JIM LEHRER: Now, the Schiavo case as a public and media event. Terence Smith is here for that.
Terry, how big an event has this been for the American public?
TERENCE SMITH: Huge. It's received wall-to-wall coverage in newspapers, broadcast television, cable news, the Internet, across the board.
JIM LEHRER: In network news, for instance, give us some feel for how much coverage it has received?
TERENCE SMITH: Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report studies the content of the broadcast network evening news broadcasts, says that over five weeknights, the last five weeknights, the three broadcasts together have devoted 60 minutes, an entire hour, to the coverage of this story.
That is an extraordinary amount since they only have about 22 minutes each, each night to cover the world.
JIM LEHRER: How does that compare with previous stories? Is there any way to compare it?
TERENCE SMITH: It's right up at the top. For example, a comparable case, Andrew Tyndall suggested, was the case of Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban refugee boy -
JIM LEHRER: In Florida. Also in Florida.
TERENCE SMITH: -- also in Florida, a great standoff there for a long time. Eventually he was returned when law enforcement stepped in to his father.
But it had the same sort of evocative, emotional content to the story.
JIM LEHRER: And cable news, wall-to-wall?
TERENCE SMITH: Wall-to-wall. This story is something they are covering continuously.
It has all the elements that cable news needs. Basically it has a sympathetic central picture and a person rather, and there are pictures of that person.
It has important legal and moral and perhaps even political issues involved in it.
There is no end of people who are prepared to come and talk to the camera about it and so it has basically all the ingredients.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of talking, how about the radio talk shows around the country?
TERENCE SMITH: Very interesting. Talkers Magazine monitors the topics that are being discussed on the syndicated shows around the country. Week after week, it's the same two things: it's the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.
Only the election last fall displaced those two issues, and only for a week. This week: Terri Schiavo.
JIM LEHRER: What about on the Internet, the bloggers and all that sort of stuff?
TERENCE SMITH: It's really been quite extraordinary. It's become sort of like a national bulletin board in which people are trying to work out their emotions and opinions about this, and so they've been writing about it extensively.
There is a search engine called Technorati that again monitors this sort of thing.
In December, there were fewer than ten references a day to Terri Schiavo. This week more than 4,000 every day.
JIM LEHRER: So what does that mean? Explain what that means.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, that means that on 4,000 or more occasions, web bloggers are writing about this; different people are writing about this subject. Again, it's really engaged them in an amazing way.
JIM LEHRER: And has it engaged everybody on all sides? Is there one particular group more engaged than another, or is it across the board?
TERENCE SMITH: In this case it has engaged people on both sides.
In other words, the liberal bloggers are in there, expressing their view, generally critical of the federal intervention; and the conservative bloggers generally applaud that intervention and feel that it was the right thing to do.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what are the polls showing up to this point in terms of public interest. You've talked to Andy Kohut, right?
TERENCE SMITH: I did. I talked to Andy Kohut today. He said simply an extraordinary percentage, 76 percent of the public polled says that they are following it either very closely or somewhat closely.
He said this is off the charts. That is a very high percentage.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What does he attribute it to, or does he?
TERENCE SMITH: Again, to the nature of the issue, the evocative, emotional quality of it and the way it has gripped people. As he said, this is an individual case to which people are assigning much wider implications than just the fate of one person.
JIM LEHRER: And it is possible to chart where people are coming down based on where they stand on some of the underlying issues, or is it just on this one case?
TERENCE SMITH: Well, it's very interesting because as he said, this is a sort of end-of-life issue. And his findings, his polls say that Americans are very pragmatic about that, and they want to keep control of those issues. They don't want it decided by doctors and hospitals and much less the government.
And, again and again, they cite that and their attitude on end-of-life issues, which so many have to deal with in their own families does not necessarily follow their attitude on so-called right-to-life issues like abortion or stem-cell research.
JIM LEHRER: It'll be interesting to see what the polls show, Jan, about the court's role in this and how this all will play out, because the courts have been very consistent all the way through on this.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG, Supreme Court reporter for the Chicago Tribune: That's right. And only two judges on the federal appeals court dissented from the decision not to take up this whole issue, so that the full federal appeals court could take a look at it. One was a Clinton appointee. The other was appointed by President Nixon.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, thank you all both very much.