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Book Review of: Spinning The Law
Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion
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Spinning The Law, by Author (Hardcover, 2011)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This was a very interesting and informative book. It has a few anomalies that caused me to have "Say what?" moments, and I'll get to those shortly.
Coffey writes authoritatively about the legal process. Which, given his background, is to be expected. He's not a journalist pretending to be a subject matter expert (something we see all too often, these days). He actually is a subject matter expert. Both by training and by actually having been there, done that.
Where his authority appears to slip is in his opinion of what shapes public opinion. He's under the impression that Americans get their information from newspapers. That has never been true. At one time, and we have Mark Twain agreeing here, Americans got their DISinformation from newspapers. I stopped reading papers in the early 1980s, simply because the inaccuracies completely turned me off. Newspaper reading is strongly on the decline, which is why papers are folding all over the country. In some demographics, the readership is below 1%.
Coffey also views television as a source of news. Maybe he's right, there. I wouldn't know, as I stopped watching television in 1990. I never watched a second of the OJ trial. Like newspaper readership, television viewership is also on the decline.
That is not to say I get my news online. I just don't do news. It's usually bad, and it's usually wrong. However, I agree with Coffey's general impression that, regardless of the source, the public at large does get the news and this is what shapes public opinion. The very reason I don't do news is why it matters to legal cases. It's not fact or reasoned analysis, but spin.
Because I'm not an attorney trying cases, what Coffey said about criminal and civil cases greatly improved my understanding of plea bargaining, sentencing, and why a guilty plea matters on appeal. After reading the book, I got into a discussion about a pending criminal case and, newly armed by Coffey, proceeded to duly impress those involved in the discussion.
Because I ignore the news, what Coffey revealed about it helps me understand why people form the opinions they do about various events. Though I try to avoid the disinformation, it tends to go viral. Once a person is infected with disinformation from a news source, that person spreads it through his/her community. And so maybe what I see as an anomaly or limitation in Coffey's view is an anomaly or limitation in mine, instead.
I've long said we do not have a justice system in this country. We have an injustice system. Several legal experts agree with, and indeed helped me reach, that conclusion. Anyone researching the death penalty or Tax Court (often pretty much the same thing) will necessarily reach this same conclusion.
Another anomaly does come up, though. Due to ballot access, federal elections in the USA are farces that have no effect on public policy. Even Joe Stalin commented on this. We have had a single party system since the 1880s, and if you research the names prominent in politics you will see this. You will also see this when you look for other patterns, such as what happens when one wing is in power versus the other. The differences are in rhetoric, not reality.
Rather than have the representative republic our law prescribes, we have a criminal oligarchy. The same people control things, either way. But Coffey said the 2000 "election" changed history. It did not change history; only crooked or inept historians can do that. Presumably, he means it changed the course of history. That, too, is incorrect. All it changed was the face of a vast criminal enterprise that has left us with a staggering national debt that exceeds three times the GDP of the entire world. The folks running it remained the same. This misperception on Coffey's part is forgivable, considering he's been immersed in the machine for so long. And it really doesn't change the value of the book.
Coffey's analyses of a few very public cases are the best I have read. The Elian Gonzalez fiasco was an unconscionable abuse of power by the federal government, not to mention the other moral failings in this particular case. You have to remember, though, the murderers at Ruby Ridge and Waco were never prosecuted on the watch of the same AG overseeing the Gonzalez travesty. Who says you can't get away with murder? Or kidnapping? We now have proof that, even when done very publicly, these atrocious acts aren't crimes if done by certain people who don't have to obey our laws or the expectations of a civilized society.
It was interesting to read about the Martha Stewart case, something about which I had almost no knowledge. It's yet another case of misallocation of the government's resources to create punishment grossly disproportionate to the crime while letting the big fish off scott-free. Coffey also mentioned the abusive incarceration of Wesley Snipes, though he failed to mention that Chuck Rangel and Timothy Geithner don't have to follow the same rules. And Rangel is an especially egregious case of breaking several federal laws including tax evasion and lying to CONgress. Interestingly, nobody seems to wonder where he got the millions of dollars he unpatriotically invested outside the US.
Coffey's coverage of the Michael Jackson case was also insightful. I never like MJ's music, but many people did. Anyhow, I didn't pay much attention to the allegations and tribulations surrounding MJ. Now I more fully understand that.
I think this book makes a valuable addition to anyone's library. Oddly enough, its coverage of the disinformation system leaves the reader far more informed. This will help you understand and interpret what you hear and read, so you are less manipulated by it.
Being able to understand major legal events is important, in a country in which the current and previous President both erroneously referred to our system of government as a democracy. That is no minor error, but one of extreme importance. And it's a bellweather that should frighten all citizens.
The book can serve a purpose other than just helping you understand current events that are in the news. If you're ever a plaintiff or defendant, this book goes from being a "valuable addition" to being a "must read" for your attorney and for you personally.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.