This week, Arnold Loewy and Charles Moster debate CNN’s broadcast of a New Year’s Eve marijuana party. Moster is a former litigation attorney in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential administrations who has offices in Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland/Odessa, Abilene and Georgetown, and Loewy is the George Killiam Professor of Law at Texas Tech School of Law.
Arnold: Pot is legal some places; CNN entertains
On the CNN New Year’s Eve show hosted by Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, a two-minute (more or less) segment of the show was devoted to correspondent Randi Kaye’s presence at what was described as a perfectly legal “pot and paint party,” which among other things included the smoking of marijuana, now legal in Colorado. There are those who thought that this reporting was inappropriate. I am not one of those people, but Mr. Moster tells me that he is.
Although I do favor the legalization of marijuana even recreationally, I am no fan of its use. Indeed, I may be one of a continuously dwindling minority that has never personally experimented with marijuana. Nevertheless, I think that the brief showing of how some Coloradans celebrate the New Year was appropriate.
To begin with, despite the channel’s name: “Cable News Network,” not all of its programs purport to be news. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a program more geared to entertainment and less to news than a New Year’s Eve show. And, I have little doubt that a significant percentage of the audience (though certainly not all or perhaps even most) would have found an exploration of a legal pot party entertaining.
Beyond that, given the current debate over the legalization of marijuana, I think the snippet shown on CNN is useful to anybody trying to make up his/her mind on the desirability of marijuana legalization. To be sure there are two debates about marijuana currently going on. One is the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The other is whether Colorado should be emulated and marijuana legalized for recreational as well as medicinal purposes.
To illustrate, just hours after the CNN excerpt ran (at 12:01 a.m. PST to be exact), the first sale of legalized recreational marijuana was made in California by a store licensed to do just that. So, in parts of the nation’s most populous state, one can purchase marijuana from a marijuana store with the same legality as one could purchase beer from the local 7-Eleven.
The reason that I said “parts … of the state” is because local governments have the ability to opt out, and some have. For example, in Bakersfield, Fresno and Riverside, recreational marijuana may not be sold. On the other hand, in Berkeley, the mayor and their state senator were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, apparently publicly expressing their joy at the ability to sell recreational marijuana in Berkeley.
The point of all this is that whether legalizing the commercial sale of marijuana is a good thing or a bad thing is a highly debatable topic. For Califonians especially, this question has much contemporary vitality. Should a citizen of Los Angeles, for example, urge his city to opt in or opt out?
This brings us back to the CNN blurb that is the topic of our debate. A citizen of Los Angeles might look at the depiction of the pot party depicted in the story and say: “That’s awful. No way that this will happen in my city.” On the other hand, she may say: “Wow, that’s groovy. I sure hope that Los Angeles licenses a store soon.”
The point isn’t that there is a right or wrong answer to the question, but only that seeing CNN’s attempt at entertainment may help a concerned citizen make up his mind.
Charles: Can’t trust the most trusted name in news
CNN touts itself as being “The Most Trusted Name in the News.” Although I disagree with this proposition, let’s take CNN at its word for purposes of this debate topic.
It’s about 10 minutes to midnight (EST), Dec. 31, 2017, and millions of Americans and their families have stayed up late for the final moments before the ball drops in New York’s Times Square. CNN’s distinguished journalist and top ratings generator, Cooper, initiates a final “news” segment with veteran journalist Randi Kaye on location in Denver. To my utter horror and disgust, she holds a lit marijuana joint in her hand, lights a bong and then demonstrates the use of a gas mask which allows a “user” to get instantly high by concentrating the inhalation of pot smoke.
Cooper has a smirk on his face along with his sidekick Cohen and is bringing in the New Year for millions through clouds of pot smoke “live from Denver, Colorado.” So what is the New Year’s resolution to be gleaned from this crass display? — “Let’s all get high smoking weed in 2018, and there’s plenty to go around for all those adults and underage kids watching that most trusted name is the news.”
I am not alone in condemning this shocking display, which has lit up the internet. Democrats have crossed the isle to call out CNN for its irresponsible story. Even my liberal brother in Los Angeles has joined the fray, which is about as unusual as Washington cherry blossoms in January.
So why are so many people so incensed? For starters, it is shocking that CNN would promote not only illegal (in most states) drug use but smoking on live television. The professor argues CNN was merely presenting entertainment programming and that pot use was fair game.
Although I find his news perspective tainted and flawed from a journalistic standpoint, Cooper is greatly respected by viewers across the country. His participation in this drug segment, therefore, was easily construed as promoting the active use of pot smoking by millions of viewers. In addition to this televised endorsement, CNN went to great lengths demonstrating how to smoke a joint and properly use drug paraphernalia. Mr. Cooper, get that smirk off your face and enough of the inside jokes with your bosom buddy Cohen. There’s nothing funny about endorsing drugs and encouraging its use by children in the television audience who are certainly capable of downloading this toxic content during normal school hours.
The professor seems to think that the pot segment is acceptable as it is perfectly legal to smoke pot in Denver and California. Of course, he conveniently omits that the promoted activity constitutes a criminal offense in the vast majority of states. Anyone deciding to join the CNN Big Bong Event in states like Texas could be arrested on the spot and charged with a felony. For all those young job seekers out there, a criminal record is not the gateway to a top-paying job. I am not aware of a single law firm that hires felons.
What’s most concerning to me is that pot smoking encourages the very act of smoking, which has been banned on television and advertising since 1971, and for good reason as it is the leading cause of lung cancer. Stars like John Wayne made smoking seem as culturally accepted as CNN’s endorsement of marijuana on New Year’s Eve. The Duke’s quick draw was no match for lung cancer, which he adamantly believed resulted from his smoking habit. Cancer took his life along with millions of Americans, including members of my own family who were led to believe that this activity was culturally accepted and benign.
There is plenty of medical evidence that inhaling pot causes lung damage. As the American Lung Association states, we are “concerned about the health impacts of marijuana use, especially on lung health. We caution the public against smoking marijuana because of the risks it poses to lung health.”
There is no doubt our society is in rapid decline, which is symptomatic of why great civilizations typically implode from their own internal dysfunction. Not very long ago, we revered news anchors such as Walter Cronkite. Can you imagine Cronkite cheerfully bringing in the New Year through clouds of pot smoke? My recollection of revered journalists like Cronkite and others is different. Remember when he reported in a faltering voice that President Kennedy was shot? The nation mourned with Walter and CBS News. How about Cronkite’s excitement and pride when he announced that Americans landed on the moon. The nation celebrated coast to coast.
So what can we say about Cooper and CNN? The nation inhaled pot smoke with much deliberation and concentration in celebration of the New Year.
What a disgusting display, indeed.
Arnold: Showing something doesn’t equal promoting it
I’ll begin by thanking Mr. Moster for giving a real life example of my most salient point. The reader will recall that I asked: “Should a citizen of Los Angeles … urge his city to opt in or opt out”? Mr. Moster tells us of the disgust that his brother, a citizen of Los Angeles, felt after seeing the CNN blurb. Well good, this will tell him that he should oppose local adoption of recreational marijuana, which is a very appropriate response to the debated segment.
Additionally, the federal government is threatening, albeit somewhat opaquely, to close down marijuana sales in states where they are legal. I assume that given Mr. Moster’s view of federalism, he will be in the forefront fighting such outrageous federal action unless the CNN blurb so grossed him out that he would be willing to forego his federalism principles to fight pot parties.
Perhaps my greatest problem with Mr. Moster’s analysis is his equation of presentation with promotion. Undoubtedly CNN presented pot use, but as far as I can tell did not promote it. The station runs programs by people like Kamu Bell and Lisa Ling, who show various kinds of unusual living arrangements. For example on a recent Lisa Ling show, she showed a married couple who invited a single woman to join and be part of their family. She also showed a lesbian couple who invited a third woman to be part of their household. I certainly never thought that she was advocating such a lifestyle, but just presenting it so America could better understand it.
Although I clearly think that Mr. Moster is wrong in suggesting that the show was advocating the smoking of marijuana — either smoking or marijuana — he went completely off the rails when he suggested the segment was “endorsing drugs and encouraging its use by children.” Unless there were portions that I didn’t see, I didn’t notice anyone saying: “Children this is for you. Find someone to buy you a pipe and some marijuana and then light up.” I don’t believe that I’ve heard anyone accuse Bud Light or Jack Daniel’s of advertising to children, although their ads more clearly advocate the use of their product than CNN did of marijuana.
All Mr. Moster’s talk about law firms not hiring felons is true but beside the point and reminds me of the adage that when the law and the facts are against you, pound the table. I did not talk about marijuana being unlawful in most states because the CNN story wasn’t about most states, it was about Colorado, hence I did not “conveniently omit” anything that was relevant.
Mr. Moster concludes with the apocalyptic statement: “There is no doubt that our society is in rapid decline …” Well Mr. Moster, there certainly is doubt on that proposition. I, for one, doubt it. And if you really believe that, I hereby challenge you to a debate on that question in our next column.
Finally, let’s conclude with an analysis of the way the late revered Walter Cronkite would have handled this story. I do not believe that he would have ignored it because he didn’t like people smoking marijuana. He did not shy away from stories. I will concede that he would not have told it with a smirk. That wasn’t his style. Rather he would have presented the story, probably at the end of the newscast, and ended in his usual stone-faced way saying: “And that’s the way it is, Sunday December 31st, 2017.”
I am quite sure he would not have followed Mr. Moster’s lead and falsely claimed “the nation inhaled pot smoke with much deliberation and concentration in celebration of the New Year.”
Such a statement is poetically powerful, but journalistically unsound.
Charles: It’s dangerous for children to see that report
Although I am personally opposed to the legalization of marijuana, I stand by my strong view of federalism and that individual states should make such legal determination for their citizens. I do not support the feds under this administration or any other sending in the DOJ and its surrogates to arrest American citizens engaged in lawful activity.
From a political standpoint, I have no difficulty with states employing conflicting criminal statutes with regard to the use of marijuana or other drugs. Such a situation currently exists within the member states of the European Union and it is up to the citizens of each country to familiarize themselves with the applicable criminal laws. Americans traveling between Colorado and Texas are presented with the same reality and are certainly up to the challenge.
As the professor is well aware, I adhere to an enhanced view of federalism and would support a constitutional and legal shift toward the governmental structure originally proposed by our founders in the passage of the Articles of Confederation, which provided for an unfettered alliance of the individual states with minimal federal control.
Of course, the professor has argued on numerous occasions that this original scheme did not work and was thus replaced by the Constitution and our current system, which provides for a stronger central government. His argument, however, is deeply flawed as it is based on the implementation of the Articles of Confederation at the beginning of our republic. It is my ardent belief that the Articles of Confederation or similar structure would function well in our contemporary society, which has obviously advanced and matured since the late 1700s.
As I have argued in other debates, the states have implemented parallel structures which provide the identical protections as the feds in the areas of environmental protection, securities and public safety. We could shut down most if not all of the federal bureaucracy and function well as a society.
I challenge the professor to a debate as to whether a loose confederation of states as was contemplated by the original Articles of Confederation could flourish in what I would refer to as the “New American Union” — akin to the European Union.
I disagree with the professor’s assertion that CNN was not promoting drug use. This has obviously become a hot topic on social media, allowing experts and everyone else to weigh in on the subject. Notwithstanding the professor’s adamant position, thousands of Americans respectfully disagree and are rightly concerned that CNN’s presentation of this issue is tantamount to drug endorsement.
As a parent, I am shocked CNN provided on-air instructions on marijuana use, which suggests that this activity is socially accepted. I would ask the professor if he would have any concerns about our school-age kids viewing this content on their iPhones? I certainly do and am disgusted by this media display and smirking journalists like Cooper adding legitimacy to dangerous conduct under the guise of entertainment.
It is specious for the professor to suggest this content is somehow less toxic to our children in the absence of an affirmative statement like “children, this is for you.” The mere presentation of this material creates the impression of societal credibility. Certainly, the tobacco prohibitions with regard to television and print advertising adhered to the proposition that the display of “any smoking content” was enough to create a public hazard for our children. The same argument applies here.
How about this one, professor. Let’s say that California legalizes the use of heroin. Would you have any objection to CNN’s reporters demonstrating how to inject a needle with this deadly drug on cable television? What say you, sir?