ABC and MSNBC Respect Medical Miracles and the Power of Prayer

The words “miracle” or “divine intervention” are usually treated with skepticism by mainstream journalists, but when spoken by medical professionals, reporters apparently show deference.  Such was the case with ABC and MSNBC which both aired stories having to do with the power of prayer and miraculous healing.

The September 15 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson closed with the story of a woman who survived multiple massive strokes and shocked doctors at the Cleveland Clinic by walking out fully recovered five months after she was admitted. 

Anchor Charles Gibson's introduction to the story summed it up.

GIBSON: Finally tonight, a medical story that even doctors are hard pressed to explain. It involves one woman's amazing recovery from what appeared to be a hopeless situation. And it also raises intriguing questions about the power of prayer.

Reporter John McKenzie told the story of Marianne Cook, found unconscious on the bathroom floor by a maintenance man.

McKENZIE: The problem, right there. A large tumor inside her heart had started breaking apart. Pieces of tumor were speeding down her arteries, creating blood clots and triggering several massive strokes. At a small West Virginia hospital, a doctor urged her mother, Wilma, to sign a “do not resuscitate” order.

Cook's mother refused and demanded the doctors at the local hospital call to find help for her daughter.  The Cleveland Clinic obliged. And as McKenzie reported, the rest of the story is about the power of prayer.

McKENZIE: You've seen a lot of cases. How did this one compare?

Dr. SEAN LYDEN: It was pretty much as bad as I've ever seen.

McKENZIE: A three-hour operation removed the tumor in Marianne's heart. But she was still paralyzed.

WILMA COOK: I prayed, “God, help her, keep her, make her whole.”

McKENZIE: Wilma figured her plea alone would not be enough. So she called her local prayer team for help. From tiny Arnett, West Virginia, prayers for Marianne, like a wave, rippled across the country. In all, more than 120 different congregations added their voices. For a week, Marianne lay in a hospital bed unable to move. Finally, on the eighth day –

WILMA COOK: The big toe, it did this -- that was the most wonderful thing I had ever in my life seen.

McKENZIE: The paralysis was lifting?

Cook walked out of the Cleveland Clinic five months later.  To his credit, McKenzie closed the story with a doctor's profession of … faith.

Dr. MARC GILLINOV (Cleveland Clinic Surgeon): I cannot remember ever seeing someone with so many strokes before surgery walking out of the hospital.

McKENZIE: How do you explain it?

GILLINOV: Luck? Divine intervention?  Some of both.

On MSNBC's Morning Joe September 16, Joe Eszterhas, the screenwriter behind such films as Basic Instinct and Showgirls, was on to promote his book Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith.  How did the writer of a screenplay like Showgirls, and a former reporter for Rolling Stone, come to write a book about God?  Co-hosts Willie Geist and Courtney Hazlett interviewed Eszterhas.

ESZTERHAS: Well, in 2001 I was diagnosed with throat cancer. And the surgeons told me if I had any chance to live that I would have to stop smoking and drinking. I started smoking when I was 12 and drinking when I was 14. And I knew I couldn't stop. I knew in my heart that I couldn't stop. After about a month of trying with all of my nerve endings a-jangle, and with every part of my body craving a cigarette and drink, I sat down on a curb one day near my house and I started to cry. I hadn't cried since I was a boy like that. I just watched my tears hit the pavement. And in the middle of that I heard a voice inside of me that said, “Please God, help me.” I hadn't prayed since I was a boy. And I couldn't speak, I knew, those words because I had a trach in my throat. But I kept hearing “Please God, help me.” After about five minutes I got up off that curb. I wasn't shaking. My nerve endings had been soothed. And I felt for the first time that I could do this. That was seven years ago. In the seven years, I've developed a deep faith. My family and I go to church. I carry the cross often at my parish church. God and faith have become a very central part of my life.

HAZLETT: We were talking earlier. Your life has been so entangled in Hollywood. You used to be a reporter for Rolling Stone. You've written so many screenplays. I think you said 16 out of 22 of them have been actually developed –

GEIST: That's amazing.

HAZLETT:  Which is an incredible track record. Yet you don't live in Hollywood, you live in Ohio now. Can you tell us how that's made a difference in your life?

ESZTERHAS: Yes. We decided even before I got sick. We had four little boys.  We were living in Malibu. I knew I had a very, very serious problem with alcohol and I knew that I was becoming what I didn't – never wanted to be, in terms of my behavior, which is kind of a Hollywood animal in the worst classic sense. Naomi and I looked at each other one day and said, boy, yes, we had an awful lot of fun making these little boys, but now how are we going to raise them, with what values? Do we want them to have Malibu values or do we want them to have the values that we grew up with? We both grew up in Ohio. We had family in Ohio. And we made a decision to go back to Ohio and raise them with those values. And then literally, about a month after we came back I was diagnosed with my throat cancer. I don't think I could have recovered the way I have in Malibu with all the tensions of the movie business and all that. People in Ohio were wonderful to me. I would walk down the street and they would pass me and say, we are praying for you. Or you know, “welcome home.” Or once someone said you never should have gone there in the first place, which I thought was a bit harsh, but it was really interesting.  

GEIST: How is your health now, Joe?

ESZTERHAS: It's wonderful, thank you. I was told last year by my doctors, and they never use this word that I'm cured. Literally used the word cured.  He said that my throat is a victory of lifestyle over disease. He actually used the word miracle and he's a doctor, so...

“Prayer” hasn't been treated very respectfully by the mainstream media in recent days.  In fact, journalists on both ABC and MSNBC have treated prayer – especially in connection with the religious faith of GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin – with great skepticism.  Maybe those reporters who've discussed Palin's faith and its importance to her life with such disdain would be well-advised to look these two neutrally reported stories of prayer and faith and realize that believing in God is a powerful force for good in the lives of many people.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.