Movie-Inspired Debate Over Hardball Legal Tactics Overdue

"North Country" Alerts Public - Legal Mind-Rape! 

By James J Murtagh, M.D.

Warning: movie spoiler alert. If you have not seen North Country, consider seeing the film before reading further.

[Note:James Murtagh has spent 20 years as an Intensive Care Unit physician at a major Southeast hospital. Murtagh is also a founder of the medial ethics consulting group "Team Integrity." Murtagh recently chaired a congressional forum "The Health Integrity Project," as reported in Time Magazine in collaboration with Tom Devine at the Washington "Government Accountability Project."]  

I just got back from the magnificent film North Country, about a woman who wanted equality in a northern Minnesota mine, and as a man, I am shocked. How can equal pay for equal work even be an issue in 1990s America? Worse, why does America allow the "Nuts and Sluts" hardball legal tactic used against witnesses that is so common in our society, and so vividly depicted in this film? Have we come a long way, baby, when lawyers use "nuts and sluts," mind-rape, and hardball threats to witnesses? America needs to be shocked that the women of North Country had to put their lives and their families on the line to speak the truth. Sadly, we're not.

North Country, like The Insider, All the President's Men, Serpico, Silkwood, get pegged as films with a message, but they are more.  These films are just darn good stories, a lone person up against a gargantuan system, the High Noons of our time. The story of human freedom retold from David and Goliath, Rocky, Spartacus, and Sophocles. This woman put everything, her job, her friends, and even her life on the line. Yes, she was speaking out equality for women, but more broadly, she was speaking out for the right to speak. Like Terry Malloy from the classic On the Waterfront, she wanted conscience and freedom in a place where very little existed.

I don't agree with either the extreme right or left, but I will defend to the death any Speaker, and I will protect the speaker's family as if it were my own.

Do not be fooled. This film is not just Northern Minnesota mines in the 1990s.  Enron-type lawyers use hardball legal tactics everyday to invade honest people's lives. To distort the vital issues of war and peace. To put unsafe medicines in our cabinets. Americans urgently need real information on health and safety, national preparedness.

Our society has to address the horrors brought on by hardball legal mind-rape.

Nuts and sluts. Attacks on the family lives of witnesses. Big tobacco did exactly this to Jeffrey Wigand, Big Nuclear to Silkwood, and Nixon to reporters. In fact, Nixon commissioned the Malek Manuel, the still-classic "nuts and sluts" textbook used by Enron-type corporations to "screw their enemies." First, paint your adversary as a nut. Every single person alive has a skeleton that can be rattled, magnified, and distorted until the person looks nutty. Second, every human being, even Gandhi, is vulnerable to sexual innuendo, real or fabricated. Even a saint can be put into a "he-said, she-said" situation.

In North Country, the big law thugs discover the heroine was raped as a child. With glee, the law thugs distorts horribly, calling the woman a slut, even turning her family and her child against her. This tactic is as old as Salem witch trials. The year1984 passed, but Big Brother is not dead. To read more, please go to www.medicaltuesday.net/voicesofmedicine.asp.

When there is smoke, it is not true there is always fire. Big legal thugs burn money and blow the fabricated some anywhere they please. McCarthy knew this. Frankly, I cringe when Rush Limbaugh derides our mothers and sisters asking for equal rights as "femin-nazis." America sends Martha Stewart to jail but Kenny Lay to the golf course.

Look at the Karl Rove- Plame affair. Wilson's wife CIA clearances blown in a pressure tactic to discredit reports on yellow cake.  As in North Country, Rove decided the issue (yellow cake, sexual equality, the constitution, etc.) was no longer the issue; the issue was Wilson's wife. Have you no decency sirs? Ironically, Karl Rove broke the same law that sent Martha Stewart to jail: lying to the FBI.

Look at health care and drug companies and Vioxx. This spring, I had the privilege of hosting a Congressional forum on health integrity. The country's bravest health care workers testified to shocking hardball corruption in HMOs. HCA, an HMO operated by the family of Senator William Frist, actually admitted shaking down the American public for two billion dollars.  First-hand testimony from thirty doctors showing that HMO hardball causes thousands deaths and costs billions of dollars is posted at www.semmelweis.org.

Americans need to see North Country, and resolve that Enron hardball legal thugs cannot stand, not in energy, not in defense, not in mining, not in Washington D.C., and not in HMOs. This is not just a terrific film; it is an opportunity to explore the deep and searching questions as a society losing important freedoms.

Time to round up the usual suspects, America. We must no longer allow hardball lawyers to trample the rights of women, or men, or children.