PINELLAS PARK, FL: Behind the maelstrom of press coverage surrounding the Terri Schiavo legal battle was a carefully crafted media campaign - one that persisted till the hours before her death this morning.
Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have actively taken their struggle in front of the public, setting up a website, releasing multimedia videos of their daughter, and encouraging a constant presence outside her hospice.
With their legal options exhausted Thursday, the Schindlers released to the media another video from a collection of 11 taken during the summer of 2002.
The decision to release the videos is "one of the most powerful tools in the fight to save her life," said Gary McCullough, director of Christian Communication Network, the agency that represents Schiavo's parents, their legal team, and many of the groups supporting them. "It changed the whole dynamic."
Jon Eisenberg, an Oakland, CA, attorney working on behalf of Schiavo's husband Michael, noted that the combination of the videos with the message that dehydration is painful has created "two great bits of PR."
"There has been no PR campaign on Michael Schiavo's behalf," he said.
Michael Schiavo has received PR support from his legal team as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, but "none of these are PR people; we're all lawyers," Eisenberg said.
He added that he is working pro bono on the case, while the Schindlers' message has been supported by "unlimited bottomless funding" from conservative groups.
But McCullough defended the groups as another visual representation of the struggle, and noted that protestors were encouraged to keep vigil outside Schiavo's hospice.
"It's always been about one thing: drawing attention to Terri's plight to get people involved," he said.
But Eisenberg noted that the advocacy groups exploited issues of religion and morality that were already seen as deep dividers during the 2004 presidential election.
"It seems these groups perceive there is a culture war going on in America," he said. "They decided to make Terri Schiavo the driver of the right to die campaign."