A mother’s anguish (5×8 – 4/3/13)

When should we be shielded from the horrible, elderly voter fraudster gets a break, a leave of presence for Roger Ebert, the cruel ways of Mother Nature, and the coach who hits kids.


Over the weekend, a college basketball player went leaping into the air to block a shot in an NCAA tournament game. When he came down on his leg, it snapped, the bone piercing the skin. The TV network — CBS — showed the replay once and then spent the next several days patting itself on the back for its sensitivity in not highlighting a scene too disturbing for people to see. Instead, millions fled to YouTube to have a look, then posted on social media that they wish they hadn’t.

Yesterday, the 911 tapes were released when Jessica Schaffhausen called to say her husband, now on trial in Hudson, had just called her to say he’d killed their three daughters. The girls — 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia — had already been found dead in their beds, their throats slashed. But the 911 operator didn’t want to tell her; not over the phone.

Reporters listened to the tapes played in court, then posted on social media that it was heartbreaking and horrible. Soon thereafter, they tweeted that you could hear them later on the news. During last evening’s prime time programming, news promos invited the audience to stay up to hear the phone call.

A man breaking his leg we can’t take. A woman in agony over her dead children is a horror we can stand?

These are the news stories that challenge us to think about how we process these types of stories. Do we listen or turn away? What is the overriding public interest that allows us to feel comfortable violating a woman’s worst moment? How does the tape make the story any more compelling than the very concept of someone killing their three beautiful kids? When do we want to be shielded from the things that make us turn away, and when do we want to look? When do we owe someone a small shred of privacy when their suffering is so very public?

Related: Virginia Louden, who writes the blog, “Super Mom Aspirations and Tangerine Dreams,” acknowledges that she didn’t know Stephanie Miskowiec Shields really well when they went to high school together, though she remembers her.

She was found dead in her home in Zimmerman over the weekend, apparently after drowning her two children.

That being said, I know we are all made differently. I was able to push through my moments of despair. I have a very strong and supportive family. If anything were to ever happen to me, either self inflicted or not, my children would be taken care of. I also know that there are many factors to consider, when you are thinking about the possibility of not being around for your children anymore: who could afford to raise them properly, who would be willing to bear that burden for me, who would be able to show them unconditional love forever, would the children be able to mentally handle me not being here anymore and/or get the counseling and support they would desperately need to move on and grow into healthy and fulfilled individuals, the list of questions goes on and on. My only conclusion is that Steph possibly had no answers for these questions and made a sad decision. She must have truly felt, in that specific moment of turmoil, that she had absolutely no other choice. Right or wrong, feelings are real and can be poisonous and painful and sometimes, unbearable.

I can sit here and say that I would never ever do the same thing until I am blue in the face and I am fairly certain that this is truthful, but I also know that I never exactly walked a day in her shoes, I may have never felt as down and out as she must have felt. I have a different family and different friends. Our mental genetics are not the same. I can say from experience that I know full well what it is like to keep deep dark secrets. Last night while I was sad and thinking of Steph I peeked at her facebook profile. The pictures are numerous and they all appear so cheerful. Many photos of her and her two gorgeous children, all smiles on bright sunny days, doing family things together out on the boat and in a marathon of some sort. The appearance of fun and as if nothing could possibly be wrong. I have been there. I have presented myself as a happy and content person to the world in my past in order to hide what was truly going on at home and in my life, behind closed doors. I felt I was strong enough to get past it, I was woman enough to remain stoic and keep getting up everyday for my childrens’ sake, I would stay in my situation forever just for their happiness. I did not last forever and ten years ago I had to make some serious life changes. This was by no means easy and I had one of my dark periods where I spent most nights after the children were asleep, sobbing uncontrollably, contemplating solutions…some darker than others. Somehow, someway, I made it through; Stephanie, and many many others did/do not.

(h/t: Brian Hanf)


Common sense has prevailed in Mankato where prosecutors had charged an 86-year-old woman with a felony because she apparently got confused and voted at a polling place, forgetting that she’d already sent in an absentee ballot.

Margaret Schneider has Parkinson’s disease, suffers from dementia and uses a walker, the Mankato Free Press reports.

But prosecutors in cases like this apparently do not have the discretion to settle the cases the same way as if Ms. Schneider had killed someone, so they had no choice but to bring the charges, they said.

“The case is basically suspended for 20 months,” her attorney, Bill Sherry tells the paper. “She simply has to comply with all local laws regarding voting. No money has to be paid, she doesn’t have to report to probation, there’s no community service. Everything will be off her record.”

Sherry had agreed to represent the woman for no charge after hearing about her arrest.


Roger Ebert’s cancer is back. The famed film critic announced a “leave of presence” on his blog last night:

The “painful fracture” that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to. I have been watching more of them on screener copies that the studios have been kind enough to send to me. My friend and colleague Richard Roeper and other critics have stepped up and kept the newspaper and website current with reviews of all the major releases. So we have and will continue to go on.

At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it’s like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.


You’re a fan of nature but you know the way the world works. You see a young deer — a cute thing it is — when two coyotes show up to make it lunch. You bring your two dogs inside and then you have a choice: You can let nature do what nature does. Or you can just set up your video camera and watch.

Which do you choose?

The Boston Globe talks to the photographer about the event, which took place north of Boston on Monday.


We’ve scratched Mike Rice of Rutgers off the list of potential University of Minnesota basketball coaches, right?

More sports: David Brauer calls our attention to David Yanofsky’s analysis of baseball ticket prices, culminating with this wisdom:

The surest way to spend too much on a baseball ticket is to buy your tickets far in advance, and that goes for other kinds of events, as well. According to Will Flaherty, director of communications at SeatGeek, ticket prices “fall pretty dramatically, as you get closer to the event, particularly in that acute 48-hour window right before kickoff, first pitch, whatever that may be.” Be sure to time the market well.

Bonus I: If white supremacists are behind the killings of prosecutors in Texas, their plan is working. (CBS)

Bonus II: The Coast Guard icebreaker is due in Bayfield between 7 and 10 this morning to break up the ice to Madeline Island. You might be able to watch the action here.

Bonus III: The best write-up and pictures of Minnesota baseball fans not giving in to nature you’ll ever read. (Ballpark Magic)


Minnesota lawmakers are weighing whether to approve the Mayo Clinic’s request for $500 million to support its $3 billion expansion plan. Supporters of the project say state financing for roads, bridges, parking garages and other improvements would ensure that the hospital and clinic system cements its future in the Rochester area. Today’s Question: Is a $500 million investment in public infrastructure for the Mayo Clinic a good use of tax dollars?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen and Senate Minority Leader David Hann.

Second hour: In-state tuition for people who may not have entered the country appropriately.

Third hour: President Obama’s $100 million plan to research the brain.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Former Republican presidential candidate, ambassador and governor Jon Huntsman, speaking at the Reagan Presidential Library.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie. Former Gov. Mark Sanford tests the comeback trail in South Carolina. The FBI says a Democratic state senator in New York tried to bribe GOP officials, and buy himself the Republican nomination for mayor of New York. And a deal on immigration inches closer.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Big tech companies want Congress to increase the number of temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers But tech companies arent the biggest users of those visas — consulting firms are. And several of those firms are under scrutiny for ultimately using the visas to outsource American jobs. NPR will have the story.

  • Roger
  • Robert Moffitt

    Was Mike Rice ever an assistant to Bobby Knight? That looks a lot like the kind of coaching style that got Knight fired from IU.

  • Carol S.

    Re #1: How are these situations different from photographs of families during a solider’s funeral?

    When we were having that discussion here last year, most seemed to say that it was the public’s right to see the photos of the families’ anguish, sadness, suffering. That it helped to make visible the consequences of war.

    If it’s ok to publish those photos, why is it not ok to broadcast the video of of the baskeball injury, or the audio of the 911 call?

    Maybe the audio tapes help call attention to the needs of the mentally ill. Maybe the injury video teaches us to rally around the fallen for a cause(yes, I know it’s a stretch, but I can’t think of any other reason FOR broadcasting it other than morbid curiosity).

    “When do we owe someone a small shred of privacy when their suffering is so very public?”

    EXACTLY. I don’t understand how to make a distinction between the two situations.

  • Bob Collins

    // EXACTLY. I don’t understand how to make a distinction between the two situations.

    But that’s the point. Somebody did.

    And one minor point on the photographs of funerals. I don’t often hear TV people say “stay tuned for the news tonight to see the horrible expressions on the face of the family burying their soldier.”

    There’s a line here somewhere. I’m just not clear where.

  • CHS

    I think the line has been drawn already, and it’s nothing to do with anyone’s sensibilities, but more to do with whether or not the incident in question can or needs to be used as a hook for the story. “If it bleeds it leads” is one thing, but the decision on whether or not to publish or air something seems to rest on whether or not the outlet can formulate an effective and compelling reason to stay tuned or read on without it. No one needed to show the footage of the leg breaking in the NCAA tournament because the office pools across the country determined that everyone was paying attention to the tournament already. With a story such as the murder of the children in WI, people are likely to turn away from the covereage, so the temptation to use the 911 tapes to keep people engaged is great.

  • Disco

    There may have been a time when this 9-1-1 call would not have been played on any local news. And that would have been a time when ratings were higher and shock stories weren’t necessary.

  • Bob Collins

    // people are likely to turn away from the covereage,

    But why would the tapes make people more likely NOT to turn away from the coverage? What does it say about *us*?

  • Disco

    What exactly are you asking? It isn’t complicated. It’s like watching a car crash. People like shocking things.

  • Erik Granse

    It says that when you strip off the veneer of higher-order thinking, we’re still just animals.

    My thoughts are that journalism has a responsibility to inform, not just to pander. Reporting on a story like that of the mother is pandering to our base emotions; talking about a series of terrible events like that in the context of mental health is informing.

    Unfortunately, most journalism takes place in an atmosphere of profit-making, so pandering wins out.

  • MN 123

    I cried as I saw the story of the two Zimmerman children being drowned. I cried when I saw the story of the guy in Wisconsin who killed his three daughters. I am someone who is not easily shocked by people doing bad things, as I work in the court system and see people doing bad things to others every day. I saw that there is a video of a kid being hurt in a basketball game. I don’t need to know all of the gory details, or watch the video.

    These stories are definitely being used by news organizations, not for the purpose of informing us, but for feeding into our prurient curiousity. The lowest denominaor. Selling their product. It has been that way since the beginning, from yellow journalism, to Rupert Murdoch, and gossip at the well. I don’t like it, I don’t read it, I choose to find better things to fill my private life.I know that children were killed in a horrific manner….I don’t need to know any more. But some people eat up that stuff, and others use that tendency for their own enrichment.

    It’s not a pretty world, and there is no such thing as privacy any longer.

  • Bob Collins

    // Published What exactly are you asking?

    I’m asking the questions I asked.