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Distorting the Law

Politics, Media, and the Litigation Crisis

In recent years, stories of reckless lawyers and greedy citizens have given the legal system, and victims in general, a bad name. Many Americans have come to believe that we live in the land of the litigious, where frivolous lawsuits and absurdly high settlements reign.

Scholars have argued for years that this common view of the depraved ruin of our civil legal system is a myth, but their research and statistics rarely make the news. William Haltom and Michael McCann here persuasively show how popularized distorted understandings of tort litigation (or tort tales) have been perpetuated by the mass media and reform proponents. Distorting the Law lays bare how media coverage has sensationalized lawsuits and sympathetically portrayed corporate interests, supporting big business and reinforcing negative stereotypes of law practices.

Based on extensive interviews, nearly two decades of newspaper coverage, and in-depth studies of the McDonald’s coffee case and tobacco litigation, Distorting the Law offers a compelling analysis of the presumed litigation crisis, the campaign for tort law reform, and the crucial role the media play in this process.

332 pages | 2 halftones, 6 line drawings, 9 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2004

Chicago Series in Law and Society

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society


"This is an excellent study and should assume its rightful place in the pantheon of law and society studies. . . . In the end, the book becomes, for sympathetic readers, the academic equivalent of A Civil Action."

Richard L. Pacell, Jr. | The Law and Politics Book Review

Table of Contents

1. The Social Production of Legal Knowledge
Part One: Contesting Legal Realities
2. Pop Torts: Tales of Legal Degeneration and Moral Regeneration
3. In Retort: Narratives versus Numbers
4. ATLA Shrugged: Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Play Defense
Part Two: Reporting Legal Realities
5. Full Tort Press: Media Coverage of Civil Litigation
6. Java Jive: Genealogy of a Juridical Icon
7. Smoke Signals from the Tobacco Wars
8. Law through the Looking Glass of Mass Politics


APSA Law and Courts Section: C. Herman Pritchett Award

Law and Society Association: Herbert Jacob Book Prize

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