VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century
By Tom Fenton (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2016). 128 pgs. $6.79. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by William V. Gruber
Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century is a brisk critique of modern American media. Its contours follow the institution's early 21st century presence and purpose to, and through, its regression from substance and effectiveness beginning around the middle of the last century. The book is compelling as a memoir on the criticality of a vigilant press (the "Fourth Estate"), but, as is unmistakably the author's aim, the poignant messaging confronts the harmful effect on collective informedness driven by impaired or diverted access to truly substantive news.
The book is confidently balanced with expository and measured critical tone; the author writes authoritatively as an experienced and achieved journalist. Graciously, he spares the reader his industry's characteristic penchant for hyperbole and superfluity.
Many readers will accept the author's general indictment. In alleging outright "failure," Fenton cogently establishes the media's core societal obligations. The emphasis is well situated given that the media present as a force for accountability, but appear, in many ways, to consider themselves above answer.
Fenton sets forth the cornerstones of journalism: news gathering and distribution. He sums up the media's shortfalls with an idealistic or purist, but altogether persuasive, tact. Fenton identifies the lead up to and industrial pressures spurring the deterioration but is refreshingly emphatic in pronouncing the media, itself, liable for its ineffectiveness as well as the consequences to Americans and their culture and common ideals. Fenton lays prominent responsibility at the feet of hapless journalists for cramping Americans' ability to grasp, and react to, the slowly evolved trajectories that ended with the most traumatic events of the last 20 years, including 9/11 and the Great Recession.
Fenton succinctly compares and contrasts news-making quality and practices of today and of yesteryear. He convincingly demonstrates that most of the media aggregate is unmotivated to "scoop" or gather and relay vital, substantive information but is driven to "fluff" reporting and "news" repackaging, exemplified by the reductivism, memes, and visually oriented models of social media. In most instances, the stewardship role has been displaced in favor of provocateur, entertainer, and profit-generator.
Want to Review a Book?
The following books are available for review. Please request the book and writing guidelines from Wisconsin Lawyer managing editor Karlé Lester, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 250-6127. Reviewers may keep the book reviewed. Reviews of about 500 words are due within 45 days of receiving the book. Reviews are published, space permitting, in the order received and may be edited for length and clarity.
- Cell Phone Distraction, Human Factors, and Litigation, by T. Scott Smith, PhD (Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing Co., 2016). 441 pgs.
- The Final Hurdle: A Physician’s Guide to Negotiating a Fair Employment Agreement, by Atty. Dennis Hursh (Charleston, S.C.: Advantage, 2012). 116 pgs.
- The New Era of Regulatory Enforcement: A Comprehensive Guide for Raising the Bar to Manage Risk, by Attys. Richard H. Girgenti & Timothy P. Hedley (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2016). 317 pgs.
- Tire Defect Litigation, by Atty. Robert E. Ammons (Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing Co., 2016). 246 pgs.
Fenton correlates the trends and the diminishment of a critically purposeful media with news consumers' decline in tolerance (or expectations) for meaningfully informative news. He contends the patterns are threatening the nation's future and vitality because Americans' crucial forms of global (and local) awareness are being dulled.
The book is richly premised to help in positing that frighteningly large contingents of Americans are becoming increasingly myopic despite remarkable technological capacity to access and share information – thanks to modern media and a frightening American palatability for mostly non-news. To these ends, it seems vital intelligence is waning with the enhancement of nonvital intelligence.
William V. Gruber, Marquette 2004, is Watertown city attorney.
VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Standing Strong: An Unlikely Sisterhood and the Court Case That Made History
By Diane Reeve (Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI, 2016). 264 pgs. $12.76. Order, www.hcibooks.com.
Reviewed by Kelly Kramer
We've all made mistakes and none of us are perfect, particularly in relationships or marriages. Most of us can readily admit that. But Standing Strong is a tragic example of the different interpretations the word "mistakes" can have. The mistakes Philippe Padieu made were on a level most of us would consider well beyond our everyday "Sorry I forgot to call" type of error. The Texas legal system felt the same, ultimately charging Philippe with multiple accounts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he knowingly infected numerous women with HIV. Philippe was eventually convicted on these charges and is serving a 45-year prison sentence.
Standing Strong starts out almost as a lighthearted romantic thriller, with author Diane Reeve briefly recounting her previous relationships and marriages. She met Philippe after being encouraged by her friends to try online dating. Determined to finally find "true love," she dated Philippe for several years, and despite many red flags, eventually decided to move in with him.
However, before that could happen, Diane discovered Philippe had been cheating on her and their relationship ended. Diane then learned that Philippe had been unfaithful throughout their relationship, having intercourse with many other women. Naturally concerned about potential sexually transmitted diseases, Diane contacted some of these women, and it was from one that she ultimately learned of her HIV-positive status.
From here the book shifts from a romantic thriller to more of an ugly horror story. Naturally devastated after learning that she is HIV positive, Diane somehow found courage and strength to not only push forward with life but also bond with other victims of Philippe and his horrifying acts, of which there were many. Diane and these women often risked their own personal safety to warn other women Philippe could have infected. Throughout the ordeal, Philippe continued to associate with various women, showing absolutely no remorse for any of his actions.
Extensive details are provided about how Diane and six other women managed to get the legal system involved and officially bring criminal charges against Philippe. The book is astoundingly and unfortunately accurate regarding the flaws that sometimes emerge in the legal process, particularly its often slow pace. Despite the many challenges, Diane and her newfound band of sisters were ultimately triumphant after the guilty verdicts against Philippe were announced.
Along with keeping the reader engaged from beginning to end, the book also does an outstanding job of providing accurate facts about individuals diagnosed with HIV and about those who knowingly transmit the disease. The author informs readers that not everyone who knowingly spreads HIV is a deranged sociopath; some such individuals might simply be careless or under the influence of drugs that keep them from making different choices. Diane, her story, and her case have provided a valuable contribution to HIV education everywhere.
Kelly Kramer, Hamline 2013, is an attorney at Herrick & Hart S.C., Eau Claire, and a writer for Source HOV.
VERDICT: A Tree Died For This?
Emotional Distress: Proving Damages
By Jon R. Abele (Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publishing Co., 2003). 164 pgs. $29. Order, www.lawyersandjudges.com.
Reviewed by Daniel Schmeeckle
Jon R. Abele's book, Emotional Distress: Proving Damages, reads like an endless string cite. At times, the book becomes a meandering non sequitur held together loosely by block-quoted passages from improperly cited cases. Despite the disjointed nature of the book, readers can somewhat regain their bearings by reviewing the synopsis provided at the beginning of each chapter.
A lawyer searching for practical advice when preparing a case with emotional damages should look elsewhere. The author does not address expert testimony other than to say that some states require it to prove emotional damages and some do not. To be helpful, the book should have explored qualifications when selecting an expert witness and how to depose expert witnesses and defend their depositions involving emotional distress claims. Disappointingly, the author also neglects the most interesting development in proving emotional distress, that is, the advances in neuroscience. Perhaps the absence of scientific analysis regarding emotional distress claims is explained by the fact that the book was published in 2003. In sum, the book fails to provide the practical insights necessary to prove damages in an emotional distress case.
The book would have been better published as a statewide survey because it touches on cases from 46 states. However, not a single Wisconsin case made the final edit. One takeaway, although not explicitly stated by the author, is that the outcome of an emotional distress claim depends more on geography than on the facts of the case. To be fair, the book touches on some interesting, but mostly irrelevant, issues. For instance, the book discusses a case involving Dennis Rodman in a section titled "Celebrities as Potential Defendants." In another section, it reviews the law surrounding emotional damages for injuries to pets. One passage describes the culture of the West, "where the strong, silent type, modeled on the myth of the cowboy still exists," to explain that male jurors view male plaintiffs with emotional injuries as "smack[ing] of complaining and whining, two personality traits that have been constantly derided and mocked throughout their lives." The book does not clarify if this passage reflects the author's opinion or is parroting the values espoused by Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit."
If the book has any value, it is the Client Interview Checklist found in the appendix. Aside from this checklist, the book fails to meet the minimum expectation set by its title, Emotional Distress: Proving Damages. In failing to provide practical guidance on proving damages, the book leaves open the opportunity to publish a practical guide on the topic.
Daniel F. Schmeeckle, Minnesota 2010, practices with Anderson, O’Brien, Bertz, Skrenes & Golla LLP in Stevens Point.
VERDICT: A Tree Died For This?
1969 and Then Some: A Memoir of Romance, Motorcycles, and Lingering Flashbacks of a Golden Age
By Robert Wintner (New York, NY: Yucca Press, 2014). 256 pgs. $20.88. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Dianne Post
The memoir started with sex, drugs, and rock and roll with the obligatory motorcycle thrown in, the mandatory move to California, and the required trip around Europe. It ended with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and a motorcycle. Not much happened in between, especially in the way of maturation. A whole lot of words without much essence, especially "goof" used repeatedly as a noun, verb, and adjective, were spread across the pages to describe several seedy business deals, a lot of luck, and the entitlement of a white, middle-class man.
The author seems to have missed what the 1960s were all about. No mention of politics stains the pages but for fragging and how to evade the draft. But the civil rights movement, well under way since the late 1950s, the women's liberation movement (NOW was founded in 1966), and the lesbian and gay rights movement (Stonewall was in 1969) are completely invisible in this remembrance.
The drug chapters seem to be written in a stream of consciousness, I suppose to mimic the experience of drugs. But they make about as much sense as an essay written while on LSD. The treatment of women throughout is truly abysmal, from minimizing prostitution to gang rape with a minor. "Stereotypes are us" blare through the pages.
This memoir doesn't just cover a specific period in time but goes on for 40 years with seemingly little impact on behavior. The use of period-specific jargon and constant cursing make some parts virtually indecipherable. And yes, boomers would mind bankrupting the Social Security system. Perhaps the author hasn't a thought for the future or the children, but most of us do.
Dianne Post, U.W. 1979, is an attorney in Phoenix, Ariz.
VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Beyond the Good-Girl Jail: When You Dare to Live From Your True Self
By Sandra Felt (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications Inc., 2016). 312 pgs. $12.76. Order, hcibooks.com.
Reviewed by Kerri A. Hutchison
Beyond the Good-Girl Jail is a book about living up to no one's expectations other than your own. The author, a counselor by profession, weaves her own personal discoveries with those of her clients to show multiple examples of breaking free from others' expectations. The ultimate goal is to live from your true self.
The author describes four stages in learning to live from your true self: recognize, reconnect with, rebuild, and return home. First, recognize your sense of self and learn to listen to it through the chronic fear that people experience. Second, reconnect with and experience yourself. Third, rebuild yourself through the choices you make, time alone, and updating core beliefs. Finally, return home to your true self by claiming what fits and letting go of all that does not.
Overall, the book was a quick read. However, the chapters seemed short, and the subject matter was not given more than a cursory treatment. For example, in the chapter about boundaries, the author describes the importance of creating gentle transitions between activities. The author devotes a page and a half to this technique and mentions that she has purposely created transitions for a long list of situations, but she does not describe any of her transitions. She gives the reader no practical advice on creating his or her own transitions.
While the book was written for women, the book's advice would apply to everyone. However, the book seems geared for individuals at certain stages of life. The author herself is an empty nester. In the section on spending time alone, she describes waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing planned for the day, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper for an hour, and puttering away in the garage for the remainder of the day. Such examples do not apply to those with significant caretaking or other responsibilities. She gives no advice on how to cultivate time alone when sandwiched between professional and personal responsibilities.
This book is heavily focused on personal, rather than professional, experiences. The author gives no advice specifically for a corporate or professional environment, and the professional situations of all the counseling clients are never mentioned. Those expecting a tome on how women can succeed at work by changing their behavior, such as Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, will be disappointed.
My least favorite aspect of the book was the mystical tone that sometimes defied plausibility. For example, one counseling client made a list of things she was ready to let go of and threw the list in the fire. However, the list did not burn, no matter what the client did, until the client made a conscious decision for the list to burn. While I could have done without the mysticism, I think there is enough wisdom woven throughout the book to make it a worthwhile read.
Kerri A. Hutchison, Marquette 2007, is corporate counsel at Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill.
Im-be-ciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck
By Adam Cohen (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2016). 416 pgs. $19.04. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Dianne Post
This nonfiction book about the Buck v. Bell decision reads like a John Grisham page turner. We probably all know by now that Carrie Buck was not (in the terminology of the day) an imbecile or a moron or feeble minded. She had in fact finished sixth grade – the average reading level today – with fine grades. But she was raped and became pregnant so she met the fate of so many girls and women in those days who were sexually and physically abused: she was shipped off to a mental hospital.
The author covers the background and motivations of the administrator of the hospital, the doctor who was urging eugenics, and the lawyer who reluctantly wrote Virginia's statute and brought the case. Carrie's defense attorney was a complete sham and would be disbarred today – we hope.
Revelations concerning the attitudes and actions of the U.S. Supreme Court justices of the time, primarily Oliver Wendell Holmes, paint a very different picture than that which we learned in law school. The American eugenics movement, and particularly this case, gave much credibility to the Nazi ideology of creating and purifying the Aryan "race." Although the eugenics movement died down after World War II, sterilizations continued in mental hospitals until the 1980s. Unfortunately, Buck v. Bell has never been overturned and was still considered good law as recently as 2001, when it was cited in an Eighth Circuit case.
The Genome Project and talk of designer babies ignite fears that the movement to create a "better" person through science may heat up again to the detriment of justice and law.
Dianne Post, U.W. 1979, is an international human rights lawyer. She practiced family law in Arizona for 18 years, mostly representing battered women and molested children, and then in 1998 began doing international work mainly on gender-based violence.
Verdict: It’s a Keeper
Terrorism Law: Materials, Cases, Comments (Seventh Edition)
By Jeffrey F. Addicott (Tucson, AZ: Lawyers & Judges Publ’g Co., 2014). 555 pgs. $99. Order: www.lawyersandjudges.com.
Reviewed by Erik Guenther
Terrorism Law is an impressive effort and a valuable addition to the libraries of the small subset of lawyers interested in rule-of-law efforts and national security issues. Unfortunately, the partiality of the author limits its value as a textbook. For example, the author finds no conflict in approvingly quoting John Locke while also cheerleading for the USA PATRIOT Act.
Terrorism Law is at its best when eruditely describing issues that fall into this fascinating and quickly evolving area of law. For example, the text describes the use of diplomatic pouches to transport illegal materials, including items that could be used to support acts of terrorism. The author also discusses the difficulty within the international community in defining "terrorism," demonstrating nuances in this fledging area of law. However, the author frustrates and reduces the book's value by offering flights of fear mongering such as this impossible claim: "The radical madrasas are like conveyor belts of death where an unlimited number of suicide bombers emerge convinced that their religion demands the murder of Westerners, Jews, or anyone holding a contrary worldview."
Other hyperbolic passages include a post hoc justification for the war in Iraq absent any attempt at balance, save fleeting references to the "failure to discover significant stocks of weapons of mass destruction" and "only some evidence of a collaborative relationship with al-Qa'eda." In addition, one finds boasts such as "no enemy or critic can advance the false narrative that America lost the war [in Iraq] or was driven out of the country."
The textbook offers several gems: a summary of Supreme Court jurisprudence relating to detention of enemy combatants following 9/11, a discussion of military commissions, complexities involved in airport security, and an absorbing chapter on interrogation techniques. Federal court decisions addressing terrorism, including through the Material Support Act, also are discussed.
In addition to a more academic tone, the text would also benefit from more citations to source material. At times, it is difficult to distinguish whether statements are supported by anything other than the author's opinion.
For example, absent any citation other than a subsequent quote from a Clinton era staffer, the text posits "[t]here exists an abundance of empirical evidence that stable democracies do not engage in international terrorism, instigate war, engage in democide (genocide and mass murder), or abuse the human rights of their people." This suggests, at best, a practiced ignorance of U.S. foreign policy and our government's treatment of indigenous peoples and racial minorities. But later, "the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II" is described as a "poisoned atmosphere[.]" The author's claim regarding stable democracies might be more comprehensible had he elected to include some of the "abundan[t] empirical evidence" purportedly available.
Viewpoints contrary to the presumed perspective of the author are repeatedly derided as "shrill." Some of the "Questions for Discussion" are not questions at all, while others are slanted to steer the discussion toward the author's point of view. However, the text is far more balanced in discussing the history of assassination. Contrary to the author's usual bent, the text cautions "[c]hanges in law that appear necessary in the name of security for the moment may become an unwanted fabric of our society for future generations."
Despite an occasional lack of neutrality, Terrorism Law is a valuable addition to the libraries of lawyers engaging in international development or rule-of-law work.
Erik Guenther, U.W. 2002, is an assistant Federal Defender in Las Vegas, Nev. He worked for more than three years in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a rule-of-law advisor and is licensed to practice before the International Criminal Court.
VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
The Curve: A Novel
By Jeremy Blachman & Cameron Stracher (Chicago, IL: ABA Ankerwycke Publ’g, 2016). 235 pgs. $20.75. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Brandon E. Bowlin
There are some books that were written for Hollywood. Books that while you are reading, you can envision yourself watching it on the big screen of your favorite movie theater. You can guess which actors are fit for the leading roles (for me, they're Matthew McConaughey and Halle Berry).
The Curve, by Jeremy Blachman and Cameron Stracher, is one of those books. It's a story of greed, privilege, morality, the education system, and a fresh start. In an exciting page turner, the authors illustrate the thin line that exists between the American dream and the American nightmare. The reader enjoys at times a cinematic take on law school and at other times a very realistic picture of the pressures on a law student to make grades and secure a job.
Also, The Curve
's law school is filled with an outsider's every stereotype of the legal profession and of the law student, which stay true to the cinematic nature of the novel.
In the midst of a true cast of fictional characters that fills the book's pages, three serve as a beacon of nonfictional light. As the characters struggle with doing the right thing and risking their careers, the main theme of the story seems to take shape. In one sentence, buried within thousands, you can see the nonfictional light at its brightest; "life isn't about what you do, it's about who you are." Few authors can combine the worlds of nonfiction and fiction with drama, excitement, intrigue, and reality as Blachman and Stracher do in The Curve.
Brandon E. Bowlin, Dayton 2004, is an attorney with Enerson Law, Brookfield, concentrating in creditor’s rights.