Disability Group Blasts Associated Press for Inaccurate Reporting

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Disability activists are criticizing the Associated Press for inaccurate coverage of euthanasia in the Netherlands. Among other things, AP journalists are conflating "terminal illness" and "disability."

On August 8, a story was broadcast to news outlets all over the world from the Chicago AP office. The article concerns a new, predictable and self-serving study published by researchers in the Netherlands. AP Correspondent Tara Burghart provided the following as background information to readers:

“A study released Monday sheds new light on euthanasia in the Netherlands, the first country to legalize it for terminally ill people,”

And this…

“The study comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of euthanasia _ especially in the Netherlands, where officials acknowledged last year that they had carried out mercy killings of terminally ill newborns.”

What's wrong with this information?

“The first statement is at best misleading,” says Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group opposed to legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. “The Dutch “guidelines” for euthanasia aren't limited to people with a terminal condition at all. The second statement, regarding infant euthanasia, is just plain wrong. Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article regarding infant euthanasia in the Netherlands. It was clear that all 22 infants discussed in the article had spina bifida, which is not a terminal condition.”

Drake says it's clear that the misinformation was simply reproduced from an earlier article by Associated Press Correspondent Linda A. Johnson.

“Dealing with the AP is extremely frustrating. There is no ombudsman. There is no way to write a 'letter to the editor' to each and every publication when they get it wrong. The misinformation spreads like a virulent computer virus. And they don't issue corrections as a rule.”

Drake, who studies media coverage of euthanasia, says that the errors in the AP always seem to go in the same direction. Citing the earlier Johnson article, he notes it isn't the first time they've conflated “terminal illness” and “disability.” And they are even less receptive to getting called on their mistakes than newspapers, he says.

“Journalists,” says Drake, “have a duty to provide the public with accurate information about important policy issues when they write about them. Apparently, journalists at the AP are encouraged to disregard that duty.”

Not Dead Yet is a national disability rights group leading the disability community's opposition to legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide.

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