What if Journalists Had to Disclose Drug Use?

Republican drug-testing advocate Trey Radel is caught with cocaine, and the political media screams “hypocrite.” But there’s another hypocrisy to consider.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 9: U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) speaks during a press conference, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Republican leadership discussed the immigration bill and the Obama administration's decision to delay a portion of the Affordable Care Act, which will extend the deadline for employer mandated health care to 2015. 
National Journal
Ben Terris
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Ben Terris
Nov. 21, 2013, 10:04 a.m.

When Rep. Trey Radel was ar­res­ted and charged with pos­ses­sion of co­caine, the me­dia vul­tures came out. And why wouldn’t they? He was the first sit­ting mem­ber of Con­gress since 1982 to be ar­res­ted for a drug crime. What made the story even juici­er for many was the hy­po­crisy that a man with a coke habit would sup­port le­gis­la­tion that would re­quire drug test­ing for food-stamp re­cip­i­ents.

But some mem­bers of the me­dia wondered if there was an­oth­er hy­po­crisy at play here. One that in­volved them­selves.

“How many re­port­ers are re­cus­ing them­selves from the Radel story? How many should be?” tweeted Ry­an Grim of the Huff­ing­ton Post, who used to work for the Marijuana Policy Pro­ject and whose book in­cludes the line, “One day in the fall of 2001, I real­ized that I hadn’t seen any LSD in an aw­fully long time.”

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. Should journ­al­ists have to avoid cov­er­ing drug is­sues if they have been drug users them­selves? Or should they at least have to dis­close their own use?

Friend and col­league Mike Riggs at At­lantic Cit­ies, whose own past drug use has been well- doc­u­mented by him­self and oth­ers, says they ab­so­lutely should.

“Any journ­al­ist who does drugs, and doesn’t be­lieve they should be jailed for it, has a mor­al ob­lig­a­tion to dis­close their drug use when writ­ing about fel­low trav­el­er who’s been screwed by the sys­tem,” Riggs says. “I think if every per­son who works in me­dia/polit­ics in D.C. and who’s vol­un­tar­ily used il­li­cit drugs in, say, the last few years stepped for­ward en masse the drug war would be over to­mor­row.”

As a journ­al­ist who is pro-leg­al­iz­a­tion, Riggs clearly has skin in the game bey­ond just what the So­ci­ety of Pro­fes­sion­al Journ­al­ists has to say about dis­clos­ing con­flicts of in­terest. And in this world, he is not alone.

“[Dis­clos­ure] might go a long way to­ward mak­ing our cov­er­age of the drug war less douchey and more hon­est,” says CJ Ciara­mella of the Wash­ing­ton Free Beacon. “However, in prac­tice, con­sid­er­ing most of the journ­al­ists I know, it would be­come more of an is­sue of space con­straints than eth­ics. Full dis­clos­ure: I’ve done marijuana, hash oil, co­caine, Ad­der­all, Rital­in, LSD, mush­rooms, salvia, MDMA, yel­low jack­ets, Hy­droxycut, and whatever was in that weird Chinese li­quor that a Phil­lies fan gave me.”

Ciara­mella is not a com­plete out­lier (though his list is par­tic­u­larly … im­press­ive). Al­len St. Pierre, who runs the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Re­form of Marijuana Laws, says D.C. journ­al­ists have a stor­ied his­tory of il­li­cit drug use, much of which happened at parties hos­ted by NORML at the O Street Man­sion in Dupont Circle.

“To this day I could still end ca­reers all over this town, in aca­demia, for­eign ser­vices, politi­cians, and of course journ­al­ists,” he said. “Those journ­al­ists today may be some of your ed­it­ors.” (My ed­it­ors deny this).

But just be­cause some journ­al­ists use drugs, does that mean they are not qual­i­fied to re­port on the mat­ter without risk­ing their own ca­reer or fu­ture em­ploy­ment op­por­tun­it­ies with dis­clos­ure? First, there’s the fact that mem­bers of Con­gress — elec­ted by their con­stitu­ents to serve them hon­or­ably — should prob­ably be held to a high­er stand­ard than lowly journ­al­ists (bi­as alert). It’s al­to­geth­er pos­sible that the world would be a worse place if even few­er re­port­ers felt they had the abil­ity to call out the most power­ful mem­bers of our so­ci­ety.

Plus, as man­aging ed­it­or of the Wash­ing­ton City Pa­per Jonath­an Fisc­her puts it, he just doesn’t quite see the con­flict.

“Cur­rent or past drug use doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily have any bear­ing on how well one does one’s job, so in the ab­stract, I simply don’t see it as a bi­as or con­di­tion worth dis­clos­ing,” he says. “Un­less the re­port­er is secretly the vice pres­id­ent for com­mu­nic­a­tions of the co­caine lobby, the fact that he has done co­caine shouldn’t really mat­ter much to his re­port­ing on the drug, ex­cerpt per­haps by giv­ing him a bet­ter fa­mili­ar­ity with the ba­sic terms of art.”

There, of course, is also the ques­tion of where you draw the line on the con­flict of in­terest. Do gay people writ­ing about gay mar­riage need to put their sexu­al­ity on every news story? Does a story about un­der­age drink­ing re­quire ad­mit­ting to that one party in high school where you drank an en­tire bottle of Jim Beam?

There are plenty of con­flicts more sub­stan­tial and more pre­val­ent than il­leg­al drugs that come up on a daily basis in polit­ic­al re­port­ing. Even in the case of Radel, is it not pos­sible that the cov­er­age is colored more by polit­ic­al bi­ases than drug-re­lated ones? There are cer­tainly more non-dis­closed Demo­crats writ­ing about the “tea parti­er” Radel than there are people who have done a line of coke.

“All of that said: I would love to see a Wash­ing­ton journ­al­ist — es­pe­cially a Cap­it­ol Hill re­port­er — write a first-per­son piece about co­caine use among journ­al­ists, politi­cians, and oth­er Hill types,” said Fisc­her of the City Pa­per. “Hell, I’d run it this week.”

No takers here.

What We're Following See More »
TO VISIT US TROOPS
John McCain Paid Secret Visit To Syria
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Northern Syria over the weekend during his trip abroad. McCain reportedly went "to speak with American officials and Kurdish fighters leading the charge to push ISIS militants out of Raqqa, the jihadist group’s stronghold." The trip was organized with the help of U.S. military.

Source:
‘MORE WITH LESS’
Trump Budget to Call for Major Cuts
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Trump administration will deliver its first budget to Congress in mid-March, and the president confirmed Wednesday it will contain major cuts for federal agencies." The blueprint, expected to be released in mid-March, will not include the kinds of specifics usually seen in White House budgets, but rather will instruct the heads of agencies to "do more with less."

Source:
DEFERENCE TO PRESIDENT
More Republicans Trust Trump than GOP Members
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
THANKS TO MILITARY ROLE
McMaster Requires Congressional Approval
14 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Congress will need to vote on Donald Trump's pick of Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his next national security adviser, but not for the reason you think. The position of NSA doesn't require Senate approval, but since McMaster currently holds a three-star military position, Congress will need to vote to allow him to keep his position instead of forcing him to drop one star and become a Major General, which could potentially affect his pension.

Source:
SENT LETTERS TO A DOZEN ORGANIZATIONS
Senate Intel Looks to Preserve Records of Russian Interference
18 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking to ensure that records related to Russia’s alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections are preserved as it begins investigating that country’s ties to the Trump team. The panel sent more than a dozen letters to 'organizations, agencies and officials' on Friday, asking them to preserve materials related to the congressional investigation, according to a Senate aide, who was not authorized to comment publicly. The Senate Intelligence Committee is spearheading the most comprehensive probe on Capitol Hill of Russia’s alleged activities in the elections."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login