What a coincidence. Today, journalists representing eight news agencies contacted me, seeking interviews with my husband, Dr. Christian Thurstone, whom Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently named to a task force that will make various recommendations to state legislators concerning the implementation of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use and sale in this state.
Of those reporters, only one was from Colorado. The rest were based in other states and three other countries.
So, imagine my surprise when I spied this today from Michael Roberts of Westword. Yes, Mr. Roberts has a history of lazy reporting and active cheerleading when it comes his coverage about marijuana, but this ditty sinks to new lows. A guy whose newsroom is mere blocks away from Dr. Thurstone’s office and for whom calls to Dr. Thurstone are free, couldn’t figure out how to contact him — or me — before publishing? Nah, that couldn’t be the case.
But this is the case: Mr. Roberts simply didn’t consider it necessary to contact someone about whom he was reporting for a news organization. He even went so far as to characterize Dr. Thurstone as “another member of the task force (who) definitely doesn’t fall into the reformer category” without giving Dr. Thurstone a chance to respond. To gloss over the whole I-Didn’t-Actually-Bother-To-Contact-The-Guy problem with his stenography, er, story, Mr. Roberts included an excerpt from a 2010 interview my husband conducted with his publication. It doesn’t necessarily represent my husband’s views about legal reforms concerning marijuana’s use and sale — but whatever, right?
Somehow during all of this, um, “reporting,” Mr. Roberts found his second wind and/or figured out how to contact Sean McAllister, a lawyer who lobbies for marijuana legalization and the interests of marijuana users. He discussed Dr. Thurstone with Mr. McAllister and dutifully reported what Mr. McAllister had to say about Dr. Thurstone – and wanted to pontificate about him. Here goes:
When asked about Thurstone, McAllister says, ‘The campaign and most marijuana advocates would tell you they’re on the same page as Dr. Thurstone — marijuana is not a drug for young people. And it’s still illegal for anyone under 21. But the doctor has lost credibility in the past with his reiteration of things like the gateway theory.
‘So the question is: Will he be part of a group that will use hypothetical and anecdotal concerns to try to stall the entire system? Because that’s something we shouldn’t allow. With all these issues, we should be asking ourselves, ‘Will being overly protective shut the system down?’ And the answer is, we should default to the will of the voters. We should go back to the fact that 55 percent of voters wanted this to be the case. So we need to adopt things that address these issues, but not use these concerns to stop us from implementing what the voters want.”
I repeat: Mr. Roberts made no effort to contact Dr. Thurstone before publishing. That’s simply wrong — and responsible journalists who truly are committed to accuracy and fairness wouldn’t have done something like this.
So, here’s to hoping more people realize that when they can’t count on a reporter to do even the basics of his or her job, they can’t count on the accuracy of the end product, either.
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. If you would like to speak with her or her husband — Dr. Thurstone — please send a message.