On April 25, DEA agents and police held a press conference detailing a string of pot raids and arrests around Seattle. If this were any other policy issue, you would expect the news reporters on the story to begin with certain basic questions. For example: Why is the government doing this? What is the goal? Is the strategy effective? Those were the sorts of questions the Seattle Times asked about a proposal to charge for disposable grocery bags the previous week, despite the obvious benefit of reducing waste. A few days later, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave the same pro-versus-con coverage to the hubbub around a teacher suspended for refusing to give students the WASL test. Could the papers, for a change, also examine both sides of the pot issue?
The Times and P-I sent reporters Mike Carter and Paul Shukovsky—two solid journalists on other subjects. In an April article about a pedophilia case, for example, Carter followed a quote from an attorney for the prosecution (he called the defendant a "typical grooming child molester") with a response from the defense attorney, who accused the prosecution of "outrageous conduct." Similarly, in a March article on a whaling case, Shukovsky reported the charges against members of the Makah tribe and then discussed the "culture and spirituality" of whaling in the tribe.
Carter and Shukovsky's pot-bust stories, in contrast, stuck to the standard rah-rah narrative: Valiant, hardworking DEA agents announce arrests; the busts target a network of dangerous drug dealers; about a dozen people are probably headed for jail. Curtain. Shukovsky's only quotes were from three different prosecution sources (one of whom referred to pot-growing operations as a "plague"); Carter, likewise, relied exclusively on prosecution sources. The stories' one-sided POV prompted Stranger editorial director Dan Savage to dub the pair the "Stupid Fucking Credulous Hacks of the Day" on Slog, The Stranger's blog.
Reporters for daily newspapers make a moral virtue of getting "both sides of the story" in the service of objectivity. So where was the other side of the pot-bust story? Where were the answers to the obvious questions: How much did the raids cost? Do the defendants (or the organizations that speak for them) have anything to say about them? Are armed raids on private residences the best way to apprehend lawbreakers? Do busts like this one actually reduce the availability of pot?
Thinking there must have been some reasons the reporters omitted the other half of the story, I called Carter and Shukovsky to find out.
Carter said, "I think we can let it go that Dan Savage thinks I'm a fucking credulous hack. In fact, we're going to." Then he hung up.
Shukovsky responded in a similar fashion: "If the Slog is going to award me the super hack of the day, I want a plaque or something. I'm not going to comment to you."
It's not that Savage thinks these two are fucking credulous hacks, it's that everyone now knows these two are fucking credulous hacks—at least on the issue of pot.
If reporters for the daily papers can present both sides of a story about screwing children—and remain objective—surely they can do the same for someone facing years in prison for growing pot plants in his basement.