The press used to be so well-respected in this country that they were referred to as “the fourth estate”. In February 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote, “Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three…We are dominated by Journalism.”
Today, well over a century later, with the advent of 24-hour cable news stations, AM talk radio hero worship, and the internet, the media holds more power than ever.
Two respected university professors from UCLA and Stanford are speaking out about the unrealistic message that the mainstream media conveys when it comes to marijuana use and legalization, warning that we may be witnessing an attempted revival of Reefer Madness type propaganda.
Mark Klieman is a professor of public policy at UCLA, and was personally called upon to help the state of Washington craft their own weed legalization laws. He is concerned with the propensity for today’s media to grasp at the low hanging fruit when it comes to cannabis coverage – opting to spotlight only the most extreme headlines.
If the job of the media is to keep the public informed, it is certainly failing in the case of Colorado, where comically ridiculous stories of people tripping out on pot brownies far outweigh the headlines about record-breaking weed-driven tax revenues and massive drops in crime rates.
Klieman recently told Adam Serwer of MSNBC, “I think we’ve learned very little so far from Colorado. There will be bad things coming out of legalization, but they’re not going to happen quickly.”
The article specifically cites three recent headlines to come out of Colorado.
The first example, and perhaps most telling of the media’s role in obfuscating the truth about weed, is the story of Richard Kirk. Apparently, Kirk ingested some weed, downed a handful of prescription pills, and then blew his wife’s head off with the family firearm. In a disgusting display of media spin, some press outlets conveniently omitted the pill-popping from the story, leading unsuspecting readers to believe that the weed alone made Kirk pull the trigger.
Klieman even mentions the story we reported on about New York Times journalist Maureen Dowd, and her scathing review of her alleged 8-hour bout with rampant hallucinations brought on by a simple marijuana edible. The professor admits that dosing on edibles is a bit of a guessing game while weed remains federally illegal, and lets Dowd off the hook a bit by saying, “Maureen Dowd is not the only idiot in the world”.
Of course, Dowd cites the Richard Kirk story, despite the complete lack of relevance to her own situation. But hey, pageviews, baby. She also mentions the truly tragic, though also horribly reported-on incident of Levi Pongi, the 19-year old college kid who jumped off of a Denver balcony to his death after wolfing down a heavily-dosed weed brownie.
Again, reports varied as to whether or Pongi’s cause of death was accurately reported on, but that does not stop the old guard of the mainstream media like Dowd from rolling it out anytime she wants to punctuate the fact that pot is bad, mmkay.
Keith Humphries is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral studies at Stanford University, and as a thinking man, he takes a more reasoned approach to these outlying headlines.
Humphries told MSNBC, “These are all multi-determined events. We know that because they’re rare – if they were simply determined they’d be happening more often. In the aggregate, Americans use marijuana billions of times a year, and there’s very few stories like this. If marijuana had this effect in a prevalent fashion, these things would have been happening for years and years and years.”
As more states propose, and enact, varying forms of decriminalization and/or medical or recreational legalization of weed, and as the federal government begins to lean in a similar direction, many uninformed Americans will be seeking honest answers regarding cannabis use.
As a trailblazer in the legalization movement, the state of Colorado will likely be used as a gauge to measure the impacts of marijuana use for years to come.
Journalists like Maureen Dowd will speak about overdosing so hard on reefer that she needed an extra glass of wine afterwards.
Intellectuals like Professor Klieman will continue to assess the facts as they evolve, and issue statements like, “So far there’s nothing coming out of Colorado that says they made a mistake.”
So far, unfortunately, we have seen which one will make the front page.