The media is never going to tell you that the information it provides is meaningless. But the thing about patient conditions -- good, stable, serious, critical -- is that they don't mean anything. That's why healthcare personnel can share them with reporters in the age of HIPAA
So in case you've ever wondered what exactly it means that a patient is fair -- it probably isn't a reference to his skin tone -- the media, thanks to the White House's spinning of Dick Cheney's allegedly accidental shooting of a fellow hunter
Saturday, which wasn't reported until Sunday (a fact supported by the flimsy excuse that they "were deferring to [ranch owner Katharine] Armstrong to handle the announcement of what happened on her property"), has provided you with "very stable" to ponder.
What exactly does "very stable" mean? How does it differ from "stable"? By comaprison, does "stable" now mean "a little stable"? But I thought "a little stable" meant "unstable."
Because it appears to be a description best applied to furniture or molecules, let's see what we can gather about the medical condition "very stable" from the facts of the shooting.
Cheney shot the victim, Harry Whittington, spraying him "with birdshot across his face, shoulder and chest
," Armstrong said.
Whittington was treated at the scene by emergency medical personnel who apparently routinely travel with Cheney (try to get your
HMO to spring for that) before being taken to a hospital in Kingsville. He was then flown by medical helicopter to Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital (was the first hospital full?), where he was admitted to the trauma-intensive care unit.
So it appears that "very stable" means you were treated by EMTs at the scene, taken to a hospital but needed to be transferred by helicopter to another hopsital, where you were admitted to the trauma-intensive care unit.
I hope none of you ever find yourselves in "very stable" condition.
Incidentally, media coverage of the shooting provides several prime examples of how the media can carry the administration's water without actually reporting anything false -- not that there haven't been plenty of instances of false reports from the media (Judy Miller, I'm looking at you).
What Cheney's handlers want to do is to minimize the importance of the shooting. To do that, the first thing that needs to happen is to emphasize that the shooting was accidental. Where better to do that than in the headline?
shoots fellow hunter
shoots hunting companion
Shot by Cheney Recovering
surprises expert hunter
Will there be political fallout from the accident
Bush knew of Cheney's hunting accident
a day before world did
CHENEY'S OFFICE DEFENDS LATE DISCLOSURE OF HUNTING ACCIDENT
Just to be sure that the point is hammered home, each of these stories uses the word "accident" again in the lede -- in the first sentence, as a matter of fact.
Next, the extent of Whittington's injuries has to be minimized. Let's see how that was accomplished.
"It's not critical
. It's not serious," (hospital administrator Peter) Banko said at a morning briefing. He said admitting Whittington to the trauma-intensive care unit was "a fairly common procedure" for a patient hit by a spray of the small pellets.
It may be true that the pellets were small, but the writer, just as honestly, could have written, "admitting Whittington to the trauma-intensive care unit was 'a fairly common procedure' for a patient hit by a shotgun blast." Notice a difference?
Armstrong said the shotgun pellets broke the skin
Whittington wasn't shot with a Red Ryer BB gun. The shotgun Cheney fired isn't a toy. The victim was taken to a hopsital, flown to another and admitted to trauma ICU. To point out that a shotgun blast broke the skin is like saying the 9/11 hijackers damaged the facade of the World Trade Center -- true, but a gross understatement.
“It knocked him silly
. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn’t get in his eyes or anything like that,” she said.
Whittington was shot in the cheek, neck and chest. It knocked him into the ICU, silly.
Another way to downplay Whittington's status as a shooting victim is simply not to refer to him as one. Look for the word "victim" in any of the stories referenced here. That isn't to say that other stories don't use the word "victim," but look how many don't.
Which brings us back to "very stable." It's true that Banko, the hospital administrator, used the phrase to describe Whittington's condition, but it appears that nobody bothered to ask him how that differs from "stable." The major difference appears to be that "very stable" sounds better.
I'm not saying that the shooting wasn't an accident. It probably was. What I'm saying is that the media are quick to conclude this was an accident before an investigation by law enforcement officials was completed -- before one was even started
, as a matter of fact.
No charges had been filed and reports on the incident were still pending Monday, said Sandra Guzman, secretary for Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III.
The local prosecutor's office had not been contacted, said Carlos Valdez, district attorney for a three-county district that includes Nueces, Kleberg and Kenedy counties. He said his office would become involved only if an investigative agency found a hint of criminal wrongdoing or a dispute about the facts.
How do you suppose his office is going to discover a dispute about the facts if it doesn't investigate?
Imagine this same incident happening in the backwoods of your community, just without Dick Cheney: Jethro Bodine shoots Cooter Davenport with a shotgun while out hunting. Davenport is flown to a healthcare facility equipped to treat his injuries and he's admitted to the trauma intensive care unit. Bodine insists the shooting was an accident, but it isn't reported to anyone for 24 hours.
When the local media finally get wind of the story, do you think the word "accident" is going to appear in the headline and the lede, and the word "victim" won't appear in the story at all -- before an investigation takes place
Even with the greenest rookie reporter and the laziest editor at the smallest weekly paper, that would never happen.UPDATE:
Dr. David Blanchard, the emergency room chief at Christus Spohn
, said Whittington was hit by "many, many" pellets. But he said most of the wounds were "superficial at best," and many of the pellets would be left inside Whittington's body.
Um, all wounds are superficial at best.
And just in case you were getting weary of hearing about how Whittington didn't announce himself, a not-so-subtle attempt to shift the blame
for the shooting from the shooter:
Hunting safety experts interviewed Monday agreed it would have been a good idea for Whittington to announce himself — something he apparently didn't do,
according to a witness. But they stressed that the shooter is responsible for
avoiding other people.
"It's incumbent upon the shooter to assess the situation and make sure it's a safe shot," said Mark Birkhauser, president-elect of the International Hunter Education Association and hunter education coordinator in New Mexico. "Once you squeeze that trigger, you can't bring that shot back."