I’m here with yet another tirade about just how awful the reporting is around stoned driving.
No, I’m not endorsing blunt cruises. Rather, I am here to skewer journos who don’t know the first thing about weed but still insist on echoing cheap law enforcement fear campaigns when covering the topic.
Look, drugged driving is a major problem—it always has been. Just ask anyone whose parents liked to drive around on quaaludes in the old days. But that doesn’t change the fact that countless recent reports about motorists and legal weed are not based on new research but instead spring from a festering ignorance and absolutely do not belong on the evening news.
If you want to see how stupid journalists can look when being made into pathetic tools of cops and politicians, then check out last week’s viral failure from 22 News in Springfield. Titled “Ford-developed impaired driving suit to mirror operating under the influence,” it’s a stunning shameless fake news advertorial based solely on publicity materials from Ford, excerpted in part here:
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 18 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities involve drugs other than alcohol [Ed. note: Ford links to a two-and-a-half-year-old report and comes nowhere close to accurately paraphrasing the findings]. … We have developed a new innovation that aims to improve those statistics by giving young drivers a chance to experience what it’s like to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of illicit drugs. The new Drugged Driving Suit is designed to mimic some of the common effects that illegal substances like cannabis, cocaine, heroin and MDMA (otherwise known as Ecstasy) have on the body.
This new innovation? Wrapping someone up in headphones, vision impairment glasses, neck bandages, elbow bandages, wrist weights, a tremor generator, knee bandages, and ankle weights. The press release goes on to quote an expert saying, among other things, that “the goggles distort perception and produce colorful visual sensations—a side effect of LSD use.”
So finally, an acid driving simulator.
One would hope that a trained journo or producer would see through those goggles. But not at WWLP, where they sent someone to try the suit on—while also wearing high heels, I’m guessing in case all those other impairments weren’t enough—and to report back the details. The result is as ridiculous as it’s predictable—the reporter fails a field sobriety test, and even though the results obviously have nothing at all to do with cannabis, the story claims that “Ford developed impaired driving suits to simulate driving … while under the influence of drugs like marijuana.”
Hardly. More like Ford developed a good way of getting press, and these knuckleheads at 22 News fell for it. And by fell for it, I mean they threw a bone to an advertiser—just like the station did with comparably compromised features in September (Marcotte dealership finishes its remodeling), October (Super Sixty awards held by the Springfield Regional Chamber honors local companies), and November (Marcotte Ford celebrates opening of new dealership in Holyoke).
Because if you’re going to pass off an ad as real news, you might as well stir up some fear on the backs of cannabis users and get a whole bunch of clicks in the process.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.