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Violence is not "Discord"

Response to ABC's
"The Trouble with Lawyers"

By Roberta Cooper Ramo,
President, American Bar Association

January 3, 1996

An Open Letter to ABC:

Last night ABC aired "The Trouble with Lawyers," and billed it as an "ABC news special." I, like most Americans, expect a "news special" to be an honest attempt to take an unbiased look at important issues, explore them fairly and provide accurate information to viewers. But this program was simply a personal diatribe against the legal profession, an attack lacking any attempt to examine serious legal issues or the role of lawyers with any depth or with any effort to ensure accuracy, fairness or objectivity.

John Stossel calls himself a "consumer reporter," but in interviews about his special openly admitted that his so-called "reporting" is not objective, but personal. This admission, he seems to feel, gives him license to put together a program that manipulates anecdotes and innuendo to conform the story to his preconceived point of view, and still call it "news." That is neither journalism nor news. When promoting something as news, ABC has a responsibility to provide more to the American public than a strident one-sided assault on its subject. Stossel's throw-away lines about the value of lawyers -- for which he somehow failed to discover either evidence or anecdotes -- were simply insulting. In contrast, the "discussion" of "loser pays" showed one side. It failed even to mention the many experts, not only in this country but also in countries where the English Rule pertains, who see very negative aspects of it and on balance oppose it.

Every day around the country the vast majority of lawyers spend many hours helping people solve very real problems. I am president of an organization that represents hundreds of thousands of lawyers. The lawyers who work with us spend thousands of hours fighting for legal services for the poor, for an end to domestic violence, for a strong first amendment, for a rational, accessible and economically efficient justice system. Lawyers are the first to recognize that the system is imperfect -- and the first to work to improve it. Lawyers are the foot soldiers that make American democracy a reality. Without them, the words freedom, liberty and justice would mean little.

As a respected news organization, I believe you know that allowing Mr. Stossel to tell America what "The Trouble with Lawyers" is from his narrow perspective is neither fair nor right. Local news organizations clearly and carefully label their editorials as such, and always offer "equal time" to opposing views. Surely a major network should be as straightforward.

I look forward to equal time for the lawyers in this country who make the justice system work for all. Simple fairness demands nothing less.

Roberta Cooper Ramo
President, American Bar Association