by David Kopel
Jan. 31, 2004
The Denver Postexcelled and the Rocky Mountain Newsdid not in reporting the latest legal development in the Hayden medical marijuana case. Last year, a group of federal and state agents raided the home of a 57-year-old man in Hayden who possessed marijuana in accordance with Colorado's medical marijuana law. A Routt County judge threw out the case and ordered the agents to return the man's marijuana. When the agents refused, the judge threatened to find them in contempt of court.
On Jan. 23, as accurately reported in the Poston Jan. 25, the U.S. attorney's office filed papers in federal court, asking that the state case be "removed" from state to federal court. Removal is a procedure by which a federal court can take jurisdiction over a state court case. The Postarticle explained the legal procedures, and made it clear that the federal court has not yet ruled on the U.S. attorney's effort to remove the case.
In contrast, the Newsarticle on Jan. 24 began, "U.S. authorities moved a conflict between federal and Colorado marijuana laws to federal court Friday, snatching it from a Colorado judge . . ." The Newsincorrectly claimed that the case had already been "moved."
The Newsvaguely referred to "U.S. authorities," while the Postspecified that the office of the U.S. attorney had filed the motion.
The Newsnever explained the procedure for moving a case from state to federal court, while the Postaccurately explained "removal" and quoted from the U.S. attorney's motion arguing why removal should be granted in the Hayden case.
Part of the problem with the Newsarticle, I learned, was that editors cut too much from the reporter's orignal story. Also, the reporter reasonably relied on mistaken information from a U.S. attorney's spokesman; the spokesman thought that removal is self-executing. Instead, removal is automatically self-executing in civil cases, but not in criminal cases. At the time the reporter talked with the spokesman, the federal court clerk had not yet decided to classify the case as a criminal case.
According to the Post,there has been a decline in the most lucrative contracts for baseball players. The Postreported on Jan. 20 that "the number of four- and five-year deals has tumbled 800 percent since the signing period of 2000-01." Actually, it's impossible for anything to decline "800 percent." Once something declines by 100 percent, it's completely gone.
The Newsreported on Jan. 28 that Gary Hart's victory in the 1984 New Hampshire primary was a "last gasp," and that after winning New Hampshire, Hart's campaign "faded."
In fact, Hart followed up the New Hampshire win with crushing victories in Maine and Vermont, and followed those wins by capturing seven of nine states on Super Tuesday. Hart ended up winning 26 states, and seriously contesting the nomination until the last day of primaries, when Walter Mondale won a majority of delegates by winning the New Jersey primary.
Appearing on Page 6A of the Jan. 25 Post was an article about Mel Gibson's controversial new film, The Passion of the Christ.The article was written by Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times.Rutten pens an opinion column called "Regarding the Media" for the arts and entertainment section of the Times.
When I spoke with Rutten, he was shocked that the Posthad taken his opinion column and run it in the national news section.
Rutten said, and I agree, that opinion columns should be clearly labeled as such, and it is inappropriate to repackage an opinion column as if it were news.
Postsports columnist Adam Schefter knows more about professional football than almost anyone in the state of Colorado. So how did he do in his Jan. 2 predictions for the NFL playoffs?
Schefter foresaw that tomorrow's Super Bowl would feature Philadelphia versus Denver. But what actually happened was that Denver was crushed in the first round of the playoffs, and Philadelphia lost the NFC conference title game. Of the four teams that advanced to the conference finals, Schefter only forecast one (Philadelphia).
Schefter is not a lazy or ill-informed columnist; he's just the opposite. My point is that it's very difficult for even the best-informed pundits to forecast sports - and it's at least as difficult for pundits for forecast politics or the economy. So during the 2004 political season, don't let pundit forecasts influence your behavior too much.
According to the punditocracy, George Bush has gone from being unbeatable (as of late 2003) to being in desperate trouble (these days); pundit opinion will probably shift a few more times during the election season. Among the Democrats, the conventional wisdom of late 2003 pronounced John Kerry dead, and now the c.w. says that Kerry is unstoppable.