The War on (Certain American Citizens Using Non-Phamaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs would’ve been over by 1978 if we had a functioning news media in this country. Instead, news media tends to diminish, demean, and de-legitimize the cause of drug law reform with pot puns, stereotypes, and misdirection, as evidenced by the recent Boston FOX 25 coverage of Kevin Sabet’s fake marijuana gummy bears.
The story: Kevin Sabet, the nation’s top anti-pot activist, tried to scare Massachusetts voters by displaying a bag of marijuana gummy bears on a live TV forum for Question 4. He told voters that if they voted yes on November’s legalization initiative, pot candy that’s indistinguishable from regular candy will poison their children. Then he left the allegedly dangerous juvenile poison unattended and it was swiped by a pro-pot activist. When Boston’s FOX 25 contacted Sabet about the incident, he admitted that the gummy bears were just plain old gummy bears.
To begin, anchor Vanessa Welch announces that “a bag of what some believed were marijuana-laced gummy bears” were stolen at the televised legalization debate. “What some believed”? How about “what voters were told”? How about “what a legalization opponent described as”?
This is a framing trick media employs by using the passive voice to avoid assigning responsibility for the act being reported. “Shots were fired…” instead of “police shot…” is a common example.
Next, Welch throws to Political Reporter Sharman Sacchetti, who opens the report with the rhetorical question, “Was it a case of the marijuana munchies?”
This is a framing trick media employs to de-legitimize the story by making it into a joke, using the stereotype of the ravenous stoner. Welch’s superfluous statement that “you just can’t make this one up” is another example of de-legitimization by framing the story as an odd freak occurrence.
Next, Sacchetti explains how the bag of gummies was stolen when an opponent of Question 4 left them on a table. Using her crack investigative skills, she tracks down the security video to provide an exclusive first look at the burglary of the century.
Lacking the crucial information that the gummy bears were identified by their owner as being marijuana-infused and introducing the doubt that only ”some people believed” they were marijuana-infused leaves the average viewer thinking this story is just about a bag of candy and how funny it is that some stoner went and stole them.
Sacchetti leads us through a replay of the video of the theft, including the part where the gummy grabber speaks to the head of the marijuana legalization campaign, so viewers can infer some collusion by the pro-pot side to victimize the anti-pot side, poisoning their perception of Question 4 with the taint of petty criminality.
But the worst lapse of journalism happens as Sacchetti explains what Welch glossed over:
Sacchetti: “Now, during the debate, the person who left them there had held up two bags of candy, and asked the audience which one was infused with marijuana and which one wasn’t.”
Note the use of “the person” here. Earlier in the report, before she’s leading us through the security video, she mentions that “a representative from a national group against legalizing pot” left the gummies on a table, but then quickly pivots to and emphasizes “the theft” she then goes on to show on video. Now that we’re getting around to assigning blame for why “some believed” the gummy bears were marijuana-infused, the anti-legalization side has become generically “the person”.
Also notice the generic description of “the person” who just supposedly let a bag of drugs go missing in public. The gummy grabber is unknown to the reporters, but they know the marijuana opponent is named Kevin Sabet and his group is called Project SAM.
The media diffuses what little assignment of blame there is for the lie Kevin Sabet told to frighten Massachusetts voters by keeping him and his organization unknown to the audience. All while media assigns blame-by-association for the minor transgression of somebody swiping a small bag of candy by linking the culprit to the pro-legalization campaign.
The piece concludes with Welch telling the viewers that “the person who did use those gummy bears as a prop” told them “there was never any marijuana-laced candy in that bunch”, and we’re off to the next story.
This is a journalistic travesty. Nowhere in the entire 102-second piece do the reporters question the ethics of an opponent of a state ballot initiative deceiving voters with a fake drug candy as a prop. A national figure admits to a news station he told a lie – twice – intended to frighten voters, and they think the story is about a petty theft. A cut-away to a state lawmaker opposed to legalization calling it “a juvenile stunt” is as close as we get to any condemnation of Sabet’s malfeasance.
Nowhere in the piece do the reporters fact-check the reason why Sabet was lying about the bag was to show that ”these things are lying around – the reason the emergency admissions in Colorado for kids under five… have doubled.” If they had, they’d report that those gummi bears couldn’t be the marijuana-infused versions available in Colorado because the state regulators banned them.
If they had reported that, then the story becomes more about the lie than the theft. If they start to dig into the lie, they might follow up with five minutes of Google to find the marijuana media reporting on this #GummyGate, and then learn the gummy grabber was an activist acting of his own accord, unconnected to the Question 4 campaign, who was securing what were then understood by the audience as a bag of drugs lying around unattended where someone who can’t tell what they are might find them, eat them, and experience an unwanted suprise mystery high, just as Kevin Sabet warned might happen if Massachusetts passes Question 4.
If she does some digging, she then might explain to the audience that not only does Colorado not have marijuana gummy bears, but Massachusetts won’t, either, because Question 4 mandates that regulators establish rules to prevent “marketing… designed to appeal to children.”
A really talented reporter might even dig further and learn that Sabet didn’t just tell an unethical lie, he committed a crime. Telling someone something that isn’t a drug really is a drug with the intent of distributing it to unsuspecting consumers falls under laws that penalize such “counterfeit substances”. Just last year in Massachusetts a man committed that crime trying to sell a bag of oregano he said was marijuana to a teenager.
But at Boston FOX 25, the theft of a 50¢ bag of bulk gummy bears is a bigger story than a former Drug Czar adviser committing a crime with a lie to voters that misrepresents the effect voting on a state initiative will have on their children’s safety.