Press Release Journalism: Tobacco and Pharma Group Publish Report, Local Media Jump

Ah, press release journalism.

As the proprieter of a blog-- even a tiny little one like this-- you get sent many press releases, usually from a 'new media consultant,' letting you know of a very important product announcement, or report that was issued.

I guess we know who was emailing yesterday, because it appears that a horrible Big Industry group named "The American Tort Reform Association" issued a report calling Philadelphia Courts 'hellholes.' And, our local media, including the Inquirer and Philebrity, ate it up, copied some text, and voila, Big Tobacco and co. gets what it paid for, under these ridiculous headlines:

Philebrity: "Philadelphia Is Nation’s Top “Judicial Hellhole” For 2nd Year In A Row"
Inquirer: Top ‘judicial hellhole’ is Philadelphia, study says."

The articles that follow have the same amount of critical analysis as the headlines.

The Inquirer, today:

Flames leap from the gavel on the cover of a new report that declares Philadelphia No. 1 among the nation's "Judicial Hellholes."

...

The report, released Wednesday, focuses on perceived abuses in civil courts, not criminal ones, and comes from the American Tort Reform Foundation, which represents businesses, municipalities and professional associations.

The article then details all of the problems that this mysterious professional group has found.

Amount of analysis about the group behind the report? Zero.

Amount of analysis about the conclusions behind the report. Zero.

And then there was Philebrity, yesterday, talking about the same report. I mean, you can call something press release journalism, but, uh, seriously, read the press release, and then read what Philebrity published.

Press release:

Philadelphia hosts a disproportionate share of Pennsylvania’s lawsuits and, as demonstrated by the report, forum shopping for plaintiff-friendly courts within the state is primarily a “Philly phenomenon.” Of greatest concern is the Complex Litigation Center (CLC) in Philadelphia, where judges have actively sought to attract personal injury lawyers from across the state and the country.

Philebrity:

The report said Philadelphia, “‘hosts a disproportionate share of Pennsylvania’s lawsuits’ and … forum shopping for plaintiff-friendly courts within the state is primarily a ‘Philly phenomenon.’ Of greatest concern is the Complex Litigation Center in Philadelphia, where judges have actively sought to attract personal injury lawyers from across the state and the country.” Ouch again.

Ouchie! He links to the full report, which he promises is "a big-time bummer," and ends the post. (What would you put the odds at that he read the report? I am going to guess about 1 percent. Bummer!)

The full extent of any critical analysis in either article/post is... well, there isn't any.

However, both the substance of the report and who actually published it should make anyone think twice about simply passing it off as news.

First, who published it? Well, I broke out the google, and found that this faux grassroots group has been funded by those true protectors of American society, Dow Chemical, Exxon and the like. What else could you find out about them in the interweb tubes? How about that one thing this group does is file amicus briefs in the Supreme Court on behalf of everyone's favorite little guy, Big Tobacco.

Ok, then, so clearly a source we should trust.

What about the conclusions of the report itself? Ironically, one of the things that Sweeney and the Inquirer highlight from the report as 'bad' is that Philly has a complex litigation center, which aims to handle cases in under two years. The horrors!

Could you guess why it is a 'bad' thing for these guys to have cases settle reach a conclusion in two years? Because the strategy of big companies who have done horrible things is often to simply destroy plaintiffs by fighting and fighting and fighting, for as long as possible at as much of a cost to the Plaintiffs as possible. (See, for example, how Merck fought against claims that Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes, and that Merck knew it would happen...) In other words, Philadelphia tries- in some small way- to bring cases to a conclusion within a few years, and as a result, big industry cannot properly crush them under a sea of lawyers. Ouch, again!

"Tort reform" is a joke. Yes, there are bad plaintiff's lawyers out there, just like there are bad teachers, policemen, baseball players, crossing guards and bakers. However, this 'reform' is nothing more than a way to shift wealth from consumers to horrible companies-- including the supporters of this stupid, transparent report.

It would be really helpful if our local media stopped accepting things like this, lock, stock and barrel. Phillip Morris, Big Pharma and their friends really don't need the help.

Update: Since I started

Update: Since I started writing this, the Inquirer article has tacked on at the bottom a link to a group that points out how ridiculous this is report is.

The Inquirer has now added

The Inquirer has now added this:

Taking sharp issue with the "Hellholes" report is the American Association for Justice, the leading trade group for trial attorneys.

"Despite receiving millions in corporate cash, ATRA continues to produce the same stale, recycled report year after year. ATRA's multinational corporate funders should start to question if their dues are spent wisely on such an amateur piece of propaganda," said AAJ president Gary M. Paul.

Of course, this also, just appears to be pulled from a press release.

Good ole objectivity

Classic he/she said, he/she said journalism. Publish points from press releases from both sides, give a false equivalency to both and do it under the guise of "objectivity." You're a reporter. Report. And don't me started on headline writers. The folks who put out this release just knew the word "hellhole" would end up in a headline. Now they have a perfect graphic for any television ad they choose to run down the road.

Thanks for point out this sham, Dan. And I can't believe this is the first time I've read YPP in what seems like about two years. Glad you guys are still going strong!

Thanks for the laughs!

This article is awesome, especially because I saw the report trending on twitter from one of my journalist pals. I'm gonna forward this to him.

thanks for the debunking.

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