Feature Stories Campus Events

Protecting Children Online the Topic of W&L Law Symposium

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Dean Rodney A. Smolla Named to Steinheimer Chair in Law

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9/26: Student Scholarship Honored at Law Review Notes Presentation

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Business Journalism Expert Gives High Marks to Crisis Reporting

As the biggest financial story in United States history has unfolded in recent days, financial journalists have done a generally solid job of reporting in spite of the fact that recent layoffs at major newspapers have left many newsrooms depleted. That is the assessment of Pamela Luecke, the Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Business Journalism at Washington and Lee University.

Luecke, formerly editor and senior vice president of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, said that aside from the complexity of the story, one of the challenges that the reporters have faced is not feeding the frenzy with their choice of words.

“As I have read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers and news magazines, I think that they have been trying to convey the drama and historic nature of the crisis while not fueling the panic,” said Luecke, who is teaching a business journalism course for W&L undergraduates this semester. “If you look at the words they’ve been choosing, they have stopped a few decibels short of what they could be using.”

Restraint in reporting such a major event is an ethical issue, according to Luecke. She notes that studies have examined whether or not financial reporters can actually trigger a recession by reporting on the fact that consumer sentiment is low.

“These studies suggest that you may well have a self-fulfilling prophecy in such instances. If you say the stock market is crashing, do you then ensure that it will crash? As a matter of professional responsibility, you not only try to avoid adding to the frenzy but you also try not to predict what may happen,” she said. “In other stories, predicting would be considered a journalistic technique. You would want to look ahead. Here, I think journalists are trying not to get too far ahead of the story.”

Luecke says the financial press also performed much better on the run-up to this story than it did on either the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s or the bursting of the dot.com bubble in the 1990s. She believes there has been solid reporting for many months as the subprime mortgage issues began to surface.

“There was a lot of good journalism that questioned the viability of the subprime mortgages before they began to fail,” she said.

If she were to find any areas where the financial press might improve the coverage, Luecke says that they may not always explain the basics. There have not been enough stories that offer overviews in which terms and concepts are defined for average readers who may get lost in the more technical issues.

“It’s easy for journalists covering a beat to forget what they didn’t know until they began covering that beat,” she said. “And there are a lot of us out here who want someone to hold our hands and take us through this story.”

What has also struck Luecke about the reporting is that it comes on the heels of massive buyouts and layoffs at many mainstream news organizations where veteran reporters who would have perspective on many of the issues may no longer be employed.

“That really is a shame,” Luecke said. “To a certain extent, newsrooms have lost a lot of institutional memory. A story like this underscores the value of reporters who have been covering the topic a long time. It shows that having veterans in the newsroom is valuable. So given that, I think they have generally done a tremendous job.”

Memorial Service for Law Professor Louise Halper to Take Place Oct. 3

Earlier this summer, the law school suffered a devastating loss when our colleague, teacher and friend, Louise Halper, Professor of Law and Director of the Frances Lewis Law Center, died suddenly following surgery. On Friday, October 3, the law school will celebrate the life of Professor Halper. The memorial service will be held from 9:00 to 10:15 a.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room in Sydney Lewis Hall. The service will be preceded at 8:00 a.m. by a continental breakfast in the Moot Court lobby.

For information about the service, please contact Joan Shaughnessy, (540) 458-8512 or shaughnessyj@wlu.edu.

Washington Post’s Nationally Syndicated Personal Finance Columnist to Speak at W&L

Michelle Singletary likes sayings.

This Czech proverb, for example: “Nothing seems expensive on credit.”

Or this one from journalist Earl Wilson: “This would be a much better world if more married couples were as deeply in love as they are in debt.”

Or this one from China: “Diligence is the basis of wealth, and thrift the source of riches.”

Do you see a theme here? You should, Singletary is the Washington Post’s nationally syndicated personal finance columnist and she’s obsessed with money. Not just how you get it, but how you manage it, control it, master it and use it wisely.

Singletary brings her obsession to Washington and Lee University on Tuesday, Oct. 14, when she’ll speak in the Stackhouse Theater of the John W. Elrod University Commons. Her subject is “Borrowed Out and Flat Broke: What Now for America?” Her talk, beginning at 4:30 p.m., is free and open to the public.

A book signing will follow Singletary’s talk. It will be just outside the Stackhouse Theater in the University Commons.

Singletary began her Post column, “Color of Money,” in 1997. Since then, she has also published two books on personal finance, “7 Money Mantras for a Richer Life: How to Live Well with the Money You Have” (2003), and “Your Money and Your Man: How You and Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich” (2006).

Two years ago, she launched a national TV show, “Singletary Says,” on TV One. The half-hour program features Singletary visiting people in their homes and helping them with their financial problems. She also regularly dispenses financial advice on the National Public Radio program “Day To Day.”

“I was born to be thrifty,” Singletary has written. “It’s in my genetic code. I can’t pass a penny without picking it up.” Singletary credits her grandmother – or “Big Mama” as she’s called in Singletary’s columns – with teaching her the value of money and each year she holds a “Penny Pincher of the Year” contest in her grandmother’s honor. “She was my role model for frugality,” Singletary writes.

In addition to her Post column, which is carried by more than 120 newspapers around the country, Singletary holds a live online chat on the Post’s web site and has an electronic newsletter that reaches more than 150,000 subscribers.

Not surprisingly, Singletary is in demand as a personal finance guru and conducts financial workshops for several organizations including the National Football League, which sends its incoming freshman players to her during their annual Rookie Symposium.

Singletary joined the Post in 1992. Before becoming a columnist, she covered local and national banking. In 1994, she helped cover the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Before arriving at the Post, Singletary was a business reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun, where she also covered police, religion, politics and zoning.

She is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s degree in business and management.

Singletary’s visit is made possible by a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev., the Reynolds Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

Liza Mundy to Discuss her Book “Michelle: A Biography” at W&L

Liza Mundy, an award-winning journalist for The Washington Post and author of “Michelle: A Biography” about Michelle Obama, will speak at Washington and Lee University on Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 3:30 p.m. in Room 345 of the University Commons.

Mundy’s talk is free and open to the public.

The book will be released on Oct. 7, the day of her talk. W&L’s University Store will have “Michelle: A Biography” available at a book signing after Mundy’s talk outside the room where she will be speaking.

“Michelle is interesting because her family story is a classic American narrative: her ancestors were slaves in South Carolina, and her grandfather joined the Great Migration out of the South to Chicago. This is an essential American narrative, but it’s one that is not often featured in public life. So I thought that hers was an important story to tell,” Mundy said about the focus of her book.

Mundy has covered politics, popular culture and women’s issues for more than 10 years at the Washington Post. In the summer of 2007 she wrote one of the first extended looks at Barack Obama. She is a regular contributor to “Slate” and participates in their women’s blog XX Factor.

“Michelle: A Biography” is Mundy’s second book, the first being “Everything Conceivable, How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women and the World” (Knopf).

Mundy’s work has won numerous prizes, including The Best American Science Writing 2003, and she has won awards from the Sunday Magazine Editors Association and the National Education Writers Association, among others. She has written for “Lingua Franca,” “Redbook,” “Mother Jones,” “Washington City Paper” and the “Washington Monthly.”

Scientific Evidence and the Courts: Solving a Puzzle

For Rebecca Harris, the puzzle begged an answer.

Why, she wondered, was scientific evidence, ranging from DNA to lie detectors, admitted by the courts in some states and not others?

“The science is presumably the same,” Harris says. “But the courts in different jurisdictions have not viewed it in the same way. For instance, Virginia had admitted DNA evidence in 1989 while Minnesota rejected such evidence in 1992.”

So Harris, assistant professor of politics at Washington and Lee University, began gathering and analyzing judicial decisions on scientific admissibility in search of a solution to the puzzle.

Her answer? Politics.

Harris describes the three political patterns that emerged from her research in a new book, “Black Robes, White Coats: The Puzzle of Judicial Policymaking and Scientific Evidence,” which was published by Rutgers University Press.

As she began looking at the differences between the treatment of DNA evidence across jurisdictions, Harris found that some state admissibility standards had set the bar such evidence higher than others, thereby limiting what particular courts could admit.

A second place where she discovered politics at work was in the personal political preference of the judges who were ruling on these cases. She examined both Democrat and Republican judges and found clear patterns from the data.

“The pattern was correlated with who wanted the scientific evidence admitted — the prosecution or the defense,” she says. “If prosecutors wanted admissibility, conservative judges, by and large, found the arguments compelling to allow the evidence. If, on the other hand, a defense attorney wanted to bring the same kind of evidence into a case, the conservative judges were much more skeptical.”

The reverse was true, as well, Harris notes. Liberal judges were much more likely to admit scientific evidence that came from the defense as opposed to being entered by the prosecution.

“Republicans and traditionally conservatives are characterized by law and order politics — strong law enforcement, pro-prosecution. The thought is to get tools in the hands of the government to prosecute these crimes,” Harris says. Democrats and liberals tend to say ‘What about the rights of the accused? We shouldn’t admit evidence in a blanket way just because a police officer says we should.’ They would tilt in favor of making sure defendants have a fair trial.”

The third area in which Harris found politics playing role with the evidence was the presence of third-party reports on the viability of the scientific evidence. When, for instance, the National Research Council issued a report on DNA evidence, that report would often be cited by judges in rendering their decisions depending on what the report concluded, Harris notes.

“My analysis found that these reports tended to side with the prosecution largely because the defense has a hard time generating a third-party report,” she says.

All three of these finds, Harris says, suggest that there is a role for politics in the judicial gatekeeping involved in these decisions about scientific evidence.

As she writes in the book: “Politics can set the bar of admissibility for a jurisdiction, either through legislation or judicial enunciation. Politics can certainly encourage particular courts or judges to favor (or disfavor) a particular science as a function of who it will benefit, defense or prosecution. And politics will certainly determine how respected third-party reports are generated.”

In the final analysis, Harris discounts public criticism of judges as not being able to handle the scientific evidence because they do not have enough background in the science. Instead, she argues that judges, as public servants, are supposed to filter science through our politics.

“I think the judges do a good job,” Harris says. “They understand that even if this is good science, they must also consider the effect it will have on the political system. Even if they are partisan about it, that’s what we need. We need both sides questioning it so that we arrive at a better decision.”

Former Va. Governor Linwood Holton Joins W&L Seminar on 2008 Elections

Washington and Lee University will host a seminar on the 2008 elections on Friday, Oct. 3, featuring W&L Politics Professors Mark Rush and Bill Connelly, as well as former Va. Governor Linwood Holton. It will take place in Lee Chapel from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Topics for discussion include predictions and prognoses for the various 2008 elections, congressional election prospects, the proposed reform of the nomination process and the call for a national popular vote to replace the electoral college, among other things.

Former Gov. Holton will also speak Saturday, Oct. 4, at 2 p.m. in Concert Hall, Wilson Hall. The title of his talk is “Opportunity Time-Again,” a reference to the title of his memoir “Opportunity Time”, which was published by University of Virginia Press this spring. The book covers Holton’s journey from the coalfields of Southwest Virginia to his history-making term as Virginia’s governor in the early 1970s.

The book is a punctuation mark on a legacy defined by Holton’s dogged efforts to end one-party political rule and racial divisions in the state. A book signing in the atrium of Wilson Hall will follow Gov. Holton’s talk.

Both events are free and open to the public, as part of W&L’s Homecoming Weekend. Gov. Holton’s talk is sponsored by Friends of the Library.

Questions may be directed to Kelli Austin, assistant director for alumni engagement, at 540-458-8866 or austink@wlu.edu.

Winners of 2008 Robert J. Grey Jr. Negotiations Competition Announced

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