Michael Townes Watson

Media Bias

A report came out on the Columbia, South Carolina NBC affiliate WIS-TV website about a $30 million verdict being overturned by the trial court. Here is the link to the story:

The website version of the report is all of five short sentences, whereas the report of the verdict, when it was rendered last summer, was in every newspaper in the state, on every blog, every newscast and every major media website. I wonder how many people heard the report of the verdict, and what small fraction of those heard the report of the trial judge’s ruling overturning the verdict?

Without even discussing whether the original verdict was correct, was too high or too low, or the lawsuit was one of those that is “frivolous” as characterized by the insurance propaganda machine, we have to address the nature of the media coverage and the role the media plays in perpetuating the myths advanced by the insurance industry. It is always front-page news when a “crazy jury” renders an “astronomical” verdict. It is almost never front-page news when the verdict is overturned, reversed on appeal, or settled for a fraction of the verdict amount. And then, when a plaintiff is the loser in the jury verdict, it is never characterized that a jury made a correct choice, or even that they made a poor choice, but that it was a “frivolous” lawsuit to begin with, or, to use the words of our President, a “junk lawsuit.”

It is always interesting that when a jury returns a verdict for a plaintiff that we hear that the verdict was unjust or too high. Yet when they return one for the defendant, either the system worked properly or the lawsuit was frivolous to begin with. Do we want juries to decide cases or should we only let their decisions stand in the cases that come out in favor of the defendant, and then do away with the juries’ decisions in all other cases? Do insurance companies and doctors think that the Institute of Medicine was wrong when it determined that there are tens of thousands of people killed every year by medical mistakes in hospitals? Was the Center for Disease Control wrong when it said that 90,000 people are killed every year by infections acquired in the hospital? If these reports from the doctors themselves are accurate, then how can the juries all be wrong when they find for the plaintiff?

It seems that it is time for the media to begin questioning the propaganda that they have passed along to the healthcare consumers. Let’s give just as much attention to the results that favor the hospitals and doctors as we do to the results that favor the plaintiff. Why do we not see headlines in the newspapers across the country when a reliable study is done that recommends that future efforts at reforming medical malpractice system “should take a creative approach toward integrating tort law and patient-safety measures to achieve the dual goals of accountability and improved quality of care.” Here is the link to that story from Health Affairs Journal.

Michael Townes Watson: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 3:13 PM, Mar 12, 2007 in
Permalink | Email to Friend


This story contains a couple of professional ethics issues with regard to the plaintiff lawyer and to the judge. I wonder if every lawyer reading it here has violated his own duty to report potential violations. Does a news story containing a potential lawyer violation induce a duty to report in the 1000's of lawyers who may read the story?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | March 13, 2007 8:07 AM