The Role & Responsibility of the Public

It's the title of the conference—the court of public opinion—and the topic of this panel. Professor Christopher Schroeder of Duke Law School is joined by media and public policy professor Kim Gross, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice Scott Bullock, and litigation director of the ACLU Steve Shapiro to contemplate both the influence of the media on public opinion and ways to use the media as an advocacy tool.

Gross discusses her research into the influence of media coverage on the public, followed by Bullock and Shapiro who explain the ways in which public interest law may choose to incorporate a media strategy into a larger legal battle.

Questions/themes/discussion topics
  • Media framing
  • How media coverage can influence public opinion
  • Factors that influence the media's power
  • How the Duke lacrosse case differs from typical crime coverage
  • Legal strategies of public interest organizations
  • Winning in the court of law, but losing in the court of public opinion
  • Losing in the court of law, but winning in the court of public opinion


Panel Video

"Now, from one perspective we don't want to damn the media by painting with a broad brush if it turns out straight news stories look different. On the other hand, to the degree that the general public can't distinguish those people from news or to the degree that those commentators actually influence how then journalists are thinking about that narrative, that is still a problem."

- Kim Gross

"As our organization and most other organizations have learned, you can lose in court, but you can still win in the overall court of public opinion or in other forms in which public interest lawyers engage. And that is really an important aspect of our work."

- Scott Bullock

"And if you want to know why there are wrongful convictions in this country on a daily basis, very little of that has to do with media misconduct or prejudicial publicity. It has to do with unequal resources. It has to do with an underfunded indigent defense system. It has to do with a punitive sentencing system that forces people into pleas because they can't risk going to trial. Those are the real stories of the criminal justice system and those stories are not being covered in the media at all."

- Steve Shapiro