By "Radical" Russ Belville
January 8th, 2010 headline from the Denver Post:
Marijuana found in system of man who died in Pitkin County fall
Your average reader skimming the headlines will think, “Yup, another example of marijuana’s danger!” But let’s read the whole story, shall we?
A 28-year-old ski-lift operator who fell to his death from a Pitkin County bridge had marijuana in his system, according to toxicology reports.
The body of George Aldrich was found on Dec. 13 after he went missing on Nov. 27.
An area resident found the body under the Maroon Creek Bridge near where Aldrich got off a bus.
The Pitkin County Coroner’s office said the final toxicology report from the investigation revealed the presence of THC, according to a Saturday media release.
Aldrich also had a blood-alcohol content of 0.294 percent, which is 3 1/2 times the legal limit for driving.
“Presence of THC” implies it was THC detected in the blood, not metabolites detected in urine. Regardless, it tells us nothing about whether the guy was high on pot. However, the 0.294 BAC tells us the guy was smashed on alcohol. In the fifth paragraph.
Our own NORML Board Member Paul Kuhn wrote to the reporter, Kieran Nicholson, to complain about the bias. The reporter responded:
It’s not misleading or inappropriate, it is a fact.
The alcohol content in his system had already been reported. The coroner’s office released the THC component so it was new – it was the news.
That’s why the THC was the top of the story and alcohol was below.
Really? Well, it may have been a fact, but was it a relevant fact? As Kuhn responded:
The headline does, indeed, convey a fact. An irrelevant fact with no more meaning than if the coroner found traces of nicotine, caffeine or aspirin.
Suppose the victim had been murdered. The headline might read, “Body of murdered victim discovered in Pitkin County”. Then suppose later we discover the killer was gay. Would you run a headline saying, “Pitkin County killer was gay”? No, because the killer’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with the murder. And marijuana had nothing to do with this person dying. So why does it merit a headline? Sensationalism, that’s why.
We do know that combining marijuana greatly exacerbates the intoxicating effects of alcohol, so maybe, if we knew the THC nanograms-per-milliliter of blood of the victim was greater than five (which the reporter doesn’t know, I assume), we could say he was high as well as drunk. If that were the case, an appropriate headline might be:
Marijuana found in system of drunk man who died in Pitkin County fall