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What are laws?

Before we start studying communication law, we need to understand how the legal system works. Let’s start by defining law.

This is my son, Casey. He studied law at the Knight School of Law at the University of Oregon. He passed the Washington Bar Exam and now practices family law at a big family law firm that stretches from Washington through Oregon. In 2018-2019, Super Lawyers named him a Washington Rising Star and he has a “Superb” rating.

Casey E.R. Sanders
Family Lawyer
McKinley Irvin Family Law
Vancouver, Washington
“Best lawyer ever” says his mom.

Okay, enough bragging about my son. I mention him because he is someone who studied and practices law. But the legal system also “makes” laws.

Creating law

Legislative bodies like the U.S. Congress or the Washington State Legislature make laws. (Or at least they are suppose to make laws. Sometimes they get so caught up in politics that they forget to do they work. End of Terri editorial!)

A law written by Congress regarding airport security

There are several different ways laws come about. And we’ll explore each type.

  • Common Law
  • Equity Law
  • Statutory Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Administrative Law
  • International Law

Common Law

“Judge-made” law would be another way to describe common law. Judges based their rulings on what other judges have done in the past. It’s called precedence. So when Judge Sparks or Hooper make a decision in their courtrooms, they look back to see how other judges have ruled. You may not agree with how they rule, but they follow the common laws made by previous judges. (And, of course, you always have the right to appeal the judge’s decision. More about that later.)

Equity Law

Some legal cases pose such different, unusual or unique questions, there is not precedence. That’s when a judge’s ruling creates an equity law. It’s a judge-generated law based on common sense rather than legal precedence.

For example, when the New York Times and the Washington Post both printed a Department of Defense (DOD) report on the Vietnam War… better known as the Pentagon Papers. The Defense Department said the newspapers were printing illegally pertained top secret information. While the papers proved embarrassing to the Kennedy and Johnson White Houses, the Nixon White House didn’t want the report published, for fear it would set a precedence. (There’s that word again!)

The case very quickly ended up in front of the Supreme Court. SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) said something to the effect of “We’ve never had a case where a newspaper has printed top secret information that they did not steal.”

A DOD worker, Daniel Elsberg, actually sneaked the papers out of the defense building and gave them to the newspapers. So the newspapers didn’t “steal” the report.

And while the government marked the papers “top secret,” the report indicated the government hadn’t been exactly truthful about how the war was going in Vietnam.

The judges had to weigh the importance of the “top secret” report with the right of the public to know what the h*ll was going on in Southeast Asia.

There was nothing on the books that dealt with these types of questions, so the judges had to use common sense and make a ruling. SCOTUS looked at previous cases that somewhat related to the situation, but they basically relied on their common sense. The newspapers didn’t steal the documents and the information in the documents was important enough to squash the “Top Secret” stamp on the report’s front cover.

It turns out the Johnson Administration lied to the American people and Congress about the status of the Vietnam War. The NY Times and Washington Post printed the rest of the report in their newspapers. It became a turning point in getting the U.S. out of Vietnam.

I think King Solomon created his own version of equity law back in the Old Testament.
Two women claimed to be the mother of an infant.
The king couldn’t figure out who was telling the truth, so he came up with a test.
He told his servant to cut the baby in half and let the mother’s both share the child.
One woman begged Solomon not to cut the baby in half.
She would let the other woman raise the child.
That’s how Solomon determined the woman willing to give up her child was the real mother.
He used common sense to figure out how to determine who the identity of the real mother.

Statutory Law

In the last legislative session, the Washington State Senate passed a bill requiring presidential candidates to release the last five years of their tax returns before they can be listed on the Washington ballot. The House of Representatives decided not to deal with the bill. Although, insiders say it should pass during the 2020 session.
Other states are considering similar bills. If even one state passes the bill into law, it will force presidential candidates to release their tax returns or risk not being on that state’s ballot.

Okay, SB 5078 isn’t a law. But a statutory law starts its life as a bill. City councils, county commissions, state legislatures and Congress can all pass statutory laws.

I could sit here and try to explain the bill becomes a law process, but the good people at Schoolhouse Rock did an excellent job of it back in the 70s. Yes, I know it’s a cartoon. Yes, I know it’s for kids. But, yes, it does a great job of explaining a complicated process in just a few minutes. So, click the Schoolhouse Rock: How a Bill Becomes a Law image below, sit back for 3 minutes and learn how the legislative process works. (There will be a quiz!)

Schoolhouse Rock – How a Bill Becomes a Law

If that seemed a bit fast for you, check out Junior Scholastic’s link on how a bill becomes a law.

BTW- There is a difference between Congress and the Washington State Legislature. Congress includes both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The two U.S. Senators who represent us in Washington D.C. are Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. Ellensburg is in Congressional District 8. Kim Schrier represents our district in the House of Representatives.

You can find your Congressional Representatives by using this link.

The woman who represents the Ellensburg area in the Senate in Olympia is Judy Warnick. She lives in Moses Lake. Rep. Tom Dent has introduced several bills to help Central’s Aviation Program. He also comes from Moses Lake. Alex Ybarra lives in Quincy. He is the second representative from the 13th District which extends from Reardan, over to Coulee City, Ephrata, George, Ellensburg, Cle Elum, and up to Snoqualmie Pass.

You can find your state senators and representatives by filling out the form
on this state web site.

Constitutional Law

Way, way back when I finished high school, the people of the United States considered adding the Equal Right Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

The ERA simply stated: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

This is an example of a constitutional law (that didn’t become law). A constitutional law must be generated by Congress. Once it passes all the Congressional hurdles, it must be approved or ratified by 3/4 of the states.

In order to be ratified, the ERA needed to have 38 state ratify the amendment. Originally, the Congress set the ratification deadline for 1979. By 1977, 35 states voted to ratify the amendment. Congress voted to extend the deadline to 1982.
This woman spoiled everything! (Terri’s editorial comment)

It looked like the ERA would become a Constitutional Law but then Phyllis Schafly showed up on the scene. Schafly was a conservative constitutional lawyer. She started saying the ERA would actually hurt women more than it would help them. She said women would be less likely to get custody of their children or alimony in a divorce under the amendment. She said women could be drafted. She said a lot of stuff. The kind of stuff that caught the ears of conservative groups around the nation.

The map above shows how close we came to having equal rights for women. This is one constitutional law that never became law.

Bottom line, the ERA amendment died.

There are 27 Constitutional Laws. The first 10 make up the Bill of Rights (Freedom of the Press, the Right to Bear Arms, unreasonable search and siezure, etc.) Prohibition (18th Amendment) stopped legal drinking in this country. So why can you legally grab a drink at The Tav, The Pearl or 301? Because the states (in record fashion) ratified the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment. We’ve limited the number of terms a president can serve to two (22nd Amendment). You, if you are 18 or older, have the right to vote thanks to the 26th Amendment.

Administrative Law

Sometimes the information needed to create a law is too specific for legislation. That’s where Administrative Law comes into play. Government agencies like the Federal Communication Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities & Exchange Commission often create regulations or laws specific to their area.

The FCC determines who can own a television or radio station and how many stations they can own. The FTC can issue regulations that protect consumers and stop big business from having a monopoly in the marketplace (antitrust laws). The Securities and Exchange Commission says it’s illegal to share insider information about the stock market. As a result, Martha Stewart does jail time.

Administrative law can only be created by independent government agencies. And, the legislative branch of government (House of Representatives, Senate and President) still have some control over what regulations are made.

Now there are other non-government agencies that also set up guidelines.

The Motion Picture Association of America set up the movie rating system. The music industry set up regulations that say music with explicit lyrics must have a label. The Direct Marketing Association has regulations about what you can and can’t do with direct marketing. These are NOT, I repeat, these are NOT Administrative Law. That’s because these organizations are NOT government agencies. They represent industries who make up their own set of rules and guidelines. They mostly do this to avoid potential legal problems.

International Law

International law involves treaties… or a set of rules/guidelines/laws… that countries agree to follow.

The NAFTA trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada is an example of International Law.
The Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change is an agreement between 192 countries. The protocol calls for each country to reduce it’s greenhouse emissions based on the scientific evidence of Global Warming.
The countries who have not signed the protocol? Afghanistan, the Sudan and the USA.
In 2015 the U.S., China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and other countries worked with Iran to create the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran Deal. Under the agreement, Iran would reduce or eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium and take other steps to limit its abilities to get into the nuclear arms race.
In May 2018, President Trump made good on a campaign promise and pulled the U.S. out of the Iran Treaty. “This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” he said. The U.S.’s withdrawal from the treaty basically left the deal in tatters… although Iran said it would continue to follow the guidelines outlined in the treaty.


Go to the What Are Laws assignment in Canvas and tell me three things.

  1. What steps does it take to get a bill into law?
  2. Who represents you in the House and Senate in Washington D.C.? (Make sure to indicate where you live.)
  3. Who represents you in the Washington State House and Senate in Olympia?

You may be ordering a new radio from Amazon. Really!

by Terri Reddout

Sure, we all know about digital radio. That’s what XM and Sirius satellite radio is all about. That ability to get satellite radio is built into almost every new car today.

But there’s another type of digital radio signal out there that won’t cost you a cent. Although, you’re going to have to buy a new radio to get it.

In 2018, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) approved a digital radio signal platform that all U.S. radio stations will convert to within the next few years. The digital signal will be broadcast alongside the current analog signal on the same frequency.

This digital signal means no more scratchy, static-y signals on AM stations. It also means you’ll need a new HD radio to pick up the signal. No need to switch over to your Amazon tab quite yet. The FCC estimates it will take all the radio stations in the U.S. ten years to make the conversion.

In addition to getting a clearer signal, broadcasting digitally will take about 1/5 of the energy it takes to broadcast an analog signal. It’s also good news for radio manufacturers. It’s estimated 2.5 billion radio receivers will have to be replaced.

Continue reading You may be ordering a new radio from Amazon. Really!

Movies with Impact

By Terri Reddout
Which movies had an impact on our culture or society?

By impact, I mean, did the movie change how we look at the world?  Did it change the way we speak?  Did it change the way we see how others view the world?

So, which movies had an impact on our culture and society?  It depends on who you ask.

  • Ask a film buff and they might say Citizen Kane or Casablanca
  • Ask a war veteran and you might get answers as diverse as Bridge over the River Kwai, Born on the 4th of July, Coming Home, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now or Finding Private Ryan.
  • Ask a woman and you might get Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich or Thelma & Louise.
  • Ask a kid (or a grown-up kid) and they might say anything with Marvel Comics in the title.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

In my day, a movie with impact had to be Star Wars. The story, the characters, the computer generated images took us to a new place and time.

When Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defensive Initiative, a network of missiles to protect the U.S. from nuclear attack from Russia, the White House dubbed it “Star Wars.”  (BTW- In the wake of talks with North Korea, it’s weird to think Russia as our greatest threat of nuclear attack.) Continue reading Movies with Impact

Perception checking: One powerful tool

by Terri Reddout

In my last post, Perception Checking: An excellent method for keeping your foot out of your mouth, I told you about the benefits of perception checking and the three steps of a perception check.

When I first taught perception checking I would give the lecture and simply turn students loose on the perception checking assignments.  That’s when I learned how powerful a communication tool perception checking can be.

Shakespearean for “Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater!”

The case of the woman who wasn’t prepared for her perception to be correct

A student asked me if it was okay not to share the details of her perception check in her paper.

I asked why.

She said the perception check confirmed one of her perceptions about her husband.  She had tears in her eyes.

She didn’t want to share the details of what she learned from her perception check with me.  It was too personal.

She never provided me with the details, but my perception is her perception check revealed her husband was cheating on her.

Thus, the inspiration for Terri’s Perception Check warnings. Continue reading Perception checking: One powerful tool

Perception Checking: An excellent method for keeping your foot out of your mouth

by Terri Reddout

Has something like this ever happened to you?

Mandi walks to class one morning thinking what a great day it is.  She sits down in the classroom and takes a sip of her perfectly flavored latte.

As she pulls out her books, she mentally congratulates herself for taking the time to talk to the professor.  After their conversation, Mandi got a much clearer idea what the assignment was about.  So, instead of dreading writing the paper, she hammered it out in 30 minutes.  Mandi felt so confident she uploaded it to Canvas a day before it was due.

Now she’s looking forward to spending the weekend with friends but remembers she needs to send her roommates a text to remind them she’ll be out of town.

That’s when Sam sits down next to her, slams his textbook on the table and says “Why are you mad at me?”

Mandi’s mood takes a sudden shift.  She was happy.  Sam attacked her and she doesn’t understand why.  She was just sitting there having a great day and suddenly her buddy Sam comes along , accuses her of being mad and basically ruins what started out to be a great day. Continue reading Perception Checking: An excellent method for keeping your foot out of your mouth

The Perception Process: What makes you perceive what you perceive

by Terri Reddout

Do you see the horse in this picture?  If you can’t, well, you’re dumb.

It’s a picture of a horse.  Trust me.  All you have to do is turn your head to the right and you’ll see it.  See.  See how dumb you were?

Okay, I know you’re not dumb.  You just didn’t perceive the picture the same way I did.  That’s the tricky thing about perception. What may be true for me, may not be true for you.

To say someone’s perception is wrong is, well, just plain wrong. Each of us perceive things differently.  Our perceptions influence which truths we see.  Understanding how we form our perceptions can help us better understand how we communication and how people communicate with us.

Each of us pick up on different things that create our perceptions.  It’s called the perception process. Continue reading The Perception Process: What makes you perceive what you perceive

What is news?

by Terri Reddout

Before we can start “shooting” news we need to know what news is.  Generally, a picture of the family cat is NOT news.  Unless the family cat kept mowing and clawing at the neighbor’s door and that woke them up so they got out of the house before it burned down to the ground.  Now your family cat IS newsworthy!

There really isn’t a magic formula for determining what news is.  I wish!  If there were, I’d bottle it up, sell it for a hefty price and retire someplace where temperatures are in the low 80s and bare-chested men bring me drinks with little umbrellas in them all day long.           (I can dream, can’t I?)

Which stories should we cover? What story leads the newscast?  What story goes above the fold?  Which story goes below the fold or on page 3? Do we commit a reporter and a photographers to this story?  Or do we commit the entire news team?

These are all tough questions, with a lot of variables you must factor in.  But… there are some guidelines to help us determine what is NOT newsworthy, what is newsworthy, and just how newsworthy a story is.  You’ll find various versions of these guidelines around the business, but they are generally combinations or more precise  divisions of these seven qualities or factors.

I call them T-P-P-I-C-H-U

Continue reading What is news?

Relationships: Marriage redefined?

By Terri Reddout

Finish reading this blog and increase your chances of staying married happily ever after

Is it because this blog has the secret for a happy marriage?  No.  If I knew the secret, you’d be paying to read this blog and I’d be making a ton of money.

The reason I can say your chances of staying married increase is based on statistics.

If you’re reading this, you’re working at getting a college degree.  Couples with higher education tend to stay married.  By the time you finish reading this blog you’ll be a few minutes older.  Statistics say the older you are when you first get married, the better your chances of staying married.  The other factor?  Economic stability.

This picture is from my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding on the side of Mt Hood.  (That’s Mt. Jefferson in the distance).  They are bucking the odds.  They both earned advanced degrees.  Both are in their early 30s.  They pull in a good income.  He’s a lawyer.  She’s in the medical field.  They have a lot in common.

Oh, and they love each other; a lot.

Wait until you’re 25 to tie the knot (but it’s no guarantee)

Continue reading Relationships: Marriage redefined?

Types of News Stories

In television there are several different types of story formats we can use to communicate information.  Below you will find explanations and examples for each of these types of stories.  We’ll start with the simplest and work our way up to the most complex.

In addition to watching the video examples you should pull up the News Story Types running order in Inception in order to see how the reporter formatted the corresponding scripts.


Read on camera be an anchor.  No videotape or full page graphic.  May or may not have an over-the-shoulder graphic.  Usually no longer than 20-25 seconds because there are no visuals.  Because there is no video, we rarely do readers at CNW.  I did manage to find one, but really it would have been better if we had added some graphics.

Continue reading Types of News Stories

Speech Outlining… Just fill in the blanks with good stuff Part 2

In Speech Outlining… Just fill in the blanks with good stuff Part 1 we broke down each part of the speech introduction.  It’s important stuff.

Now, let’s take a look at the body of the speech and the conclusion.  Once again, I’ll be using my transmedia outline as an example.

Transition lines

Sometimes I’ll listen to a student’s speech and find it to be choppy.  Different parts of the speech seem unrelated to each other.  Nine times out of 10 I’ll look at their outlines and discover they haven’t included any transition lines.  You need transition lines.

Think of transition lines as road markers at an intersection.  They help guide the listener into the right direction.
Continue reading Speech Outlining… Just fill in the blanks with good stuff Part 2