Let’s put how I feel as the doctor’s wife aside for a moment. I’m a longtime journalist who cares deeply about the ethics and integrity of my trade, and I know when a fellow journalist’s work fails to meet basic standards of accuracy, fairness — and decency.
Follow this daisy chain:
1. December, 2012: Michael Roberts of Westword wrote a column in which he allowed a source to discuss Dr. T — and failed to contact Dr. T before publication to give him a chance to respond. On the first day of class, journalism students should be able to spot what is wrong with this.
2. May, 14, 2013: Mr. Roberts contacted Dr. T about this post. As anyone who reads it will see, Dr. T reported the rising levels of THC found in the urine of his young patients from 2007 through February 2013. He ended his report with this statement — which resulted in outcry from many weed users: “It is reasonable now to question how much longer it will be before we see injection use of THC — especially as marijuana is legalized.” (Fun fact: injectable THC products are legal under Colorado’s Amendment 64.)
So, Mr. Roberts wrote this column based pretty much only on the information and insight Dr. T shared with him on this date.
Though it was my husband doing all the talking this time, I cringed as I read what amounted to more stenography. It was tempting to react with: “Wow, that’s great. You were heard. You’re the only one quoted. It’s finally your side of the story, uninterrupted,” and, “This is the least Mr. Roberts could do to make up for his previously lopsided and unfair work.” But I couldn’t make myself go there — and I said so to several people.
“It’s still grossly imbalanced,” I complained. “Even if it’s a ‘column’ designed to present a view, it’s so one-sided.”
May 21, 2013: Mr. Roberts followed up with the other side today — and in a manner that is, once again, outside the bounds of responsible journalism and common decency.
He allowed someone to comment on quotes from his May 14 interview with Dr. T. Fine. But allowing the source to comment in ways that refer to Dr. T as “idiotic” and incompetent and that challenge Dr. T’s assertions without giving Dr. T a chance to respond is — once again — ridiculous. Mr. Roberts, and, apparently, his editor, found it acceptable to allow a source to attack the position of someone who was never given a chance to defend himself against those attacks before publication. Dr. T would have — and easily could have — addressed the criticism leveled at him, but the journalists at the center of this just didn’t find it necessary to give him that chance. In their world (which is heavily subsidized by ads paid for by marijuana causes and businesses), it’s all right for people to challenge and criticize Dr. T and his work — but not to allow Dr. T to challenge and criticize his critics. It’s all right for people to debate Dr. T and not even inform Dr. T that he’s party to a debate.
Had Mr. Roberts contacted Dr. T before today’s publication, perhaps he would have appropriately countered this arrogant pronouncement from Bob Melamede, a pot advocate who teaches at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs:
“The only injections of cannabis have occurred in this guy’s mind.”
Um, right. Here’s a video, produced by the BBC, of a woman receiving injections of THC and a mixture of THC and cannabinoid while participating in a research study looking at the link between marijuana use and psychosis (you can read more about that — and other recent research findings — here, too). Since it was posted on YouTube in 2011, this video has received more than 106,000 page views and more than 300 thumbs up.
Let’s not forget what Dr. T also noted: “Similarly, synthetic cannabinoid was developed in a laboratory for research purposes. Only a few short years later, ‘entrepreneurs’ who studied published papers, were marketing the substance as a substitute for marijuana that would allow users to get high and also evade drug tests and, possibly, avoid arrest.”
While the journalist and communications consultant examining this situation would counsel Dr. T to steer clear of future correspondence with Westword, the doctor’s wife knows he’s gracious, patient and forgiving.
Christine Tatum is a former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald and the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record. In 2006-07, she served as national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the United States’ largest and oldest journalism-advocacy organizations.