other? 


ROSEN:  Or might you suggest at some point in your life, you‘re going to face a situation where you want to be able to make your own decisions?


ROSEN:  Where you don‘t want the government to step in and make that decision for you.  To suggest that that is cowardice and it is courage to interfere is just appalling. 

MITCHELL:  What about the interest groups that have glommed on to this?  Now, you look at these Web sites now that are linked to the parents‘ fund-raising effort.  And every conservative interest group involving anti-gay rights, they‘re all linked into this and are trying to raise money off this woman‘s tragedy. 


ROSEN:  And a conservative leader said today the gift that this woman has given the conservative Christian movement is that the money is flowing. 

MITCHELL:  Randall Terry.

FRUM:  This is—this is—this is an issue of obvious—of intense, intense concern to the right side of the political spectrum I think much more so. 


MITCHELL:  Isn‘t it a little bit unseemly?


ROSEN:  ... by the politicians.

FRUM:  But—but look.  Just think—think for a moment how this looks to people on that side of the issue, that what they see is—this has become a symbol of courts and a political system that are heading toward the way of ancient Rome, in which there is a state-ordered death going on in front of their eyes.  There are state troopers barring people who want to give the woman food and water. 


MITCHELL:  Come on.  This happens every day in family decisions in hospital rooms around the country. 


FRUM:  But there is something—there is a difference between knowing it and seeing it.  And what has happened in this case is, America has had to look at something.  And there are a lot of people who have responded and said, this is awful.  There is a person being starved to death by order of the courts and that starvation process...


MITCHELL:  Using the word starved is a loaded term. 


FRUM:  Dying because of lack of food and water.

ROSEN:  Andrea is right. 

This does happen every day all over the country for all sorts of rational medical reasons, the very same medical reasons that led Michael Schiavo and the courts to agree with the doctors‘ recommendations in these cases.

FRUM:  And I think because most people are not ideological.

ROSEN:  Nineteen doctors and neurologists evaluated her, not for the husband, but for the courts, and came to the same conclusion. 

FRUM:  And I think because most people are not—because most people are not ideological.  I think most people will have the response.

And if this reflects a genuine consensus in the family, that‘s one thing.  What has happened here is, you have a family dispute that has become a national dispute.  And the way a lot of people are—a lot of women voters in particular are going to see is, the Democrats are standing with Michael Schiavo.  The Republicans are standing with the grandparents.

MITCHELL:  Well, we‘ll talk about—we‘ll talk more about the politics in a moment. 

We‘ll be right back with Hilary Rosen and David Frum.

And, later, manufacturing the news.  Should the government supply TV news stations with ready-for-air reports paid for by your tax dollars or are journalists at fault for running them?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MITCHELL:  Coming up, does the Bush administration‘s use of prepackaged video reports amount to propaganda or should TV stations be more careful about what they air? 

HARDBALL returns after this.



MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Hillary Rosen and David Frum.

And a new Gallup poll has bad news for President Bush.  His approval rating has dropped to 45 percent, the lowest point in his presidency.  That number was 52 percent only last week.

David, is this politically backfiring for the Bush White House?  Or is it Social Security, you think? 

FRUM:  I think it has to be Social Security.  This is an issue, the Schiavo case, that has exploded in the past, really, few days.  And it is not a big issue for President Bush.  He has taken—he has sided..


MITCHELL:  ... last weekend, when he flew back. 

FRUM:  Yes.  He has took a side, but it has not been front and center for him in the way that Social Security is. 

And I wish it were otherwise, because I care a lot about Social Security.  But you—it does feel like the Republicans are losing that fight. 

MITCHELL:  And does this—does whole controversy over Schiavo catapult Jeb Bush into prominence for the 2008 nomination, if he were to want it, and despite his denials, because of the values debate, or does it hurt him because he is going to be viewed as following the law and not charging into the hospice with the National Guard? 

FRUM:  I think there are many, many Republicans who say, if Jeb Bush‘s name were anything other than Bush, he would be the obvious, logical choice for 2008. 

MITCHELL:  Doesn‘t his name help him? 

FRUM:  His name hurts him.  It is a terrible—it hurts him fatally. 

MITCHELL:  Let me ask you, Hilary, because we don‘t have a whole lot of time, what about the Democrats?  Does this values debate over Terri Schiavo, life or death, hurt the Democrats because they‘re viewed as being squishy on it? 

ROSEN:  I don‘t think it is a values debate.  I don‘t think that there is anybody—that either side here has a monopoly on values. 

Terri Schiavo is alive—is—care today is being cared for because of a medical malpractice suit that President Bush and Bill Frist and Tom DeLay are trying to eliminate in Congress.  If she—it wasn‘t that, it would be Medicare.  Medicaid would be paying for her disability.  They‘re trying to cut that.  The fact is...


MITCHELL:  But that‘s not the message that is getting through to the American people. 

ROSEN:  But those are the values that I think you will end up finding.  Democrats are not going to exploit the Schiavo family, the way the Republicans have consistently done so.  You‘re going to see them start to talk about the issues that real people care about, which is, how if I were in this situation would I be cared for by the government? 


ROSEN:  Not how would the government be intruding in my family, making decisions for me. 

FRUM:  Democrats are going to keep a big distance from their Schiavo.

ROSEN:  So I think it is very clear that there will not be this kind of case going forward. 

Jeb Bush is solidifying a conservative base.  The polls overwhelmingly show they do not want politicians to exploit people‘s personal lives this way. 

MITCHELL:  In 10 seconds, David.

FRUM:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  Is the—are Republicans going to go out and campaign on this? 

FRUM:  No.  This will be a—it will leave—it will leave a powerful memory, I think, upon not just conservatives, but among women, among the disabled, about who is on which side of these great life issues. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you both very much.  Thank you, Hilary Rosen and David Frum.

And when we come back, is the Bush administration crossing the line by supplying TV news stations with prepackaged reports?  Or is the media to blame for airing them? 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


ABRAMS:  Welcome to HARDBALL.  I‘m Andrea Mitchell, sitting in for Chris Matthews.

The White House is working on its public relations strategy at home, as well as abroad.  Government-issued video news releases, or VNRs, are popping up on news broadcasts nationwide.  Today, congressional investigators announced that they will look into whether the Bush administration broke the law when it paid syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher to tout its marriage views. 

Is this propaganda or public relations?  And should our tax dollars pay for it? 

Barbara Cochran is the president of the Radio Television News Directors Association.  And Larry Moskowitz, is the president of Medialink, the largest producer of video news releases nationwide. 

Welcome to both.

Barbara, what is wrong with video news releases, with the government putting out its version of reality? 


ASSOCIATION:  Well, fake news has no place in real news, Andrea.

And while some of these video news releases do contain information that is useful to the public and, after all, that information is being collected with taxpayer dollars, still, when it gets to a newsroom, if the newsroom decides that they‘re going to use this material, it must be clearly identified, so that the viewer out there, the audience, knows where this information is coming from, what the origin is, and they‘re not being fooled. 

MITCHELL:  Well, since 1951 -- Larry Moskowitz, since 1951, there has been a government ban, congressional ban on propaganda and on misleading information coming from the government.  So, why participate in this, other than to make—make a buck? 

LAURENCE MOSKOWITZ, PRESIDENT, MEDIALINK:  Well, the video news release actually goes—predates the Eisenhower administration. 

The most broadly seen, widely seen around the world was the moon landing.  I don‘t think there was a network crew up on the moon with Neil Armstrong.  We see video news releases every single day.  The movie trailers that make up every entertainment segment are, of course, video news releases. 

And to focus in on the government, where I grew up, I always learned the government has a duty and a responsibility to inform, warn, and advise the public.  Most of the things we‘ve been involved in...


MOSKOWITZ:  Well, let me just kind of put this in a little perspective. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission showing how a baby carriage could collapse and warning parents about that, and that‘s why it is being recalled, is the kind of typical video news release the government does. 

MITCHELL:  Yes, but, Mr. Moskowitz, you‘re talking about the moon landing.  Obviously, television networks were not up there with the Apollo landing.  But what that provides is pictures, exclusive pictures, such as a missile test that the Pentagon would put out.  That‘s not the same as narrating a package, with someone saying, I am Tom Green from the Agriculture Department or whatever and presenting it, having it fed out through syndicated services to local stations around the country and having them carry it verbatim. 

MOSKOWITZ:  Well, I think how they use it is up to them. 

The key is disclosure.  And every video news release—in fact, we submitted to the RTNDA back in 1989 a set of disclosure requirements that we were submitting, the RTNDA accepted and the industry basically follows, where all these pieces—they‘re basically press releases, Andrea.  And just as school closings in winter are announced in press releases from the local schools, these announce various mergers, acquisitions, new cars, new films, new products, new drugs that have been approved by the FDA.

And a lot of this footage, stations wouldn‘t otherwise have.  It could be the wind tunnel testing of a new car.  It could be those crash tests that you see on television all the time or the video news releases that we distribute. 

MITCHELL:  OK, fair point. 

Barbara Cochran, why are local news directors around the country taking things and throwing them on the air to fill their newscasts, rather than having journalists research them, report them and write them and perhaps use the video, labeling it as government pictures?

COCHRAN:  Well, I think that the news directors are all pretty clear about what their policy is, that, if this material is used, it needs to be clearly identified. 

I think where we‘ve seen a breakdown is how this policy gets translated down to the level of the producer who is working the overnight shift or the weekend shift and suddenly has a two-minute hold and grabs something that is technically—technically very available.  And they may not realize where it is coming from. 

MITCHELL:  We‘ve seen instances where a local reporter or a local anchor will deliberately rerecord, renarrate something that was written by a P.R. person working for the government. 

COCHRAN:  Well...

MITCHELL:  And that has to be done with either the producer or the news director‘s knowledge.  That‘s not the overnight shift. 

COCHRAN:  Well, I think that what happened when this all became public was, it was a wakeup to newsrooms that they need to have a policy.  They need to make sure that that policy is understood and understood at every level of the newsroom. 

And my guess is, these instances that we‘ve seen, which I think are pretty few and far between, when you consider the thousands and thousands of hours that any local station puts out every year in terms of news, I think that we will see zero, or close to zero, use of these kind of uses without being identified in the future. 

MITCHELL:  Now, Mr. Moskowitz, this did start under Bill Clinton.  But the current administration has doubled the amount. 

I talked to someone in the Reagan White House the other night who said that they had proposed doing this, and they killed the idea, because doing fake news, even for the Reagan administration, which was so expert at orchestrating the president‘s public appearances, that crossed a line, an ethical line.

MOSKOWITZ:  Simply not true. 

MITCHELL:  These—I can show you video news releases produced under the Eisenhower, the Kennedy...

MITCHELL:  You‘re talking about the Agriculture Department releases.


MITCHELL:  But you‘re not talking about this coverage of the Iraq elections that we saw coming out.  You know, it‘s one thing to put out pictures from the Iraqi election.  And all the networks were there covering it.  But the State Department put out all of these videos showing how happy the Iraqis were to finally be voting. 

MOSKOWITZ:  Interestingly...

MITCHELL:  Without any other kinds of reporting.


Interestingly—and, no. 1, we weren‘t involved in any of that.  And the work we do is usually this kind of more agriculture-oriented, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Centers For Disease Control.  So, I‘m only speaking to what I‘ve seen and read myself and what we know. 

But the federal government has been very, very active in this whole arena, again, with the notion of trying to inform the public and bring pictures that otherwise they wouldn‘t have.  Let‘s make one point very, very clear.  They‘ve all—everything I‘ve seen has been fully identified as a government production with a contact name and number.  So, it is the stations—it is not fed to the stations in a way that is obscuring all that. 

It is blatantly clear in two or three different manners, including that contact name and number and who it was produced for.  So, they have every ability to use it in any way they wish. 

MITCHELL:  Well, I have got to tell you, I‘ve seen some of these feeds.  And we have feeds coming in from around the world that don‘t have the proper labels and the proper bugs.  I‘ve got to tell you. 

And it is a real crisis of confidence in our industry, Barbara. 

COCHRAN:  Exactly. 

I mean, why does government want to have its information going into local newscasts?  It is because the local newscast is the most used source of news in this country and it is the most trusted source of use—of news in this country.  And we need to protect the credibility of that very valuable item. 

MITCHELL:  OK, well, thank you very much, Barbara Cochran, Larry Moskowitz.  Thank you both.

MOSKOWITZ:  Thank you. 

MITCHELL:  For Chris Matthews, I‘m Andrea Mitchell.  Join us again Monday at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”


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