Monday, March 23, 2015

Is the Gazette's new marijuana series a joke?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 12:19 PM

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK
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Update: Gazette employees are at risk of being fired if they discuss the series. Our latest post here.

Well, this is embarrassing. It looks like the Gazette accidentally published a bloated anti-marijuana opinion column as news.

To its credit, "Clearing the Haze" does have a vaguely menacing presentation — and, ooh, parallax — but if the organization had any sense of journalistic ethics, the four-day series would never have hit the page.

Let's start with the way news is supposed to work. The Society of Professional Journalists says reporters should "avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts." For reference here's the Los Angeles Times' policy: "A fair-minded reader of Times news coverage should not be able to discern the private opinions of those who contributed to that coverage, or to infer that the organization is promoting any agenda."

It's probably not fair to hold the Gazette to such a standard, because it publicly espouses no such intention, but let's just do it anyway. Let's clear the haze.

The four-day series was written by three people: Wayne Laugesen, Pula Davis and Christie Tatum.

None of these people work for the news division of a newspaper. Laugesen and Davis are members of the Gazette's editorial board, which has written so many diatribes against cannabis, all compositions led by Laugesen, ownership is practically screaming in the woods.

As for Tatum, a former business reporter at the Denver Post, she reminds me of a quote by former New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal, on the subject of journalistic ethics: “I don’t care if you [screw] an elephant, just so long as you don’t cover the circus.” As the wife of Chris Thurstone, a doctor making his living on addiction treatment and leading anti-marijuana crusader, Tatum is screwing the elephant while covering the circus.

(Among other savvy moves, Thurstone thought he might capitalize on the death of Michael Brown by attributing being killed by a police officer, somehow, to marijuana, a post that led to charges of racism. It has since been removed. The good doctor has also said he fears teens will start injecting THC into each other.)

The website for the family business even states that Tatum "frequently collaborates with her husband to produce communications designed to educate and inform the public about substance abuse and addiction." Naturally, Thurstone shows up in the newspaper's comments cheerleading the piece.

But the best source of Tatum's bias is herself. Of the pieces she authored for the Gazette, Tatum yesterday wrote on Facebook how she thought of "you prevention folks out there" while she "looked at the sorry state of prevention in Colorado."

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On Twitter, Tatum refused to answer how she became involved with the project. We emailed Laugesen and editor Joanna Bean asking why no news staff are bylined on the story, and if it went through the traditional news process. We also asked about the conflicts of interest. Bean said she forwarded our email to publisher Dan Steever, and then ignored a follow-up. Laugesen never responded.

It's entirely possible there's useful information in the paper's stories. There are two more days to find out. But the Gazette's disregard for ethics here is disturbing. The first thing you're taught in journalism is to consider the source.

We have.

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