New Republic vs. Brockovich

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Slate's Eric Umansky, writing in the New Republic, takes on allegations that the oil wells at Beverly Hills High are causing a high rate of cancers -- a case being pushed by paralegal-turned-film hero Erin Brockovich-Ellis. Umansky's case is that the evidence is painfully thin that anything is amiss in BH -- no elevated cancer, no unusual bad stuff in the air, no science showing that oil fumes would even cause the kinds of cancer being mentioned.

If there's no compelling evidence that benzene levels at Beverly are dangerously high, nor that cancer rates among current and former students are elevated, nor that the former would cause the latter even if both were true, then why are hundreds of Beverly parents and alumni suing?

In part, it's because of Brockovich-Ellis's reputation: People have seen the movie, and they trust her.

Umansky praises work on the story by the Beverly Hills Courier and notes that the producer of a sensational Channel 2 report siding with Brockovich serves on the Thousand Oaks city council with the activist's mentor, Ed Masry.

If the case has already proved a loser for the oil companies involved, it has already proved a p.r. windfall for Masry and Brockovich-Ellis. And why not? It's the perfect combination of stories: kids with cancer, "Beverly Hills 90210," and a real-life, Hollywood-endorsed hero. Sure enough, the suit has been covered by media from New Zealand to Sweden, including CNN, "Good Morning America," and "Today." Most of the coverage, unsurprisingly, is deferential toward Masry and Brockovich-Ellis.

Such attention is particularly helpful to Brockovich-Ellis, who is currently trying to cement her status as a celebrity folk hero. Since January, she has been hosting a new TV show on the Lifetime Channel entitled "Final Justice." Brockovich-Ellis can also be found on the back of Organic Valley milk cartons as a spokesperson for the environmental group Children's Health Environmental Coalition...and she has been trying her hand at acting, performing in a recent Los Angeles-area production of "The Vagina Monologues."

Brockovich-Ellis stated her case in an op-ed piece yesterday in the L.A. Times. The whole thing is being discussed over at CalPundit.

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