Christine Tatum Blasts Critics of Gazette's Anti-Pot Series

Christine Tatum.
Christine Tatum.

Yesterday, we noted that anti-pot zealot Christine Tatum was among the authors of "Clearing the Haze," a four-day marijuana-hating jeremiad published by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

At this writing, Tatum, the wife of Dr. Christian Thurstone, another notable Colorado cannabis critic who's featured in the package, has not responded to interview requests from Westword on the topic — and neither has Gazette publisher Dan Steever.

But she's been plenty voluble on Facebook, where she blasted the Colorado Springs Independent, which published a piece headlined "Is the Gazette's New Marijuana Series a Joke?," and national media writer Jim Romenesko, who linked to the Indy piece and a previous item by Westword in which we noted that Tatum had hinted that THC may have played a role in the Boston Marathon bombing and the attack on Columbine High School.

In the meantime, another Facebook thread started by a former Gazette staffer expresses disappointment with the series and offers criticism of the new management team running the paper since it was purchased by gazillionaire Phil Anschutz's Clarity Media company back in 2012.

A graphic from a "Clearing the Haze" video.
A graphic from a "Clearing the Haze" video.
Colorado Springs Gazette via YouTube

"Clearing the Haze" is described as a "perspective" series — a description presumably meant to signal readers that it has a particular point of view and agenda, as opposed to offering an objective look at the marijuana scene in Colorado a year-plus after limited recreational sales became legal.

This distinction has been lost on many readers — particularly those who've encountered the series online, where it's presented as if it's an award-baiting investigative offering, not a full-scale attack on its subject. It's also tricky to discover the identity of the series' authors: Tatum and editorial board members Pula Davis and Wayne Laugesen.

In his item, Romenesko characterized "Clearing the Haze" as "a 21st Century version of Reefer Madness," adding, "I'm told: 'Gazette employees have been strongly discouraged from commenting on or sharing opinions about the series. Privately editors have mentioned that public criticism could jeopardize reporters’ jobs.'"

Last night, Tatum fired back on Facebook with this:

I'm genuinely sad that I'm so disappointed in Jim Romenesko today. I expect a lot more from him. At the same time, I'm glad for everyone to see how one of this country's most respected media critics sweepingly dismissed editorializing critical and skeptical of marijuana legalization as "Reefer Madness." I also want everyone to note how he writes that my husband is a doctor who treats "so-called marijuana 'addicts'" as if marijuana addiction is something that is even up for debate, and people struggling with marijuana addiction aren't real — and don't have important stories to tell.

Those few sentences — accompanied by the "Reefer Madness" cover art — beautifully illustrate the importance of The Gazette editorial board's work this week.

I look forward to similar scrutiny of journalists who use marijuana and are permitted to influence news coverage about public policy related to the drug's legalization. 

Dr. Christian Thurstone, Christine Tatum's husband, in a video included in the "Clearing the Haze" series.
Dr. Christian Thurstone, Christine Tatum's husband, in a video included in the "Clearing the Haze" series.
Colorado Springs Gazette via YouTube

As for the Indy piece, she took it on more specifically in the following response to a Facebook friend:

I just read that Colorado Indy report. It's ludicrous — as are so many of the charges leveled at Chris and me.

Good thing I remain royally amused on one level:

Newsrooms see nothing wrong with allowing pot users to analyze and report on drug policy and write pro-weed columns and tell us how to baste our Thanksgiving turkeys with THC.

And then a journalist whose years of research have led her to very different conclusions comes along, and she's married to a doctor who stands against legalization with every major medical society in the developed world, and she has spent years personally watching the travesties these pot-loving journalists clearly don't want to bother reporting, and she doesn't hide her views and ensures they're clearly marked as perspective. THEN everyone blows up with cries of lapses of journalism ethics when she speaks or writes on the subject.

It's hard for me to take them seriously.

And it's even tougher for me to care about the sentiments of a publication like The Independent, which probably derives about 15 percent of its annual revenue from marijuana-related ad sales.

Scott Rappold.
Scott Rappold.
Twitter

A far different take is offered by former Gazette reporter Scott Rappold, who penned the following post:

I have held my tongue as long as I can. Shame on my former employer for passing off as "news" what is clearly a 4-part editorial rant against voter-approved legalization of cannabis. Oh yeah and no byline on the stories so we have to search the fine print to find that among the staffers who worked on it were an editorial page editor who has been demonizing cannabis for years (at the behest of conservative ownership) and a writer whose husband is Dr. Christian Thurstone, perhaps the most vocal anti-marijuana crusader in Colorado (who is also quoted in the piece?????) I worked at The G for ten years. For the first time I am truly glad I don't anymore ?#?burningbridges? ?#?ethicsanyone??

Among those weighing in was Jeff Thomas, former editor and vice president of the Gazette. In response to a note from another ex-Gazette staffer, onetime entertainment editor Warren Epstein, who felt that "this piece could and should have been done legitimately," since "the questions asked are good ones," Thomas wrote:

Like you, that's exactly what I was expecting when I saw the teaser in the paper a day before it began. I scratched my head a little at the label: "A perspective series." What? Well, there's a great tradition of American newspapers using their opinion pages to crusade for/against this or that.

But I was truly bemused when I opened the paper on Sunday to read it. No bylines, lots of canned/wire art, lots (and lots) of words. Not much design thought put into it. Clearly, this was not a newsroom effort. But it sure was passed off as one, with only the barest minimum of disclaimer to the reader that the opinion section was the creator.

This was clearly a case where ownership had a point of view and ordered up some reporting and writing to support that view. That's the newspaper's right, but its obligation is to play it straight with readers. Add pages to the opinion section and run the copy in there.

Thing is, some — maybe all — of the reporting in the series may be legit. I don't have any evidence that any of it was fabricated. (Well, there is one thing completely non-legit: quoting your own husband. That alone is a disqualifier.) There may be good solid evidence that MJ legalization is not producing all the benefits that proponents expected. Warren's right: these are good questions to ask.

But the method used by the G in this case throws up a wall before you can even dive into the reporting to decide whether it's sound. I would have read a legitimate news report probing these questions down to the last word. Once I figured out what the G was up to, I bailed out. No one likes being manipulated.

Phil Anschutz.
Phil Anschutz.
Free Lunch Photography

These mentions of "ownership" are not-so-veiled references to Anschutz, a well-known conservative and a longtime pot opponent. As noted by the Rocky Mountain News in 2000, he was the largest single contributor to an organization called Coloradans Against Legalizing Marijuana, donating $25,000 to the cause.

As for Tatum, she responded to a Facebook comment suggesting that she and her co-authors were doing Anschutz's bidding like so:

I'm not aware of anyone being told anything about the series, much less whether or how to discuss it. But common sense would tell me — and has told me in the past — that if I'm not a designated spokesperson to the media by my media employer, and I also had nothing to do with the production of whatever project is the focus, it would be inappropriate to speak about it. 

As seen here, she's much less reticent on plenty of other subjects.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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