September 29th, 2010 – Houston, TX – As the oil spill litigation heats up in New Orleans, the state of Louisiana has a new newspaper to help cover the story. The Louisiana Record has begun publication in the region to cover the state’s lawsuits – and only lawsuits. Readers of the Record can expect to find stories on law suits filed around the state, most notably the recent oil spill litigation that will be heard in the Federal Court in New Orleans. Readers can expect to find scathing stories on “frivolous” lawsuits and their purported damaging effects on local economies. But what readers shouldn’t expect to find is an unbiased point-of-view and full disclosure about the organization that actually owns and funds the Record – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Record’s roots date back to 2004 when the Chamber of Commerce launched its Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), headed by Lisa Rickard, a lobbyist for the Dow Chemical Company. The main objective of the ILR was to battle the country’s trial lawyers, and they spend $40 million a year doing just that. Atop the ILR’s agenda was swaying public opinion and push for large-scale tort reform across the nation to help insulate and protect its members from paying out damages in civil claims.
Among the many tactics used by the IRL was a massive public relations campaign. Enter the Record. The Record was first published in Madison County, Illinios, whose court systems were home to more class-action law suits than any other in the nation and considered a “judicial hell-hole” of plaintiff-friendly verdicts. At the time, Dow Chemical and Union Carbide were facing a myriad of law suits over asbestos exposure from their plants in Southern Illinois. Rickard was pulled directly from Dow Chemical and immediately directed the new IRL with its first item of business to remove costly asbestos cases off the legal landscape by publishing an anti-law suit newspaper (The Record) to sway the public and potential jury members in the community.
Stanton Anderson, Chief Legal Officer for the Chamber and part-owner of the Record, met with Brian Timpone, a known Republican operative and co-owner of a small chain of community newspapers in Illinois. Timpone agreed to become the Record’s publisher with the Chamber as his silent benefactor. The Chamber made an initial investment of $200,000 to get the publication off the ground. The Madison Record began with a weekly circulation of 6,000 copies.
The Record moved on to set up publications in West Virginia and Southeast Texas in the coming years. Both locations were also considered “hell holes” for defense litigators as juries were notoriously favorable to plaintiffs. The Record was widely distributed free of charge to the local communities, including inside the courthouse, encouraging potential jurors to thumb through the paper as they wait to be called to trial or during recess in the midst of deciding a civil case. While certainly unethical, this type of “jury poisoning” could also be argued to be borderline illegal. A fact not lost on Brent Coon, founder of Brent Coon and Associates, who has taken The Record to court on these very topics, only to be countered by the Chamber under the guise of first amendment liberties.
Enter British Petroleum
That BP and the ILR seem to pull plays directly out of the same PR playbook should come as no surprise to anyone. BP is one of the largest corporations in the world and an influential member of the Chamber of Commerce. The two organizations have proven to be adept masters of public relations time and time again.
In fact, during the litigation following the 2005 BP Texas City Plant Explosion, attorneys from BP were harshly scolded by Judge Susan Criss for tactics almost identical to those of the ILR. Just days before jury selection was scheduled to commence, thousands of Texas City residents and potential jurors received a public relations mailer from BP touting its safety record and detailing various charities and donations the company had bestowed upon the local community. The letter was signed by Iris Cross, who now appears in BP television commercials as a Louisiana native with a message of community involvement and promises to make things right yet again.
So now with BP in the crosshairs of what could amount to be the largest piece of litigation in American history, a massive public relations campaign on part of BP and the Chamber (either individually or collectively) was all but inevitable.
While the Record has been in publication in select areas of the country for over six years, its move into Louisiana following the oil spill represents a new model. The explosion and mass distribution of news media over the internet has left the Record no longer constrained by the printing press or the need for a local presence. With lightning speed, the Record can now “follow the litigation”, setting up shop rapidly and efficiently wherever the trial de jour may be.
Perhaps most troubling about the Record is not that it does not provide the reader with any disclosure about its ownership and agenda, but that the publisher, Timpone, isn’t shy about admitting his natural bias. Timpone is quoted as saying, “I’m a biased guy. I’m Republican.” Anderson has also admitted the Record “has a point of view.” So by the own admission of its co-owners and publisher, the Record is nothing more than a propaganda mouthpiece for big business that poses as a credible news source. Articles in the Record are often picked up by unsuspecting journalists who then run with the story as actual news.
For the good people of Louisiana, this is the second time the will have suffered by the shady and biased deceptions of the record and their parents the Chamber of Commerce and Institute of Legal Reform. After Katrina, Allstate’s VP and State Farm’s CEO, both ILR board members, moved their strategy into the region and became notorious for stiffing gulf residents in their Hurricane claims.
Brent Coon & Associates has long exposed and documented BP’s public relations gaffes and deceit, but the Chamber of Commerce has largely flown under the radar. For more information about the Chamber’s campaign for tort reform and public relations tactics, please visit www.chambersentry.com.
About Brent Coon & Associates:
BCA is now at the epicenter of the oil spill litigation. In addition to representing hundreds of rig workers, shrimpers, fishermen and business/condo owners across the Gulf Coast, Brent Coon is serving on an ad hoc committee of attorneys advising and assisting Ken Feinberg on the administration of the $20B Claims Fund.
Brent Coon & Associates was the lead counsel in the BP Texas City Explosion of March 23, 2005, representing hundreds of affected workers. Working with the Chemical Safety Board, Department of Justice, the USW and other organizations, BCA released over 7 million documents to the media concerning refinery safety and played a pivotal role in establishing the occurrences of multiple, major safety violations. Conditions of settlements also included a precedent setting charitable donations program which raised 44 million dollars for UTMB, Texas A&M’s Process Safety Management Center, College of the Mainland, St. Jude’s, and the James and Linda Rowe Scholarship foundations. Brent Coon and his client Eva Rowe were awarded the Steven J. Sharp Award for Excellence by the American Association of Justice for their role.