In one of the standout instances of media misconduct during the run-up to the recent furor, NBC repeatedly aired, on “Today” and other shows, audio footage misleadingly edited so as to advance the proposition that George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon Martin because of his race [Erik Wemple, Washington Post] While announcing that it had fired the unnamed producer it considered responsible, NBC was less than forthcoming about other details of the scandal, which — as Mickey Kaus points out — may have had a lot to do with its lawyers’ concerns about minimizing a possible defamation payout: “Like other tort laws, libel laws are in practice the enemy of transparency.”
Some have recalled the scandal in which “Dateline NBC” aired footage of supposedly exploding GM cars that in fact had been rigged with incendiary devices. But I’m actually more put in mind of a less celebrated media disgrace from the same era, the Texaco Tapes pseudo-scandal, in which (as I recount here) the New York Times and other outlets avidly promoted systematic misreadings of audiotapes in a hotly disputed racial-bias case, and failed to engage in adequate (or, really, any) soul-searching when the misreadings came to be exposed. In the Martin/Zimmerman case the questionable audio readings included the “two-shot” account influentially advanced by the New York Times when the case first broke nationally, and the supposed racial slur which dominated coverage for a couple of days before being (if the prosecutor’s affidavit is any indication) discreetly laid to rest.
More: Speaking of the New York Times, you have to wonder whether that paper has some sort of stylebook rule requiring it to keep misreporting what Stand Your Ground laws do [Jacob Sullum, more, earlier] And Tom Maguire notes that the paper’s latest editorial appear to be backing off its earlier assertions that the Zimmerman case will hinge on the state’s curtailing of the old “duty to retreat”: “The duty to retreat evidently extends to Times editors.” He also wonders whether, on the much-discussed question of whether Zimmerman flouted the advice of a 911 operator, the NYT editorialists read their own paper. Yet more: Maguire collects the media myths.
I have a new post at Cato rounding up many of my recent writings and broadcast appearances on the subject, under the title, “Why Is Press Coverage of the Martin/Zimmerman Case So Bad?”
“This American Life” has retracted a much-discussed news segment about the horrors of Apple’s Shenzhen, China workplace after discovering it was faked; Mike Daisey’s report contained “numerous fabrications,” it says. For more on how readiness to believe the worst about big business can leave media open to being fooled by manipulative packagers of news, see the GM trucks episode, Food Lion, and a great many others. [Ira Glass, Jack Shafer, Edward Champion]
More from David Henderson. And Coyote: “The problem with the media is not outright bias, but an intellectual mono-culture that fails to exercise the most basic skepticism when stories fit their narrative.”
- Trial lawyer TV: mistranslation, plaintiff’s experts were instrumental in “Anderson Cooper 360” CNN story trying to keep sudden-acceleration theory alive [Corp Counsel, Toyota, PDF, background]
- “Can I get a form to file a police complaint?” No. No, you can’t [Balko]
- Madison County lawyer runs for judgeship [MCRecord; earlier on her columnist-suing past]
- RIP Dan Popeo, founder and head of Washington Legal Foundation [Mark Tapscott, Examiner]
- Louisiana: “Church Ordered to Stop Giving Away Free Water” [Todd Starnes, Fox via Amy Alkon]
- Developer of “Joustin’ Beaver” game files for declaratory judgment against singer Justin Bieber’s trademark, publicity claims [THR, Esq.]
- “Why are Indian reservations so poor?” [John Koppisch, Forbes] “Payday loans head to the Indian reservations” [Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason] Tribal recognition: high-stakes D.C. game where lobbyists get the house rake-off [Chris Edwards, Cato]
Dan Charles at NPR reports on how parts of the media joined in last month to hype a report by journalist Andrew Schneider in Food Safety News raising alarms about the safety and authenticity of honey. (Similarly: Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing). “It sounded so right, plenty of people decided that it just had to be true. … But then we decided to look into it a little more closely. We talked to honey companies, academic experts, and one of the world’s top honey laboratories in Germany. The closer we looked, the more misleading the story in Food Safety News seemed.”
My Cato colleague Sallie James was among the few to take a skeptical tone about the Schneider allegations when they first hit the press. And as NPR points out, Food Safety News is part of the sprawling new media empire of Bill Marler, the very media-savvy food poisoning lawyer whose Marler Clark law firm has done much to sway press discussion of many food safety issues. On a different topic, did Marler really say the other day that raw milk farmers should count themselves lucky they’re not put to death?
Yes, media coverage does affect the outcome of court cases, and here are some of the ways [Andrew Trask]
Kim Strassel has a must-read piece at the Wall Street Journal exposing the politics of the Lacey Act’s extension to importation of plant products, by no means fueled just by inflexible environmentalist sentiment: crucially, wood-products industry and union forces recognized that the law could serve as a way to eliminate competition from imports.
Trees are ubiquitous, are transformed into thousands of byproducts, and pass through dozens of countries. Whereas even a small U.S. importer would know not to import a tiger skin, tracking a sliver of wood (now transformed into a toy, or an umbrella) through this maze of countries and manufacturing laws back to the tree it came from, would be impossible.
Furniture maker Ikea noted that even if it could comply with the change, the “administrative costs and record-keeping requirements” would cause furniture prices to “skyrocket.” The wood chips that go into its particleboard alone could require tracking back and reporting on more than 100 different tree species.
Which is exactly what the Lacey expanders wanted.
The WSJ also recently interviewed Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz [related, Reuters; earlier] while Pat Nolan points out how the feds’ raid on the facility points up many evils of unbridled prosecution power [NRO] Musicians and others held a “We stand with Gibson” rally and concert [Mark Perry, rally pics] As for press coverage, Andrew Revkin at the NYT notes that outrage over the raid is energizing those horrid “anti-regulatory campaigners” [“DotEarth”] while an op-ed contributor at the paper explains that (not to sound like those same awful campaigners!) the operation of the Lacey Act does indeed menace innocent artisans who make musical instruments [Kathryn Marie Dudley] Tim Cavanaugh finds the L.A.Times strumming a derivative ideological tune, while Radley Balko notes, in a police-restraint-for-me-but-not-for-thee vein, that a reporter arrested at Occupy Nashville had mocked concern over the gun-toting Gibson raid. More: ABA Journal.
Remember the “Halliburton rape” case, where the national media uncritically passed along claims that a young woman had been viciously assaulted by co-workers while stationed in the Middle East, then confined to a container by beastly managers when she tried to complain, and finally suffered the ultimate indignity when her employment contract required her to submit the claims to arbitration? It’s a tale that was advanced by politicians like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), by some of the usual suspects in opinion journalism, and especially by the litigation lobby as part of its campaign against contractually provided-for arbitration (as with the much-reviewed, HBO-aired “Hot Coffee“). Not a few of these advocates — like the left-leaning ThinkProgress — threw “allegedly” to the winds and flatly accused the co-workers of rape.
Unless you’d read one of the very few skeptical evaluations of the case — many of them written by Ted Frank — you may have been shocked this July when a Houston jury summarily rejected Jamie Leigh Jones’s lawsuit. Now — better late than never — the Houston Chronicle shreds the popular narrative of the affair and its media coverage in particular (ABC News: a tale of “sexual brutality, corporate indifference and government inaction.”) Is it too much to hope that anyone will be embarrassed enough to apologize?
More: As commenter E-Bell notes, journalist Stephanie Mencimer, with whom we’ve had our differences in the past, deserves due credit for this July coverage in the unlikely venue of Mother Jones. And quoth @Popehat: “‘Putting the victim on trial’ is code for ‘defending yourself and testing the evidence.'”
Great review by Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin casting a skeptical eye on the trial-lawyer film project (“done in by its essential dishonesty… like any good lawyer — and unlike any good documentarian — [director Susan Saladoff is] intent on concealing the weakness in her case).” Read it here. Meanwhile, from the “How does this sort of thing get past the editors of the Washington Post?” files, there’s this from Hank Stuever:
For to really embrace tort reform, you have to be willing to treat all potential plaintiffs as no-good grifters. … To support tort reform, you have to believe all lawsuits against businesses are a threat to the free market.
Stuever does not, for some reason, name any proponent of reform who has actually asserted either of the propositions. Do you think that might be because he’s trafficking in absurd caricatures? (earlier on “Hot Coffee” here, here, here, etc.)
P.S. More: Cory Andrews, WLF. And if lawyers are really eager to have the facts of the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case come out, it’s curious they don’t take steps to release the trial transcript, in the absence of which critics of the case are obliged to speculate on key points. And as I just wrote in a comment at Abnormal Use:
I believe organized tort reform groups were caught flat-footed by the McDonald’s case and didn’t get around to doing much with it until it had already become the talk of the nation through talk shows, late night TV and so forth. As often happens, plaintiff’s-side advocacy groups were more aggressive in seeking coverage for their side in the media. Thus Public Citizen and allies gave a press conference on Capitol Hill and were rewarded with a big Newsweek story summarizing their talking points (as well as, earlier, coverage in the news-side WSJ). I’m pretty sure no groups critical of the Liebeck award ever did a comparable press push; and the McDonald’s company itself, so far as I know, never chose to cooperate with commentators who might be sympathetic to its legal case.