Engaged, warm and thoughtful: The Jack Kevorkian I know

wallacebradyA week ago I strongly criticized the tongue bath interview that 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace had with Jack Kevorkian. Kevorkian was just released from prison for the murder of one of the 130 people whose lives he ended or helped to end. I believe my words might have been "disgusting and scandalous." The interview was really that bad.

Some readers got mad at me for harshing on the old man, but I stand by it, particularly since biased and puffy interviews such as Wallace's make people think the entire mainstream media establishment is rotten. If I may quote Spider-man, "With great power comes great responsibility." Or if I may quote Jesus completely out of context (everyone else does!), "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."

So reader Matt notified us of an interesting letter to the editor in the June 10 New York Times. Matt wrote:

For the record, Wallace forsook even the pretence of objectivity in a 10 June letter to the NYT, responding to the NYT's 5 June editorial criticizing Kevorkian's actions as counter-productive for the assisted suicide movement. Wallace wants us all to know that Kevorkian speaks Japanese and plays the flute. And though he will refrain from assisted suicides in the future, in compliance with his parole, spokesman Wallace assures us that Kevorkian will continue to advocate for changes in the laws. I'm sure we are all relieved and inspired.

I cannot imagine responding to an editorial by taking sides on an issue or person I'm actively covering. I mean, maybe if I was correcting a factual error, but not for a completely compromising personal defense. Here is the letter written by mainstream media journalist Mike Wallace:

Your June 5 editorial about Jack Kevorkian calls him "deluded and unrepentant." I disagree.

The Jack Kevorkian I know is a warm, engaged, thoughtful and compassionate individual who speaks Japanese, plays the flute, reads voraciously and is of academic bent. His lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan to commute his long sentence because he was in such bad physical shape.

He was down to a weight of 113 pounds at one point, had to endure waist and leg shackles whenever he was moved around, which resulted in an injury, and was prevented from speaking to the press about his incarceration.

He is a free man now, but must report regularly to his parole officer. He has promised not to assist in any further suicides. He is 79 years old and is being treated for problems with his liver.

In a letter to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist back in September 2000, Mr. Kevorkian wrote, "Today, more than half of all American physicians and an overwhelming majority of the public favor the decriminalization of euthanasia, and a significant number of physicians admit to performing it furtively."

Mr. Kevorkian, as a condition of his current parole, can no longer evangelize, as he used to, on the subject of euthanasia, but he is permitted to speak out for its legalization. He has told me he intends to do just that.

As I said in the original post: It's really hard to see why some people think the media are biased on human life issues, isn't it? Any such personal advocacy as that engaged in by Mike Wallace or The New York Times' Linda Greenhouse is unethical (or would be if journalists had ethical standards to which we were held accountable). But it's also interesting that the advocacy seems to point in one direction a bit more than another. Or, to be precise, compare the outrage the mainstream media expressed over the unimportant and unread Jeff Gannon's puffy questions to George W. Bush and the complete radio silence over Wallace and limited and ineffectual discussion of Greenhouse.

Photo of Mike Wallace speaking at a Brady event fundraiser.

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