November 24, 1998
TERENCE SMITH: Last Sunday, the CBS Newsmagazine "60 Minutes" aired a story that showed Dr. Jack Kevorkian administering a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old Michigan man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.
MIKE WALLACE: Dr. Kevorkian has been tried and acquitted three times of the charge of assisting suicides. But this is different. He himself does the killing. The videotape you will shortly see will disturb some of you, but Dr. Kevorkian, who brought us this tape, says he wants to use this case to move the public debate from doctor assisted suicide to euthansia.
TERENCE SMITH: It was the first time such a procedure was shown on network television. Though Thomas Youk was barely able to communicate -- he twice confirmed in to Dr. Kevorkian that he wanted to end his suffering. Kevorkian videotaped the procedure on September 17 and gave the videotape to CBS. He told correspondent Mike Wallace his motive was to provoke the authorities to decide once and for all whether euthanasia should be legalized.
MIKE WALLACE: You were engaged in a political, medical, macabre publicity venture, right?"
DR. KEVORKIAN: Probably.
MIKE WALLACE: And in watching these tapes, I get the feeling there's something almost ghoulish in your desire to see the deed done.
DR. KEVORKIAN: Well, that could be. I can't argue with that. Maybe it is ghoulish, I don't know -it appears that way to you, I can't criticize you for that. But the main point is the last part of your statement -- that the deed be done.
TERENCE SMITH: Prosecutors say that it appears that a murder was committed, but that they want to view the entire tape before deciding whether to charge Dr. Kevorkian. Nevertheless, the broadcast of the tape, including the actual moment of death, has already provoked sharp debate over the journalistic and medical ethics involved. It also proved a ratings success for CBS, boosting the "60 Minutes" audience sharply in the final week of the November sweeps month.
TERENCE SMITH: Now we'll continue that debate with Mike Wallace, senior correspondent and co-editor of "60 Minutes," who is in black tie tonight en route to a journalists awards dinner in New York; and Ned McGrath, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. McGrath, you've been quoted as saying that Dr. Kevorkian duped CBS and used them. Why? What do you mean by that?
NED McGRATH, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit: I think the evidence was in the clip that you just played. Mr. Wallace says that Dr. Kevorkian brought him the tape. So, in other words, they went from reporting the news to repeating the political agenda of Jack Kevorkian. In seven years, I've seen over 130 reports of these deaths attended to by Jack Kevorkian. And I think most reporters in this community would come to the conclusion that using Jack Kevorkian, his documents, his videotapes, anything else that he supplies, as a reliable and credible source of information, is journalistically naοve. And for "60 Minutes" to do so I can only come to the conclusion that they did so because they wanted to get this story on during the ratings. Another point: the medical examiner here has said that they medical examiners here in southeast Michigan have said on a number of occasions they don't believe this was the first so-called "mercy killing" attended to by Jack Kevorkian, that there have been others in his 130 victims over the years, which brings to the third point, which is the only thing that makes this tape different than and this death different than all of the others is the fact that it was given a national showcase. It was given a showcase on CBS.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Mike Wallace, journalistically naοve? You're not accused of that every day.
MIKE WALLACE, CBS, "60 Minutes:" Well, let's start first of all with the ratings business. We've been accused of hyping this particular venture because it was a sweeps week. Mr. McGrath, you've been in broadcasting, I understand, for some years before you took on the job as public relations aide to the archdiocese of Detroit. We have been I'm sure you know we've been on the air for 30 years. For the last 20 years we've been in the top 10 every week, sometimes first, sometimes third, fifth, eighth, whatever, but every week, so that we've never had to resort to the kind of sensationalizing that you apparently are charging us with. Believe me, we are just as interested in circulation, ratings, as any newspaper, any television news operation is. But there was no hyping. We got we got this
NED McGRATH: Well, then let me ask you why you couldn't have told this story without showing the man die. And if you did show tell the story without showing the man die, you not you and I understand it's not you it's a different department but the people who promote "60 Minutes" wouldn't have had anything to say all day on Sunday during the football game; the local CBS stations here in Detroit were shameless, Mr. Wallace, with the way that they promoted this, this tape, every 15 minutes. And I know you're not responsible for that, but those are CBS-owned stations, and CBS is accountable.
MIKE WALLACE: Well, I'm unaware of what the promotional aspect of this was. We're talking about the journalism involved, and we're talking about just exactly what we did.
NED McGRATH: Did you rely on Mr. Kevorkian's I mean, did you see all of the tapes?
MIKE WALLACE: I saw the whole tape that Mr. Kevorkian did, which amounted to first of all a long interview that Kevorkian did with Tom Youk a couple of days before the event took place.
TERENCE SMITH: But was
MIKE WALLACE: If I may if I may and I began to understand the compassion I know you're going to find this difficult to believe the compassion felt by Dr. Kevorkian for this man who was choking to death on his own saliva not choking to death is choking on his own saliva, in pain couldn't use his arms, couldn't use his leg. He had not been treated properly, he felt, by his own doctor. He did not he had been working with hospice people as well. The time finally came when he, his brother, another brother, his mother, and his wife decided this was a good idea.
TERENCE SMITH: All right.
MIKE WALLACE: They wrote to Kevorkian. Kevorkian came to see him, interviewed him at length, got him to sign a document saying that he gave permission, and then Kevorkian said, Now I'll go away for a month and I'll come back after a month and see no, no, no a week finally they decided on a week. The following night the following night Dr. Kevorkian was called by the brother and said, please, get over to the house now, he wants to go now.
NED McGRATH: But, Mr. Wallace, that's the version
Reporting the facts?
TERENCE SMITH: Let me ask you this, Ned McGrath, that story precisely shows what a sensitive issue this is and we all know that. We know that there is a serious debate on the so-called right to die, over which honest people differ. So wasn't this segment, in fact, adding more information for people to see what it's really like?
NED McGRATH: You know, a lot of people turn their head and look at a car accident. I don't think we have to televise that every Sunday night at 7 o'clock. A lot of people are against partial birth abortion, and that's not televised on Sunday night at 7 o'clock. A lot of people have positions against executions, and those things aren't televised at 7 o'clock on Sunday night. The fact that Jack Kevorkian brought this tape I understand Mr. Wallace's point about the compassion and the condition that this man was in, and I'm not diminishing that for one second here; however, he and "60 Minutes" are accepting Jack Kevorkian's version of the facts here, and I guess I have to say over seven years I don't think that Jack Kevorkian's version of what happened and how it happened can be relied on.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, Mike Wallace
MIKE WALLACE: Under those circumstances, Mr. McGrath, I'm at a loss to understand why juries in your state of Michigan on three occasions having been charged Kevorkian having been charged in assisted suicide, assisted dying, the three juries let him go. What he wants to do and this is the whole point of the thing what he wants to do is to be tried, to be arrested and tried for it certainly is not murder for manslaughter. He thinks conceivably manslaughter. Mrs. Youk doesn't think that it's murder. May I read you a letter. We're talking now to
NED McGRATH: Doesn't that put you in the position of advocating for Jack Kevorkian?
MIKE WALLACE: We no we're used by Jack Kevorkian. We are used by Jack Kevorkian, yes. We've also been used by Martin Luther King and Jerry Falwell and presidential candidates, and every time a news magazine, a print news magazine comes up they are being used by the man who is on or the woman who is on the cover. That's our job. What we try to do what we try to do is to give an opportunity for public figures who are determined to get something out about their cause, we give them the opportunity to do that. And this we hope will stimulate a dialogue, and I think that's exactly what is happening in America today.
NED McGRATH: Yes, but in this particular case the tape that you had, as you know, is evidence is under consideration as evidence of a crime. And it was under consideration
TERENCE SMITH: And let me point out
NED McGRATH: It was under consideration before it was broadcast.
TERENCE SMITH: Let me point out that CBS announced this evening that it would, in fact, release the tape to the police. Now, Mike Wallace, you're not normally so accommodating with your out-takes, the portions not broadcast. What's different in this case?
MIKE WALLACE: What's different is that this tape does not belong to us. This was his his Dr. Kevorkian's tape. The interview they want the out-takes from my interview with Kevorkian. We are not giving them that. They want the out-takes with my interview with the family; we're not giving them that. But we are giving back to Kevorkian if he wants to give them and if he doesn't give this to the police, then we are prepared to do it. May I just make one point? This happened September 18th, I believe. That's two months ago on the death certificate signed by the medical examiner, it said "homicide" method "lethal injection." Two months went by. The police in Detroit, in Waterford Township, in Oakland County, never came to see Dr. Kevorkian. That's why he finally went public with this tape.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Let me ask you both this. I mean, it seems to me that the legal issues aside there's also an issue of taste here. Mike Wallace, does this cross the line? If this doesn't cross the line, what does cross the line, where is the line?
MIKE WALLACE: Oh, I can think of all kinds of things that cross the line. We decide on a case-by-case basis we decide on a case-by-case basis. Your friend and mine, Marvin Kalb, incidentally, reported in the Boston Globe, said, the awfulness of death has been transformed into a form of news entertainment, said Marvin Kalb, former CBS News correspondent who is a professor now at Harvard. But, Mr. Kalb, Professor Kalb didn't bother to watch the broadcast, so he was perfectly he was perfectly willing to fulminate about news entertainment while having seen the piece. I just wonder
NED McGRATH: Could I jump in for a second.
TERENCE SMITH: Ned McGrath.
|The real issue.|
NED McGRATH: Yes. Two things: One is that I don't think the reason that this tape was released at this time was a coincidence. Physician-assisted suicide just went down to a resounding defeat here in the state of Michigan 71 to 29 percent of the population voted against this proposal that was
MIKE WALLACE: Including Dr. Kevorkian he voted against it.
NED McGRATH: If I would be allowed to finish and the outspoken advocate for Jeffrey Feiger lost as well in his race for governor, and I think to say that this tape was just a coincidence at this particular time is again I hate to say this but I think that's rather naοve to consider that this was just something that he happened to do back in September.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Just a final
NED McGRATH: There are reports that he was telling news people that it was coming.
TERENCE SMITH: A final 15 seconds from you, Mike.
MIKE WALLACE: I thank you for the opportunity what's going to happen is there's going to be less talk about the journalism of this and more talk about the debate, more debate, the whole issue of euthanasia, and that was the reason that we broadcast the piece in the first place.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Gentlemen
NED McGRATH: Would you have a story if you didn't show the man die?
TERENCE SMITH: Gentlemen, I'm afraid we have to end it. Ned McGrath, Mike Wallace, thank you both very much.
MIKE WALLACE: Thanks, Terry.