The American public is fascinated with the law, in particular stories about crime and celebrity trials, because they are akin to “great theatre,” a leading legal journalist said at a panel on April 9 hosted by the Fordham Forum on Law, Culture and Society.
“The day Anna Nicole Smith went to the Supreme Court was a day I remember my phone ringing off the hook more than ever,” said Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate. “Sometimes I worry that other parts of the law, for example the executive branch, are not as compelling to the American public.”
Lithwick was one of four prominent legal journalists to comprise a panel at the Time Warner Center for “The Law Reporters: A Conversation with America’s Leading Legal Journalists.” Others on the panel were: Adam Liptak, national legal correspondent and soon-to-be Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times; Jack Ford, anchor for In Session (formerly Court TV); and Jan Crawford Greenburg, a legal correspondent for ABC News.
Thane Rosenbaum, the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law and director of the Forum Center on Law, Culture and Society, moderated the event.
Crawford Greenburg said legal stories are popular with Americans because the tales are “the very essence of conflict.”
“That’s why you see legal thrillers being written and a whole host of TV shows,” she said.
The law compels the public because it has the ability to “separate parents or put you in prison,” Liptak said. “It’s the way we govern ourselves.”
But Greenburg warned of a troubling trend of dwindling news coverage of broad legal issues.
“Adam (Liptak) will be one of the very few journalists left covering the Supreme Court, and that’s because The New York Times is very committed to coverage in that area,” she said. “It’s sad.”
Lithwick chose to point out a bright spot, in that “the explosion of the Internet” allows citizen journalists to keep an eye on the courts.
“People like Richard Posner (a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit) have blogs that I read every day,” Lithwick said. “These are the same people you’d have to beg to write an op-ed before the Internet.”