A pair of recent studies debunk some of right-wing media's favorite rationales for legal "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to sue corporate wrongdoers.
Right-wing media have consistently railed against class action lawsuits, despite the fact that such suits make it easier for consumers to group low-value claims together that attorneys might otherwise not take. The Wall Street Journal in particular has been critical of class actions, calling them "frivolous," too expensive, and only beneficial to the plaintiffs' lawyers. In one editorial after the Supreme Court upheld the decades-long use of class actions for investors in securities, the Journal attacked the decision as "a champagne day for trial lawyers ... as the Justices voted to maintain the status quo." In another, the editorial board claimed that class action lawsuits that were filed to help workers recover back wages for the time they spent waiting in security check lines "would benefit lawyers far more than workers," ignoring the potential wage theft at issue.
But two new studies undercut some of the main premises behind the Journal's anti-lawsuit crusade. According to a recent report from the Center for Justice & Democracy, "class actions have not only helped victims of corporate law-breaking, but have also resulted in injunctive relief that protects us all from a wide array of corporate wrongdoing, from employment and civil rights violations to price-fixing and consumer fraud to automotive defects to health care abuses." From servicemember financial abuse to systematic sex discrimination at the country's largest employers, the report analyzed hundreds of class action lawsuits and settlements and found that nearly all of them provided meaningful relief to the plaintiffs who had been injured or defrauded. CJ&D note that "without the class action tool, corporations and businesses can ignore the law far more easily and operate with impunity."
Moreover, the conservative idea that class action lawsuits result in higher costs in the industry with the challenged practices is also suspect -- at least in the context of healthcare. A new study from the Rand Corporation suggests that even though "many believe that fear of malpractice lawsuits drives physicians to order otherwise unnecessary care and that legal reforms could reduce such wasteful spending," states that have enacted such reforms have not seen a corresponding reduction in healthcare costs.
For example, as The American Prospect's Paul Waldman explained, healthcare costs have actually gone up in Texas since the state passed a constitutional amendment that severely limited money damages that could be recovered in medical malpractice suits:
[I]n Texas, they passed a constitutional amendment in 2003 that made it almost impossible to recover meaningful damages from medical malpractice. That was good for doctors -- the number of malpractice claims plummeted, and malpractice premiums went down -- but instead of falling, health care costs in the state actually rose faster than in the rest of the country.
When you ask Republicans what they'd like to do to reform American health care, the first thing out of their mouths is usually "tort reform." But the fact that all the evidence suggests it would do nothing to cut costs is probably not going to dent their commitment to laws limiting people's ability to sue for malpractice. That's because the truth is that conservatives see this as a moral question as much as a fiscal one. "Frivolous lawsuits" make them livid, and as far as they're concerned a frivolous lawsuit getting filed (even if it never goes anywhere) is a greater outrage than someone who was victimized not being able to get compensation.
Class action lawsuits provide a valuable legal remedy for consumers who have been defrauded or injured by large corporations, but right-wing media have often discounted their value and hyped their supposed societal costs. Yet as these recent studies once again demonstrate, conservative justifications behind tort "reform" seem to be based less on sound policy and more on antipathy to a court system that encourages corporate accountability.
After repeatedly using his regular Forbes column to attack gun safety efforts without mentioning that he also writes for the National Rifle Association, Frank Miniter's latest column discloses his ties to the gun group.
In an October 20 column about the relationship between gun laws and law enforcement officers, Miniter added, "Full disclosure: The often politically incorrect truth about guns led me to write the recently published book The Future of the Gun. I'm also a former executive editor of the NRA's magazine American Hunter. I still write for the NRA and for many other publications and am a 'field editor' (an honorary title) for American Hunter."
Media Matters previously criticized Miniter and Forbes for not disclosing his NRA ties in a September 25 column that claimed the gun safety initiatives undertaken by Everytown for Gun Safety and the group's founder Michael Bloomberg were "backfiring."
Miniter's latest column proves the need for the disclosure. In the piece, he cites a discredited survey previously hyped by the NRA in order to create the impression members of law enforcement typically oppose gun safety laws.
George Will's planned appearance at Miami University this week is sparking fierce opposition and planned protests on campus, with both students and faculty speaking out against the event as "highly inappropriate" due to Will's repeated comments that trivialize campus rape.
Will, who is distributed by the The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate, has been under fire from U.S. senators, media, and women's equality groups since the publication of his June 6 column, which argued that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will has been making similar comments for more than two decades, and has refused to apologize for his most recent remarks.
Critics at the Oxford, Ohio campus warn that rewarding Will with a paid platform "sends a negative message" to sexual assault survivors. Miami University's troubled recent history regarding campus rape prompted President David Hodge to state last year that the school had an "obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence."
An open letter to the university's administration is currently circulating, with more than 200 students and faculty members signing on to the statement opposing Will's appearance.
The letter reads, in part: "the hosting of George F. Will ... sends the wrong message to current students, prospective students, and their families about the tolerance of rape culture and predatory sexual behavior at Miami University." It adds that his column "belittled the 'progressivism' of new measures to help prevent sexual assault on campus. Sexual assault is not a political issue."
"Furthermore, Will states baldly that colleges 'make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,' a message that is contrary to the experience of many assault survivors who find the process of reporting assault shaming and silencing," the letter adds. "We as a campus should be working to make that process less stigmatizing, not more."
Protests are currently planned for the night of the speech, as well as a sexual assault "teach-in" by at least one women's, gender and sexual studies instructor to be held right outside of the event, according to the Miami University Women's Center, an on-campus student resource center.
In early October, Scripps College of Claremont, CA, canceled a planned appearance by Will in light of the column, with the school's president stating, "Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy."
The columnist will receive $48,000 for his scheduled speech at Miami University's Farmer School of Business for its annual Anderson Lecture Series on October 22. Last week, a school spokesperson told Media Matters that the administration is aware of the controversy surrounding Will and that "Members of our campus community may rightfully have questions about Mr. Will's writings on a number of issues and we support their right to pose those questions."
Reaction has been swift, with multiple statements condemning the decision coming from student and faculty groups.
"Paying George Will to speak at Miami after the column he wrote sends a negative message to survivors of rape and sexual assault on campus," the Miami University Women's Center declared in an email to the campus community that also urged attendance at the protests. "He doubts the legitimate struggle of rape and sexual assault -- this is extremely harmful to survivors. Although he's not talking about this issue, his presence here sends the message that rape and sexual assault is not a big enough issue to turn him away from campus like other colleges have done."
A new commentary video from the National Rifle Association defends the controversial practice of openly carrying firearms in public, arguing that firearms are not capable of intimidation.
In an October 20 video, NRA News commentator Billy Johnson took on open carry critics, stating, "Somehow we have completely dehumanized gun violence, and have instead humanized guns. Guns kill. Guns strike fear. Guns intimidate. Seriously? They're just bits of plastic and metal." Johnson also apparently defended the controversial practice of open carrying firearms in Michigan public schools.
Johnson centered his commentary around "a little bit of a dust-up over a law-abiding citizen enacting his right to open carry" in his community. He didn't identify the specific incident, however, stating, "I'm not going to get into the details, because they honestly don't matter."
Johnson stated that he is "baffled by why society is so damn afraid of" open carry and attributed concern about the practice to "our irrational, media-fed hysterical fear of guns." According to Johnson, guns "are no more capable of intimidation than my vacuum is capable of cleaning my house, or my lawn mower is capable of mowing my lawn."
Fox News continues to lead the conservative attack on Ron Klain, whom President Obama appointed as the administration's Ebola coordinator, termed by some a "czar," to help direct the government's response to the rare virus and its arrival in Dallas, Texas.
After days of demanding White House action on the issue (such as appointing a czar), conservatives, led by Republican Party leaders, immediately criticized the choice of Klain. Why? Because he has no medical background and because he's enjoyed a career as Democratic political insider, working as chief of staff for both former Vice President Al Gore and current Vice President Joe Biden.
On the recent Sunday morning talk shows, Republicans made sure to hammer their objections:
Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone is raising questions about a Washington Post report that named and implicated a White House volunteer in the 2012 Secret Service prostitution scandal based largely on an unnamed "eyewitness," without substantial corroborating evidence. The White House volunteer had been investigated and cleared of wrongdoing, as other media outlets had noted in 2012 reports that protected his anonymity.
The Washington Post reported on October 8 that in addition to several Secret Service agents and members of the military who were punished for hiring prostitutes during a 2012 presidential visit to Columbia, then-White House volunteer Jonathan Dach may have engaged in similar activity. The Post's evidence was a single anonymous Secret Service agent who "said he saw Dach with a woman he believed was a prostitute," and a hotel record that stated Dach had registered a woman into his room. The White House had investigated in 2012 and cleared him after determining that Dach denied any wrongdoing, that Dach's fellow White House travel aides reported no wrongdoing, and that the hotel records were inaccurate and had previously triggered the erroneous allegation that an innocent Secret Service agent had brought a prostitute to his room.
So why then did the Post decide to name him now, two and a half years after it broke the news of the scandal and 9 months since reporters began communicating with his attorney? Letters obtained by The Huffington Post show the attorney, Richard Sauber, rebutted the claims and offered countervailing evidence in letters sent to top Post editors. The decision to publish Dach's identity regardless raises questions about the threshold news organizations must meet when revealing the name of someone accused of lurid activity without independently confirming the claims.
Though The Post did not conclude that Dach hired a prostitute, it nevertheless crafted its story in a way that could give the impression of guilt or impropriety. ... Sauber denied the allegations and expressed concern that the inclusion of Dach's name in a story on the prostitution scandal could significantly damage his professional future. Sauber wrote on Jan. 16 that the publication of the charge "will be devastating to this young man just as he embarks on his career after law school."
Time misrepresented the findings of an Inspector General report to falsely imply that former State Department aide Cheryl Mills was faulted for "strong-arming" departmental investigations, even though the inspector general cleared Mills of wrongdoing in the only case where her actions were investigated.
In an October 17 piece, Time claimed several aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been faulted for the appearance of "undue influence and favoritism" during three State Department investigations. In what Time called "the highest-level case," a U.S. Ambassador in Belgium was recalled to Washington for an internal review into accusations that he had solicited a prostitute. "The move effectively halted an investigation by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security," Time reported. It continued:
The ambassador, Howard Gutman, was recalled to Washington from Belgium to meet with Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and Clinton Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, according to the report.
By focusing on Mills' role in that meeting -- in an article centered around claims that Clinton aides were strong-arming investigators and fostering an atmosphere of favoritism -- Time implied that Mills was found negligent by the Inspector General. But the inspector general report did not criticize Mills for her role in that meeting. The IG report was only critical of the decision to internalize the inquiry, a decision made by the Undersecretary of Management, Patrick Kennedy. From the report:
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a "management issue" based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission.
Despite insinuating that Mills was criticized by the Inspector General, Time made no mention of the fact that Mills was explicitly cleared of wrongdoing in a separate investigation, even though that investigation was a focus of their report. The investigation centered on whether that an assistant secretary of state was found to have improperly delayed an interview with a nominee to be ambassador to Iraq. Mills, who was Chief of Staff at the time, was explicitly cleared of any improper actions:
OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor.
OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed.
Conservative financiers Charles and David Koch have spent far more to influence the 2014 midterm elections than progressive activist Tom Steyer, yet for months media outlets have equated the two.
National women's organization NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn are calling out The Denver Post's recent endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO), running a full-page ad in the paper's Sunday edition that highlights the Post's omission of Gardner's anti-choice policy positions that "deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
An October 17 announcement from NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn.org Political Action declared that the two organizations are teaming up in an effort to "rebuke" The Denver Post's recent "misguided endorsement" of Cory Gardner. Criticizing the news outlet for glossing over Gardner's extreme stance on personhood legislation as well as his positions on climate change and immigration, the organizations will run a full-page ad in the Post's Sunday edition as well as an online ad on DenverPost.com:
A hard-hitting, full-page ad from MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America running inthis Sunday's Denver Post blasts the state's largest newspaper for endorsing Cory Gardner, a far-right candidate who holds views that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances. MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America are running the print ad as well as online ads on DenverPost.com.
The print ad highlights contrasts between previous positions from The Denver Post editorial board and Gardner's stance on issues including a woman's right to choose, global warming, and immigration reform.
Contrary to The Denver Post's refusal to hold Gardner accountable for his position on fetal personhood legislation, which would greatly infringe on women's access to health care and legal abortion, NARAL and MoveOn's recent ad follows the lead of other media figures unwilling to give Gardner's incomprehensible stance on personhood a pass.