Videos: Fox31 denies marijuana activist's claim that THC driving story was rigged
Update: Yesterday afternoon, after we shared an activist Max Montrose's claim that a Fox31 report on driving under the influence of THC was rigged (see our previous coverage below), the station released a 1,600-word response denying the claim. Reporter Mark Meredith insists the driving simulator wasn't rigged, and says the station's conclusions largely match Montrose's.
"Our story concluded that the state standard of Delta 9 concentration was not an accurate or objective way to test whether someone was too high to drive," notes the piece, credited to Meredith, Will C. Holden and Thomas Hendrick. "That is exactly what Montrose has stated his own YouTube report was hoping to prove.
"Since he appears confused about the findings of our report and intent on spreading gross inaccuracies about the way our study was conducted, we feel compelled to respond to his hidden camera video," the response adds.
The piece's authors insist that Montrose's words weren't edited to make him sound like he was advocating for driving stoned. They say that because "the overwhelming majority" of the population wouldn't condone driving under the influence, they felt it wasn't important to include Montrose's opinion on the matter." To that end," they write, "we determined the omitted portions of the interviews were redundant and simply stated the obvious, and thus they were left out of the report."
The respondents also deny that the simulator was rigged, explaining that it gauges reaction time and is not meant to mimic "everyday driving." They also point out that the test was run by a third party with no affiliation to the news agency. As for the Fox31 camera guy in the story saying the test was "ridiculous"? Well, he's entitled to his opinion, they say. But his view was based on a quick joy ride, not an actual simulation, they maintain.
Most important, Meredith, Holden and Hendrick disagree with the premise that the news report somehow supported the 5-nanogram limit. At no point do they ever reach a conclusion other than that the evidence is questionable at best, they maintain. "If anything, a complete viewing of our story calls into question the fairness of the previously proposed Colorado statute that sets an arbitrary 5 nanogram limit," they write.
FOX31 Denver is responding to claims of inaccurate reporting made by the participant of a report we aired in May looking at the effects of marijuana on drivers.
Our story asked several volunteers to take a driving test using a multi-purpose simulator both before and after they had taken a dose of marijuana they were legally allowed to take through a medical marijuana prescription.
Max Montrose has created a YouTube video claiming FOX31 Denver intentionally "created this test to fail and reported false news to the state of Colorado."
Our report was broadcast in May, as the buzz was building for Amendment 64, a referendum to legalize marijuana in the state. The amendment was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November.
Max Montrose driving the simulator.
We received questions from viewers wondering if the new law would mean more drivers would be on the streets with marijuana in their system.
The state legislature briefly considered - and then failed to pass - a "too high to drive" standard, and FOX31 Denver tested this standard called "Delta 9" concentration. The measure proposed that any Colorado driver would be considered impaired if more than five nanograms per milliliter of marijuana were found in their blood.
To test if this was an effective standard, we recruited several volunteers, all of whom had a valid license to use marijuana for medicinal reasons. We then asked them to test their driving skills in a simulator.
The volunteers allowed us to test their blood for marijuana before taking the driving test. They then medicated and took the driving test again with marijuana in their system.
Our story concluded that the state standard of Delta 9 concentration was not an accurate or objective way to test whether someone was too high to drive.
That is exactly what Montrose has stated his own YouTube report was hoping to prove.
Further, Montrose is a marijuana activist who has hosted a show on medicalmarijuana.tv.
Since he appears confused about the findings of our report and intent on spreading gross inaccuracies about the way our study was conducted, we feel compelled to respond to his hidden camera video.
Below is our detail response. It addresses each of the concerns shown in Montrose's YouTube video in a minute-by-minute breakdown.
Montrose says he crafted his hidden camera report to "help prove a point that THC in your system is way different than having alcohol or other pharmaceuticals in your system."
(Note: THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is the active ingredient in marijuana)
Montrose called our report "a story with bias." However, at no point in our report did we say that we were "trying to prove" any specific point. That statement is a blatant evidence of bias. It is something Montrose's report contained, and our report did not.
We cut a good deal of our lengthy interview with Montrose from our report.
In his video, he shows one continuation of his interview with our reporter Mark Meredith at the 3:30 mark. The portion of the interview included in Montrose's report, and not ours, shows Montrose stating that he "would never advocate in a million years anyone to drive intoxicated on anything for any reason."
At the 3:55 mark, Montrose states, "Fox portrayed to their audience that people like Max think it's okay to get stoned and drive. They did not show his full interview."
To the extent Montrose is upset that we did not use every second of footage we shot interviewing him: That is not a realistic expectation.
All news is edited. In the case of television, editing is necessary due to limited broadcast time. The question is whether the edited piece fairly conveys the information. Our report does that.
Why was it fair to omit this portion of Montrose's interview?
Every medical marijuana patient who participated in our study shared Montrose's opinion that driving intoxicated should not be advocated. Frankly, we believe the overwhelming majority of our state's population would not condone driving under the influence of any substance.
To that end, we determined the omitted portions of the interviews were redundant and simply stated the obvious, and thus they were left out of the report.
With time being precious, we seek to include only the most unique and important news. Montrose was not only unique, but alone among our study participants in his opinion that one might "come back down to what you would consider a more normal state" after using medical marijuana.
That is why that portion of his interview was aired in lieu of his entire statement.
Furthermore, we find it interesting that Montrose would criticize us for editing out certain parts of his interview and simulation when his own report contains a substantial amount of editing. Specifically, Montrose chose to omit 3 minutes and 42 seconds from our 7 minute, 9 second report.
That means Montrose included roughly half of our report in his hidden camera project. You can find our original report in its entirety here.
Montrose's report states, "Max and the other participants drove 3 times longer while medicated, until forced to crash by the sim controller." It then shows Montrose crashing into a pedestrian or car who/that suddenly appear in front of him despite the fact that he had a green light.
"Even though I had a green light? He crashed into me? Is that okay?" Montrose asks.
A member of our crew then says, "Cut. We got it."
Mistakenly referring to our station as Fox News (we are a privately owned FOX affaliate, carrying the network's prime-time entertainment programming. We are owned by LocalTV LLC., and not by FOX or its parent company, News Corporation), Montrose goes on to say "Fox News was manipulating the simulator and made Max crash, when he actually had the right of way."
The report then accentuates this line: "Fox created a story with bias," and suggests a Fox camera man will confirm these details on hidden camera.
The camera operator calls the driving test "ridiculous," and goes on to state that he "doesn't know how that's an accurate simulator at all."
The camera operator shown in Montrose's report is a FOX31 Denver employee. However, he was not involved in any way in the writing or editing of the story, nor was he familiar with the testing methodology. He is entitled to his opinion, but that opinion was not based on accurate information.
The simulator is built to measure reaction time, not replicate everyday driving conditions. It was administered by a third party expert who is not affiliated with FOX31 Denver. We had no interest or ability to skew any simulator results, as it was being run by the third party expert.
Montrose asked the camera operator if he took the driving test. Before giving the camera operator a chance to respond, Montrose said, "It didn't feel real at all, did it?"
As a matter of fact, our camera operator took a joy ride on the simulator, not the actual test given to our study participants.
Later, at the 8:30 mark in his report, Montrose suggests the simulator was housed in a "school that tests truck drivers that drive 18-wheelers." He goes on to suggest that the simulator was modeled after an "18-wheel rig."
That information is mostly false.
While the simulator was housed at a facility that deals with commercial drivers' licenses, that is not its sole purpose. In addition, the simulator that our study participants took has multiple settings. We chose the setting for a 4-door SUV, among the most commonly-driven vehicles in Colorado.
Montrose indicates that study participants were "forced to crash." Later in his report, at the 9:20 mark, Montrose suggests that "no one aced their test, that's because no one was aloud too (sic)."
However, according to the third party expert's standards, crashing was not a sign that study participants failed the driving test. In fact, at the 6:30 mark of Montrose's report, our Mark Meredith points out that "some of the participants passed with flying colors" even though they were under the influence of marijuana, as defined by the previously-proposed state statute. Meredith also acknowledges that, like Montrose, many of the participants did not care for the simulator.
Furthermore, FOX31 Denver did not judge the simulator results. The judging of those results was also handled by the third-party expert.
Later in his report, at the 9:20 mark, Montrose states the aim of his hidden camera experiment is to "prove a point that cannabis stays in your system way longer than the effect."
At the 6:30 mark in Montrose's report is an interview with a phlebotomist. She challenges the previously-proposed 5 nanogram standard, saying she believes each individual reacts differently to marijuana.
With that fact in mind, we can find no other conclusion: Our report confirms what Montrose was hoping it would.
In setting out to disagree with a report that actually confirms his own beliefs, we can't help but think Montrose had a good deal of his report formulated before he even took part in our study.
A fair viewing of our report prior to Montrose's editing does not support his premise that we were dead-set on portraying anyone who uses medical marijuana as unfit to drive.
If anything, a complete viewing of our story calls into question the fairness of the previously-proposed Colorado statute that sets an arbitrary 5 nanogram limit.
A web poll from KDVR.com is shown at the 7:45 mark in Montrose's report. The poll shows visitors to KDVR.com overwhelmingly believe driving drunk is more dangerous than driving high.
Montrose claims we "immediately took that poll down" upon seeing the results. That is false. In fact, 544 users have been able to find this poll since Montrose claims we took it down.
You can find it here.
Continue for our previous coverage, including the Max Montrose video and the Fox31 report. Original post, 9:30 a.m. December 11: Last Wednesday, Fox31 ran a story about the alleged dangers of driving under the influence of THC, with a tie-in to a 5 nanogram of THC per miliiter of blood limit that has been proposed the last two years and is likely to come up again in the 2013 legislative session. But according to one participant, the report was designed from the start to make stoned drivers appear more dangerous on the simulated roads than they really were.
The "study" actually took place back in May. At the time, Fox31 turned part of it into a drunk driving vs. stoned driving story to pair up with legislation then being floated around the Statehouse. But that wasn't all station personnel filmed. For last Wednesday's report, Fox 31 reporter Mark Meredith featured a handful of medical marijuana patients asked to use a driving simulator -- the idea being to show how well they fared when either sober or stoned. All of the participants had their blood levels tested before and after medicating.
A screen capture from the Fox31 report, on view below.
One patient, Max Montrose, wasn't just there to participate, however. Montrose is a cannabis activist and former host of Medicinal Marijuana TV, an online weekly webcast. Montrose says he had a feeling that Fox31 might not tell the complete story, so he put together some 007-style secret-camera shit to record what really went on at the simulation.
In the nearly ten-minute video recently released by Montrose, he alleges that the reporter not only manipulated the story, but fabricated the entire thing by setting up the test in a way intended to make medical marijuana patients fail.
To start, Montrose says that the video clearly shows the Fox31 reporter manipulating Montrose's quotes to make him seem in favor of driving stoned when he really isn't.
"[After medicating], I get to what I would consider a more normal state," Fox31 quotes him as saying. But Montrose notes that Fox left out the second, more important half of what he said: "I would never advocate in a million years anyone to drive intoxicated on anything for any reason." The second part of the quote was captured on the hidden video.
But altering quotes isn't the largest allegation on the video. Montrose says he also has proof the test was rigged. For one thing, he notes that participants performed on simulators designed like an eighteen-wheeler, not a standard passenger car -- something another participant notices in the video.
"They made it look like everyone crashed and burned terribly, but they had complete control over their test," Montrose adds. "The simulation isn't a program; it's physically manipulated. They can make it snow, they can make a person jump out of a car. It's a test for CDL trucking school to test drivers' ability in hazardous conditions in an eighteen-wheeler."
When Montrose eventually did have an accident, he says it was the simulator's fault. He technically had the green light to go, as shown on the video he took. He also points out that the Fox31 cameraman can be heard saying that they finally had the shot they needed -- of a crash. And after the test, a cameraman Montrosee says was part of the crew makes another revelation. He had to take the test, he can be heard saying, and "honestly, it was ridiculous. I don't know how that's an accurate simulator at all."
"They had just interviewed me, and I'm laughing with the phlebotomist drawing blood," Montrose says. "[The cameraman] just opened up and started telling me that the simulator wasn't accurate at all. They all set up for it and tested it out, and the cameraman admitted that while he did it, they were playing with him the same way they were playing with me." According to Montrose, the cameraman went on to say it felt like he was driving a "big truck" like an 18-wheeler -- something he said he had previous experience doing -- as other crew members kept "throwing different things" at him, like snow, wind and other obstacles.
At this writing, Montrose's video has been viewed more than 367,000 times and growing quickly. At noon yesterday, the video was just above 180,000 and Montrose says that it was only at around 10,000 views as of Sunday morning.
We've made multiple requests for comment to Fox31 news director Ed Kosowski, but have not received a response. When and if we do, we'll update this post.
As for Montrose, he believes the Fox31 test doesn't actually prove THC blood levels indicate any type of impairment. He notes that some drivers performed well when both over and under the proposed limit -- including him. Before even starting the "sober" half of the test, he was already at 6 nanograms and passed without a hitch.
Look below to see the original Fox31 report, followed by Montrose's video.
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