Don't flout our flak
News Service Dec. 17, 2005, 7:47am
We aren't in the business of name-calling, but West Virginia's earning national ignominy is no occasion for local journalists to stick their heads in the sand.
Our state's largest newspaper —- the Charleston Gazette —- did exactly that last week, flatly ignoring the release of a report that dubbed West Virginia's court system as one of the worst in the U.S.
The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), as it has for the past four years, released its list of America's biggest so-called "judicial hellholes." West Virginia's courts ranked third-- after jurisdictions in Texas and Illinois.
The list's release —- including our state's inclusion —- made headlines in print editions across the country. But it only merited a mention here after the fact, as the Gazette sought to highlight an error in ATRA's research.
By first pretending the list itself wasn't newsworthy, then later aggressively reporting a mistake in it, the Gazette makes a clear editorial statement of its own.
From our view, that groups like ATRA are partisan and that such lists reflect their view of the world —- rather than that of plaintiff's attorneys and, it seems, the editors of the Gazette —- goes with the media territory.
But responsible journalism would dictate that one report both sides in tandem -- not conspicuously ignore altogether such an important story with such major ramifications for West Virginia's economy.
That story —- that there exists at least a perception among business executives nationally that our state's courts are anti-business —- sets high stakes for all of us.
Thumb noses, if you will, at corporate decision-makers begging for tort reform. Or laugh a bit, as a supposedly esteemed judge on our state's highest court calls the CEO of West Virginia's largest employer "stupid."
But in a state where per-capita income ranks 49th in the U.S.; in an ultra-competitive 21st century economy where job-creating businesses vote with their feet, remember that you do so at the peril of our local economic future.
For West Virginia's economy tomorrow, we need to get more competitive today. Rather than flouting the flak, it's time we confronted it head on and head up, eyes wide open and focused upon a solution.