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Propaganda is a powerful, frightening, and frequently successful form of advertising  . . . or brainwashing. For centuries, governments have used propaganda to turn public opinion in their favor.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes propaganda as:  “Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause”.

Adolph Hitler said, “Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.” To further his cause, Hitler appointed Joseph Goebbels as Minister for Propaganda.  The Nazis’ propaganda machine was amazingly successful.

Today, a movement called tort reform is using propaganda in its efforts to eliminate and weaken the right of every American citizen to seek justice and compensation for personal injury or wrongful death through trial by jury.

To achieve its goals, a propaganda campaign must be thoroughly organized, well funded, and relentless. The message must be in people’s faces constantly, and tort reform advocates never stop spreading their message that the United States will be a better place if American citizens will only rally outside the Capitol Building, urging Congress to “Take Away Our Rights”.

Specifically, tort reform advocates want to take away one of the rights bestowed on every American citizen in the Bill of Rights, the right to a trial by jury. The Seventh Amendment states:

“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.”

The basic intent of the Seventh Amendment, and of our entire legal system, is to hold wrongdoers responsible for the physical trauma, wrongful deaths, and financial damages that they cause. Supporters of tort reform are trying to take away rights granted by the Seventh Amendment because they want to be able to sell products that harm and kill without having to be accountable for the lives that they diminish. So, they demonize lawyers and work relentlessly to weaken the justice system.

The tort reform movement has already had significant success. In an opinion piece in the New York Daily News on December 5, 2009 entitled “Enough with the tort reform myths”, Michael Geltnick, President of the New York Bar Association, pointed out that the number of tort cases filed in New York had dropped by 30% from 1998 to 2008.

Tort reform advocates have had significant success, but they’re not about to stop until they do much more damage to our legal system. In fact, they’ve even gotten President Obama involved in their cause. The president has said that he would be open to suggestions about constraining lawsuits by victims of medical malpractice. Even if he says nothing more, that statement sends the message that the president believes that our legal system is harming the nation.

Back in 1937, when the Nazi machine was spreading its message of hate, Edward Filene, founder of a large department store in Boston, established the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. The institute had a brief life, but it did define the basic principles of a propaganda campaign, and the tort reform campaign is still following these 7 successful steps:

Bandwagon: Pump up the value of ‘joining the party’. Example – Everyone can join California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA).

Card-Stacking: Build a highly-biased case for your position. Example – California Proposition 64, which used the highly provocative slogan “Stop Shakedown Lawsuits”.

Glittering Generalities: Use power words to evoke emotions. Example – “Frivolous Lawsuits”, a term invented by tort reform supporters.

Name-calling: Denigrate opponents. Example – Calling SUV rollover lawyers, brain trauma lawyers, and product liability lawyers “Legal Vultures”.

Plain Folks – Making the leader seem ordinary increases trust and credibility. Example – The American Tort Reform Association describes itself as “A nationwide network of state-based liability reform coalitions backed by 135,000 grassroots supporters.”

Testimonial: The testimony of an independent person is seen as more trustworthy. Example – Newt Gingrich said, “States that have enacted tort-reform measures have significantly improved access to health care, reduced costs, and strengthened economies.” That sounds convincing, even though no facts substantiate the claim.

Transfer: Associate the leader with trusted others. Example – The United States Chamber of Commerce sounds like a wonderful organization, but it is actually a major proponent of tort reform, and its website carries this inflammatory condemnation of our legal system: “America’s Out-of-Control Civil Lawsuit System Hurts Businesses, Employees, and Families.”

A good propaganda campaign clearly establishes the line between good and evil, and that’s exactly what the tort reformers have done. They’ve blamed the victims for seeking compensation, and they’ve demonized accident attorneys. They’ve portrayed the justice system as “out of control”, and they’ve obscured the fact that the justice system protects everyone.

A report from the Commonweal Institute entitled The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Tort Law exposes the motives and the funding behind the tort reform movement. Not surprisingly, some of the major forces are insurance companies, manufacturers of dangerous products and chemicals, and the tobacco industry. They want tort reform so that they can continue to sell dangerous products without taking responsibility for all the harm that they cause.

That’s not what our Founders had in mind. They hoped that all the citizens of their great new nation would treat others with respect, but they understood human nature and wrote the Seventh Amendment so that the court system would provide protection for everyone.

But you still have your Seventh Amendment rights, so be fully aware of what the tort reform advocates are trying to take from you. Exercise your rights. Never sit on your rights.

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Tort Reform Advocates Run A Propaganda Campaign

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Richard Alexander