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Public editor: Reporting was fair in Rob Ford story on decriminalizing marijuana

I heard from a reader yesterday who was very critical of this Globe article and headline saying Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says Conservatives should decriminalize marijuana.

The reader's views? He called the headline inaccurate and said: "The actual quotation in the story is, 'Why wouldn't they at least decriminalize it and try to get revenue from it?' So, first of all, this is a question and not an assertion that Ford made. Surely even the people at the Globe know the difference between a question and a statement. But, alas, perhaps they don't.

"Secondly, are the 'they' that Ford referred to the Conservatives, as in the Conservative Party? Not likely, since it would be the federal government that makes pot legal, not the Conservative Party itself.

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"If you don't agree with this, then you should change the opening paragraph of the article which reads: 'Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he questions why the federal government wouldn't decriminalize marijuana.' See that? The article uses the word 'question' and the term 'federal government.' We all know that the federal government is not identified with a specific party. The governing party changes from time to time," the reader says.

I listened to the clip on the Washington Radio show the Sports Junkies (scroll down to Segment 10 in this link). The radio hosts begin the discussion by asking Mr. Ford his thoughts on legalizing marijuana. Mr. Ford said: "That probably won't happen up here because we have a Conservative government so they are very strict when it comes to marijuana and any other drugs."

The host then counters and says Conservatives typically want more economic freedoms, but "with personal liberties, it is the other way."

Mr. Ford responds by saying: "I've questioned that too, sometimes. Why wouldn't they at least decriminalize it and try to get revenue from it?"

Given the context and listening to the full quotes, it is clear to me that Mr. Ford is saying what the story said: That he believes the Conservative government, the "they" in that statement (not the federal government, but this particular Conservative government) should "at least decriminalize" marijuana.

The Conservatives in the headline is understood as the Conservative government; Conservatives is a fair headline shorthand rather than Conservative government.

Unlike the reader, I think the story accurately portrayed Mr. Ford's view. I think it was a statement and not a question.

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Part of the job of news reporting is to accurately portray quotes and statements; the other part is to fairly explain what it means. In this case, the story fairly explains Mr. Ford's view.

Listen to the audio yourself and either comment below or let me know your views on whether the story is fair and accurate.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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