Apr 12, 2010
If you want to see how companies like A.T. Massey Coal operate, read The Appeal, a novel by John Grisham.
Grisham takes events like those concerning Massey Coal, but places them in his own native region: small-town Mississippi. A giant chemical plant has been dumping carcinogenic chemicals into the water for years. In household after household, people die of cancer. Finally, a widow who has lost both husband and son to the toxic waste wins a law suit, and the jury awards her 41 million dollars. The company’s biggest stockholder, a billionaire called Carl Trudeau, vows that “not one dime of our hard-earned profits will ever get into the hands of those trailer park peasants.”
Trudeau hires a crisis management political consulting firm. Why risk an appeal, he’s advised by a senator, when he can stack the judicial deck? The bulk of the book deals with how the agents of the company try to get their own candidate for judge elected to the court of appeals.
The company, using right-wing, xenophobic, homophobic front groups, manufactures scandals and slings mud.
Just as in the novel, Massey Coal company’s chairman underwrote a political action committee called “For the Sake of the Kids,” which charged a judicial candidate with being “soft” on child molesters, among other things. And just as in the novel, three years after the election, the judge Massey backed cast the crucial vote needed to overturn the verdict in a 50 million dollar judgment against Massey Coal. As a former West Virginia judge later wrote, “I believe John Grisham got it right when he said that he simply had to read The Charleston Gazette to get an idea for his next novel.”
The Appeal is a more blunt and accurate indictment of the political and judicial system than most so-called nonfiction books that you’re likely to find.