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Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2002 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Going to pot; thank heaven for media overkill | By far, the most important - and heartening - article of the week is Time's two-part cover story about the growing strength of the political movement to legalize marijuana.

One of Time's two nicely balanced articles is about the new, politically potent pro-pot movements in hippy Democrat states like California and even square Republican states like Arizona and Ohio that are steadily working to make state marijuana laws less onerous and more rational.

The other article looks at recent, honest medical research on the health effects of marijuana, which essentially reaches the conclusion that 47 percent of Americans who say they've sampled the drug know from experience: the risk to your mind and body of occasionally using it is essentially nil.

"Is America Going to Pot?" lacks the brave but predictable anti-Drug War zeal of Rolling Stone or the principled libertarian arguments of Milton Friedman, but it is nevertheless valuable. And it will never persuade the generals in charge of our long-lost War on (some) Drugs to surrender.

But that's OK. After 30 years of war, things are looking up at home and overseas. Tired old socialist Europe - of all places - is leading the way in sensibly reforming drug laws so that the harm done to society by drugs being illegal will be diminished.

It doesn't matter who wins next week's marijuana-related ballot initiatives in Nevada and Arizona. Anti-prohibitionists aren't going away.

And the very existence of "Is America Going to Pot?" in a major mainstream magazine like Time is proof, alone, that the debate about our most popular, most harmless and most falsely demonized illegal drug is slowly shifting in a sensible direction - toward decriminalization or legalization.

Meanwhile, thank heaven for media overkill. Otherwise, we might still be looking for the D.C. snipers.

You don't have to be Tom Shales to know that TV - especially cable's MSNBCFOXCNN Axis of Evil - overdid it.

But if you read Newsweek's special report, "The Sick World of the Snipers," you'll realize it was the news media - despite its many undeniable sins - that ultimately made the quick and easy capture of Messrs. Williams and Malvo possible.

It was not authorities who released to the public the description and license plate number of what U.S. News & World Report calls the snipers' "Wagon of Death."

That vital information came from reporters who'd been listening to police scanners. Less than two hours after the media disseminated it, a trucker listening to a radio station in Cincinnati spotted the snipers' 1990 Caprice and called 911.

All of this and much more is in Newsweek's excellent cover story, which is, by a long shot, the only one of the Big Three newsweeklies worth turning to for details about the snipers' amazing backgrounds and their cross-country killing spree.

Much more remains to be learned about the alleged snipers. But as Newsweek shows, along with help from the public and the stinking news media, the case was solved for what are so often the usual reasons - dumb luck and bad-guy stupidity.

It was not crack police work. Not the magic of forensics. Not even the investigative powers of Geraldo Rivera. That stuff only happens on TV cop shows.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald