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Monday, July 5, 2010

CBS Missed the Point as Does the New York Times

Last May I wrote about Brendan Marrocca who appeared on CBS news. Mr. Marrocca is a quadruple amputee who lost his limbs in Iraq and was not expected to survive his wounds. Mr. Marrocca's life after his injury was reduced by CBS to a feel good story--see my post of May 17. In my estimation the real struggles Mr. Marrocca encounters, the social struggles that people with a disability know too much about, were glossed over. A recent story in the New York Time has added a twist to Mr. Marrocca's post injury life story. In a July 2 story, "Spirit Intact, Soldier Reclaims his Life" by Lizette Alvarez, it is reported Mr. Marrocca will undergo a double arm transplant. Like CBS, Alvarez describes Mr. Marrocca as an "inspiration to hundreds of other wounded service members". The New York Time story departs from CBS in that well over half the article about Mr. Marrocca is concerned with the gory details of his injuries and survival. This makes great reading, satisfies the idle curiosity of others about Mr. Marrocca's disability but negates to illuminate many of the issues that will present the greatest obstacles. I was also struck by how unusual Mr. Marrocca's experiences have been. He still lives at Walter Reed Hospital with his brother who gave up his job with Citigroup. It is not explained why he and his brother live at Walter Reed--an experience that I assume is well outside of the norm for injured veterans. What is clear is that Walter Reed is a haven, in large part because he is a role model, and that the hospital provides a sharp contrast "to the awkwardness of the larger world". This "awkwardness" is something that I know something about--an interesting point that is mentioned in passing. To me, this omission represents a lost opportunity. Instead, we learn Mr. Marrocca's expenses, including the upcoming transplants, are underwritten by the military and that he gets a $2,700 a month salary. The reader could easily conclude Mr. Marrocca receives excellent care and that the military takes care of all its disabled veterans.

I hate to pour rain on the parade of good will but I have have a few questions:

Why is Mr. Marrocca still living at Walter Reed?

Why is Walter Reed, a hospital, considered a safe haven?

Why is Mr. Marrocca a "celebrity" and wished well by tour groups?

Why does Mr. Marrocca's family need to encourage him to leave "his Walter Reed fortress"?

I know exactly why Mr. Marrocca does not want to leave Walter Reed--the hospital is a social cocoon. Long ago when I was paralyzed I too did not like to leave the confines of the hospital. What I know in retrospect is that the hospital was accessible physically and culturally accepting and as a result I felt safe, almost normal. In addition, hospital denizens don't stare and ask stupid questions like "what happened to you?" On bad days I still know how Mr. Marrocca feels. I too find my social experiences awkward and draining emotionally. I never know when I will be accosted by a stranger that expects me to stop what I am doing and answer his or her questions no matter how inappropriate they are. According to his mother, Mr. Marrocca hates such negative social interactions. Now this is a story I would like to read about--"Returning Veteran Angered by his Social Experiences after Amputation". Unfortunately I have never read such a story. The reason such stories do not exist is because they would shed light on the failure of American society to accept people with disabilities as equals. Such a story might even raise issues such as rampant unemployment among people with disabilities, the lack of affordable mass transportation and housing etc. This is not a happy story. This story does not have drama. This story does not make the reader feel good. This story would make people without a disability uncomfortable. We cannot have that so what we get is superficial personal interest stories. I understand newspapers and television stories need to entertain but surely they can make the pretense of advocating social reform. For instance, at one point in the New York Times article Mr. Marrocca state that "this does suck". What is not clear is whether Mr.Marrocca is referring to the fact he is a quadruple amputee or the social encounters that lead him to shy away from leaving Walter Reed.

I truly wish Mr. Marrocca well. I hope that surgery goes well and he is able to become more independent. What I wish for even more is that people will stop being rude to him and countless others with a disability. I hope people will not stare, accept him for who he is, a unique person that has learned to adapt. This adaptation process is quite old and hardly unusual. I learned to adapt to my paralysis long ago but sadly society has been well behind the learning curve. This failure however is correctable, the law is on the side of people with a disability and all we need now is the social support for such rights and laws. This is a real story with grit. It is a human rights story that needs to be told and reported about.


Becs said...

Somehow, this seems to apply...

emma said...

Two articles appeared in a Greek column regarding media representation of disability in the past couple of days, unfortunately google translate is not very effective but here is part what Stelios Kympouropoulos has to say

"The media attribute heroic characterizations for people with disabilities in order to manipulate public opinion and divert attention from substantive issues concerning people with disabilities. Specifically, using the "achievements" of people with disabilities as a communicative trick. This is an excuse for a society that would not guarantee for vulnerable groups equal inclusion: school, university, leisure, the labor market."

Wish there were more people out there as vocal as he is.

(original article - )

william Peace said...

Emma, Those are highly unusual words coming from any media outlet. They are also spot on. I for one despise the vast majority of media portrayals of disability as they are inherently dehumanizing. Tom the issue is why. Why does the media consistently portray disability in such an antiquated matter.
Becs, Interesting song and lyrics. I just hope veterans get good treatment and rehab.

emma said...

Bill, it will make sense if I say the quote I included is from a column which is dedicated to disability issues...not much chance of seeing it anywhere else. The person was who said it has frequently been used by the media as someone "overcoming a disability"

The other article about the media was equally interesting:

"The media are directly or indirectly, connected with the leading business and political elite, a default configuration area of communication / enforcement of the terms of social manipulation."

This was spoken of in regards to the Greek media, but I guess it happens everywhere?

william Peace said...

Emma, If the quote appeared in a mainstream newspaper it is progress. The media is terrible world wide. The cultural response to disability is universally negative and the media helps perpetuate bias. Any positive words regardless of their source are appreciated.