Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lawyers And Newspaper Reporters, Part II

I'd like to think in my own sadistic "everything-is-karma" head that the reason newspapers are disintegrating is because of their treatment of lawyers. I know it's because of ad revenue decline, but my theory gives me some solace.

Previously I wrote "Why Criminal Defense Lawyers Hate The Media."

I started out saying that as a young lawyer I was advised not to talk to the media. I ignored that advice. I figured if the other side was going to try to get an advantage through the media, there was no problem with me letting the community know that my client was "not guilty," and that we "intend to fight the case." I may also be able to correct some mis-information, and possibly get some "inside scoop" from the newly-friended reporter.

The first in a list of pieces of advice in that post:

1. Don't waste my time.

I'm happy to spend 5 minutes on the phone with you because you are not a lawyer and don't understand certain aspects of a criminal case.

I'm not happy to spend 20 minutes on the phone about my case, explaining the facts and other things you don't understand, only to read a story about the case that repeatedly quotes the prosecutor and makes it appear like the client has no lawyer, and we never spoke.

This morning I stopped wondering whether reporters will ever learn.

Last week I received a call from a reporter. He was doing a story on a controversial judicial race two counties away. He wanted to know if I knew anything about the race and the subsequent Bar discipline of the young criminal defense lawyer who shockingly beat the 24 year incumbent criminal judge.

A fascinating case for this lawyer.

"Why yes I do." "I know the parties, and have read every story on the race."

I asked "Why did you call me?"

"My editor gave me your name and asked that I call you."

So I spent about 20 minutes with this reporter. Had a great conversation. I disagreed with the premise of his story that there was a conspiracy and he seemed genuinely interested in my contrasting opinion. He recorded the conversation with my consent, as the paper has an online version where they now post podcasts of interviews.

Nothing I said is in the paper today. A few seconds of the recorded interview is tucked into the end of the story online.

Podcasting is the only thing the paper does that is different, the stale method of wasting lawyers time, is alive and well.

Having written a previous post on this issue, I've obviously been here before. I used to call the reporter and say "what gives?"

Now, I just wait for the next call from the same reporter and politely decline to talk to them. Go waste someone else's time. In the end, you'll probably be writing more about who didn't return your call then who you spoke to, because you've abused the lawyer's time.

There's also another reason I no longer call the reporter.

Excuse #1 of why a reporter speaks to a lawyer for a half hour and then prints a story with no evidence a conversation ever took place is "my editor took you out."

The problem is that I've spoken to editors when this happens, and have been told "I didn't take you out."

Ping pong.

I wrote about this as well:

2. "My editor cut you out" and "I had a space issue," have run their course.

Do all of you in the media know that we hear these excuses daily? We would more believe the dog ate your homework. And why do you not tell your editor that the defense lawyer was very helpful in the story and you would at least like the story to be fair to both sides (THERE'S a concept!).

These are the same reporters that will call on deadline, not be able to reach the lawyer because they may be surprisingly in court, in an important client meeting, at the hospital with a family member, or heavens forbid, just too damn busy to talk to a reporter whose editor is going to cut them out of the story.

Then they'll freely print "Brian Tannebaum, the defendant's lawyer, did not return calls before deadline. i.e. "that rude lawyer."

Another problem is that when lawyers complain about this they are seen as "publicity hounds," or not willing to give of their time without recognition.

Here's my question? Who called who?

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com