Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I'd Hit That
July 25, 2011 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Should a Wash Post writer take one toke over the line to build trust to get the story? The Washington Post has a strict policy that its reporters not engage in anything illegal to get a story. Does that include taking a hit on a joint or pipe if it will get the subject of the story to open up? Not surprisingly, the reader poll had over 70% say, I'd hit that.
posted by AugustWest (41 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, so that's why the Post never hired Hunter Thompson.
posted by Relay at 11:12 AM on July 25, 2011


Joint? Get some snacks in. Dangerous shit like crack or meth? No.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:15 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


...the reader poll had over 70% say, I'd hit that.

I am quickly reminded of the quickly-pulled "I'd hit it" McDonald's ad campaign where the young men were very adamant about having sex with cheeseburgers.
posted by griphus at 11:16 AM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


the young men were very adamant about having sex with cheeseburgers.

Yeah, that makes no sense. Now, if it was Burger King, where you can have it your way ...

As to the article, obviously the Washington Post is quite different from the newsweeklies I have worked at, where smoking a little boo was pretty much a requirement to get any story. Even film reviews. Especially film reviews.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hey, if they're in California and have pretty much any medical problem at all, they can get a medical marijuana license and then it's not illegal.
posted by mullingitover at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine that the WaPo would fire a reporter for going 70mph in a 55 zone in pursuit of a story, which I see as a comparable offense to smoking pot. Pot just happens to be a hot-button, culturally divisive issue.

The article says "based on a true story," and now I'm curious what went on, and what happened to the writer.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Post's policy needs to have wiggle room. Journalists can't really function properly if they're not allowed to use their own judgment, even in the face of employer policies. I do think a reporter and an editor need to have their own level of trust that allows the situation described here to be shared between the two of them. I don't think that this situation should result in reprimand. Being a little high isn't reason enough to fire someone, it isn't reason enough to kill the story, or to censor out the parts that consisted of information obtained while the sources and writer were high. Now if a source is blackout drunk, or impaired on another substance to a level that a writer's common sense tells them it would be unethical to use that person as a source, well, that's a different story. If newspapers want to survive they're going to have to be creative not only in the way they present news stories but in the way they gather them as well.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:31 AM on July 25, 2011


That's a terribly messed up poll. And every smoker I've known would have been fine if the reporter said, "I can't. Company policy."
posted by chairface at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now, if it was Burger King, where you can have it your way ...


Why did Wendy's sue McDonald's? Because McDonald's put their Big Mac in Wendy's Hot 'n Juicy.

Does that qualify as a rape joke?
posted by Chuckles at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2011


...smoking a little boo...

This is the most precious thing I have ever heard.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that makes no sense. Now, if it was Burger King, where you can have it your way ...

"Hey baby it's bacon flavored"
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 11:33 AM on July 25, 2011


I'm reminded of a scene I saw on CBC news a couple of weeks ago that would have made a great John Stewart 'Moment of Zen': A CBC reporter (Christine Gallipeau?) in Afghanistan was being shown the weapons and contraband that had been confiscated in a raid by Canadian troops. She leaned over this slab of hashish and took a long whiff, and then smiled into the camera, opened her eyes really wide and said, 'Mmmmm, it smells so fresh.'
You got a pretty good sense she knew, or had known, her way around a pack of zig-zags, and was assuming, as if it was just a given, that a lot of her viewers did too.
posted by Flashman at 11:37 AM on July 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


I am quickly reminded of the quickly-pulled "I'd hit it" McDonald's ad campaign where the young men were very adamant about having sex with cheeseburgers

Hey, that ad campaign was good enough to create a period of my life where I referred to attractive women as "double cheeseburgers." Of course by "period of my life" I mean "one party where I didn't 'hit' anything, but instead got drunk and played Donkey Konga."

posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:38 AM on July 25, 2011


> You got a pretty good sense she knew, or had known, her way around a pack of zig-zags, and was assuming, as if it was just a given, that a lot of her viewers did too.

If I ever needed to Freak Out a Square, I'd tell them (truthfully) that almost all of the schoolteachers I know - and I know quite a few - are familiar with Zig-Zags.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:42 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, as the guy in the byline on this story, I'll confess I did not feel my journalistic integrity was compromised in any way by joining several subjects for tokes while on assignment - or, most memorably, for a bit of hash resin from a bubble vaporiser at one of Vancouver's short-lived marijuana cafes, which was the smoothest smoke I've ever had.

And yes, I'm reasonably sure it was professionally necessary to convince the main subject I wasn't a narc so that he'd be willing to take me to see a full-scale grow op, which was essential to the story.

Then again, I think objectivity is mostly bullshit and journalism's pretense to lawyer/doctor ethics a red herring to cover the corporate asses of big media conglomerates, so maybe I'm not qualified to comment on the likes of the WaPo.

You know what was criminal, WaPo? Publishing this piece of hateful trash.
posted by gompa at 11:46 AM on July 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I can't find the upvote button. This is /r/trees, right?
posted by tommasz at 11:50 AM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


If I ever needed to Freak Out a Square, I'd tell them (truthfully) that almost all of the schoolteachers I know - and I know quite a few - are familiar with Zig-Zags.

Teachers party harder than almost any other group of people, the only ones that come close are nurses.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:56 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Teachers party harder than almost any other group of people, the only ones that come close are nurses.

Spoken like someone who's never seen a herd of freelance journalists in the general proximity of an open bar.
posted by gompa at 11:59 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Teachers party harder than almost any other group of people, the only ones that come close are nurses.

Stereotypes are harmful.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:59 AM on July 25, 2011


Teachers party harder than almost any other group of people, the only ones that come close are nurses.

Spoken like someone who's never seen a herd of freelance journalists in the general proximity of an open bar.


Or traders after the closing bell.
posted by AugustWest at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2011


"The man you trusted wasn't Wavy Gravy at all! All this time I've been smoking harmless tobacco!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:07 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Teachers party harder than almost any other group of people, the only ones that come close are nurses.

Spoken like someone who's never seen a herd of freelance journalists in the general proximity of an open bar.

Or traders after the closing bell.


Ever seen bartenders just off shift at an after hours session?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:11 PM on July 25, 2011



Teachers party harder than almost any other group of people, the only ones that come close are nurses.


Oh god yes. Teachers and nurses (and laboratory scientists) put the food service and theatre crowds to shame.
posted by The Whelk at 12:13 PM on July 25, 2011


If I were a reporter, I would probably assume this policy is really a "don't ask/don't tell" one. Your boss doesn't want to know you had to do something illegal to get the story, nor can your boss's boss officially condone employees using illegal drugs on the job. However, nobody actually cares; just CYA from top to bottom.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:14 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


(although bartenders, if they're not tea-totaling, gives everyone a run for their money. )
posted by The Whelk at 12:14 PM on July 25, 2011


Oh god yes. Teachers and nurses (and laboratory scientists) put the food service and theatre crowds to shame.

I guess. They must rank up there with accountants.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:28 PM on July 25, 2011


Here's the thing about teachers and their partying; unlike bartenders and some of the other groups, teachers are frequently older. Ever see a group of 45 year old women geting absolutely plastered at a mediocre chain restaurant? These people are probably teachers. In the corner, you'll see my sad, sober mother, wishing her co-workers didn't know she didn't drink.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:34 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that I'm up to date on the various American drug laws, but aren't possession and distribution the only illegal bits?
posted by ODiV at 12:36 PM on July 25, 2011


[i]or traders...[/i]

Or doctors. Or lawyers. Or engineers. Or priests.

Anyone with a stressful job. Which is most of 'em. And I'm sitting here with my post-work G&T, which is most assuredly not poured with just a hint of gin, with steam gently escaping from all organs of admittance, as it's been a bit of a day today and tomorrow will be a bit of a day too.

To get back to journalism, the pursuit of which has directly led to that G&T and which is certainly up there if you must make a league table of substance usage, the question is - can you break the law in the service of your craft. I'm a member of the 'break the law if you must, but stay honest' school of behaviour, in my personal and work life (although that distinction is rather artificial. For five points: what am I doing right now? Yes, apart from getting a mild buzz on. Journalists don't switch off.)

In fact, not only would I break the law if I thought the results were morally defensible, I would break it and not try to evade the consequences. I'm very fortunate in that I've never had to test that particular principle, so who can say whether I'd stand by that or turn into a frikkin' worm, but there are a lot of laws in this line of work and they're getting harsher.

An example: I read on some scuzzy pit on the Net that a particular file, available to me, contains a whole heap of illegally obtained user IDs and passwords. Said ID/pw combos belong to millions of ordinary people, who stand to get into unearned pain as a result. It's a good story. Moreover, by publicising it, those people will know about it and can change their passwords - or the systems they use will suspend the accounts until the problem is fixed. But, as a journalist, the onus is on me to check the facts.

Time is ticking. I'm not the only scumball who's reading this stuff. I can get a story up in ten minutes, and it would be around the world a few seconds later. Go, web.

How do I check these facts? I could phone up the service providers and ask 'Hey, you been hacked?'. Legal and moral, but doesn't work (Try it with Google, if you like). I could try and contact the users and say 'Hey, is this your password?', but I don't actually know how to find out who poplopalop34@aol.com is, at least not with any despatch. Or I could pick a user name and password at random and see if I can log in. I don't have to - and wouldn't - put enough information in the story to let others find the file.

Now, logging on with stolen ID is illegal. But, I'm not even going to look at their email - the mere fact of logging in confirms the story, which is my entire interest in the matter - it causes no harm and means I know that I can go live as quickly as possible while standing by the story.

Or I could do nothing, all the while knowing that if it's true, people are probably being damaged. Or I could publish with a 'here's something I read on the Intarwebs!' justification, which isn't journalism and fatally damages the story.

What do I do?
posted by Devonian at 12:44 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


A CBC reporter (Christine Gallipeau?) in Afghanistan

Looks like the name is CĂ©line Galipeau.
posted by ancienteyes at 12:46 PM on July 25, 2011


Where

A = propensity to be shat upon in your current position
B = sense of commeraderie amongst co-workers in being shat upon
C = years of education required to have the priviledge to be shat upon

Partying by profession = A*2B*C2
posted by jimmythefish at 12:49 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


What do I do?

This might be naive of me, but if one's first instinct (not saying this is YOUR first instinct) in discovering ongoing, harmful illegal activity is to preserve the story rather than pursue the proper channels for remedying the situation, the instincts are wrong. It's not ethical to further personal interests at the expense of someone else's. I would think that a decent journalist would have a relationship with authorities which would encourage pursuing proper channels in exchange for better-quality/more excludive information from those authorities.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2011


Hey, if they're in California and have pretty much any medical problem at all, they can get a medical marijuana license and then it's not illegal.

I'm always amazed at how many people get mad at the California medical marijuana system, as if "OMG! There are people getting medicine who shouldn't be?!?!?!"

A lot of people who take oxycontin or hydrocodone don't really "need" it either (not to mention Ritalin or Xanax, etc.), but I don't see the same level of outrage there. I wonder why ...

Not that I'm up to date on the various American drug laws, but aren't possession and distribution the only illegal bits?

In California, you can be charged with being under the influence of an illegal substance ... and I have been! For some reason, the fucking cops thought I was on angel dust, lol, and they literally used that term. I thought I'd gotten drunk and woken up in 1982. :D

In fact, I even guessed the code right (you'd be surprised what stays with you when you get stuck in jail for 8 hours after you've sobered up ...)--it's California Health & Safety Code 11550:

No person shall use, or be under the influence of any controlled substance which is (1) specified in subdivision (b), (c), or (e), or paragraph (1) of subdivision (f) of Section 11054, specified in paragraph (14), (15), (21), (22), or (23) of subdivision (d) of Section 11054, specified in subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 11055, or specified in paragraph (1) or (2) of subdivision (d) or in paragraph (3) of subdivision (e) of Section 11055, or (2) a narcotic drug classified in Schedule III, IV, or V, except when administered by or under the direction of a person licensed by the state to dispense, prescribe, or administer controlled substances. It shall be the burden of the defense to show that it comes within the exception.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:23 PM on July 25, 2011


Yeah, I shouldn't be surprised, I guess. Thanks for the info.

On the flip side, isn't it basically impossible to do anything these days without breaking the law in some way? Researching and writing a newspaper article certainly wouldn't be exempt.
posted by ODiV at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2011


I would think that a decent journalist would have a relationship with authorities which would encourage pursuing proper channels in exchange for better-quality/more excludive information from those authorities.

You've got the whole thing ass-backwards. That's not journalism; that's the Stasi.

if one's first instinct (not saying this is YOUR first instinct) in discovering ongoing, harmful illegal activity is to preserve the story rather than pursue the proper channels for remedying the situation, the instincts are wrong

Who are you or I to determine harm or legality? Yes, if someone is in obvious danger that can be prevented, I would hope a journalist helps that person rather than preserve a story, but it is almost never that cut and dry.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Couldn't the report just say he didn't inhale?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:15 PM on July 25, 2011


"off the record?"
"off the record"

*flick: fhewwwww

"dint wan git ired...exhewwwwww.... hmmmm"
posted by clavdivs at 3:16 PM on July 25, 2011


Oh, tomorrow's Gene Weingarten chat is going to be FUN looking at this one.

I can understand, given the legal issues, why the paper would say "absolutely not" to getting stoned or doing anything else illegal while trying to get a story. The recent story of that guy outing himself as an illegal immigrant is another example of why things can go really bad if the paper knowingly allows someone to have broken the law and gotten away with it for work purposes.

Now, if the dude smokes the pot and nobody catches him, fine and dandy. But it's a question of catching there, isn't it?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:49 PM on July 25, 2011


Hey, if they're in California and have pretty much any medical problem at all, they can get a medical marijuana license and then it's not illegal.

No, it's still illegal under federal law. Now, the DEA isn't likely to bust you, but if the rule is "nothing illegal", medical marijuana doesn't qualify.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:41 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should a Wash Post writer take one toke over the line to build trust to get the story?

Trust never really depends on one small action like this in real life...only in the movies where its dramatic.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:54 PM on July 25, 2011


I can understand, given the legal issues, why the paper would say "absolutely not" to getting stoned or doing anything else illegal while trying to get a story.

How about driving above the speed limit? Jaywalking?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:23 AM on July 26, 2011


« Older Zombie proof your doors...  |  CanadaFilter: Jack Layton, Lea... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments