By Medha Raman | LSJ Communications Assistant
While many at UW know Professor Michael McCann for his role in the creation of the Law, Societies, and Justice program, his success extends much further. Last December, McCann was featured in an episode of the popular web series, Adam Ruins Everything, as an expert on the truth behind the McDonalds Hot Coffee Case.
The process began about a year ago when McCann received an email request to appear on the show. The series, which aims to question conventional wisdom, wanted to do an episode on the jury system that included the McDonalds Coffee Case. Countering the public’s conception of plaintiff Stella Liebeck as a “greedy old woman,” McCann was chosen to appear on the show as an expert to reveal the truth.
“We tried to explain where this story came from that created a narrative of America as an extremely litigious society,” McCann said. “There was a confluence of big business that had a massive campaign, spent billions of dollars, through advertisements and bumper stickers, trying to convince us that we had a problem with excessive litigation. There is no evidence of that.”
McCann played an integral part in creating the final script, working with the team to fix any inaccuracies. Once the script was finalized, he flew down to LA for the day to bring their vision to life. While tedious and time-consuming to film, McCann stated that being able to work with such a supportive and funny cast was a great experience.
Previously, McCann had also been featured in a documentary about the same case titled Hot Coffee. While originally one of the main expert figures in the film, he eventually backed out of the project, citing creative differences between the filmmakers and himself.
“The documentary didn’t press the issues that I would press,” McCann said. “I didn’t want to be as heavily identified with it as I might have otherwise been.”
According to McCann, the McDonald’s coffee case was really used as a tool to divert attention from other pressing issues like retirement benefits and healthcare. With mass media coverage focused solely on the case, relevant legislation passed completely under the radar.
“I remember hearing a report that there was no attention to the Clinton healthcare bill, everyone was talking about the McDonalds coffee case that was being talked about in the hearings on healthcare bill,” McCann said. “It just struck me as a classic case of an issue being raised to divert attention from another crisis, a form of agenda setting by the media.”
These ideas and themes are especially relevant in an age of fake news, where any false information can be sold as the truth and media accountability is often lacking. Although fictional and comedic in nature, Adam Ruins Everything uses humor to bring attention to such falsehoods and to reveal the truth.
“It was interesting talking to Adam Conover, the center of it all. This is his childhood dream, he’s been a comic and having his own TV show, writing his own scripts, producing it, that’s his dream,” McCann said. “It was fun to be part of someone else’s dream come true.”
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNWh6Kw3ejQ