Pubdate: Sun, 11 Mar 2001
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Sacramento Bee
Contact:  P.O.Box 15779, Sacramento CA 95852
Section : The Ombudsman
Author : Sanders LaMont


A lot of readers had a lot to say about the newspaper last week. Reader Jan 
Volker, a family therapist in Fair Oaks, believes The Bee ignored important 
information about public health issues in the coverage of the recent 
lengthy "medical marijuana" legal case. As a result, she feels the public 
could have been misled.

The issue was raised by the coverage of the trial of Steve and Michele 
Kubby, a trial which ended after four months with the marijuana charges 
dropped and convictions on other drug charges reduced to misdemeanors.

The trial's outcome was seen as a major victory by proponents of the 
medical use of marijuana in California.

Marijuana, Volker said, is not a medically proven treatment for illness, 
despite this trial, and is believed to be harmful by her peers who deal 
with addictive behavior.

She said the marijuana available today is much stronger than that which was 
available in the past, it has negative impact on the body's immune systems, 
and it "shuts down the brain." There are better legal drugs available in 
almost all cases, she said.

That information, readily available from counseling and medical experts, 
never made it into The Bee's stories, she said.

There was a reason the stories did not deal with the contrary medical claims.

The lengthy trial never dealt with the medical issues directly. Two doctors 
who were prepared to testify about nonmarijuana medical options for the 
prosecution were blocked from testifying. The judge said it was not up to 
the jury to determine what medical options were best, or available, but 
only to deal with California law and the charges against the Kubbys.

Both Kubby and a defense witness, a doctor, testified that in his case 
marijuana had beneficial effects.

Not part of the legal debate

But the claims Volker wanted The Bee to examine were not debated at the 
trial, and as a result were not part of the news stories. The Bee did 
report, in a separate story published in February, that the state is now 
undertaking a three-year study on the use of marijuana as a medicine. That 
study has not yet begun.

Assistant Managing Editor Scott Lebar gives Volker credit for raising a 
legitimate question about the medical impact of marijuana, and he says The 
Bee needs to examine the claims and report back on the health issues in 
more detail.

The political argument was decided at the polls four years ago, when 
Californians voted to allow medical use of marijuana.

The legal issues raised by the Kubby case were settled in court.

But the medical debate is not over, and the public needs to know if medical 
science supports the law, the passion and the politics.

Of speeches, ink and maps

Here's a sampling of other reader comments.

The Bee should run the full text of presidential speeches, not just refer 
to the text provided on The Bee's Website. The reader pointed out Internet 
access is not always practical, and she expects the newspaper to provide 

Comment: With the current economic conditions putting the squeeze on space 
in the paper, that is not likely to happen often.

The Bee should quickly print the names of the Sacramento police officers 
involved in the fatal shooting three weeks ago. The reader suggested The 
Bee was bowing to pressure from the police, or needed to assign a more 
aggressive reporter to the police beat.

Comment: The names ran at mid-week, immediately after the police department 
released them under legal pressure from The Bee.

Those messy ink smears seemed to reappear on Bee pages last weekend, and 
several readers called or sent in samples of pages with ink blobs that made 
reading difficult.

Comment: Customers should not receive papers with splotches and tears. 
Occasional smudges from ink transferred from other pages will continue 
until the current technology is updated, not a likely prospect anytime soon.

Several readers noticed that a map inset published in Forum last week 
eliminated Placer County and replaced it with El Dorado, and missed some 
schools along the way.

Comment: The source provided the flawed map insert, but The Bee should have 
spotted it and had it fixed before publication.

A frustrated local sports fan felt The Bee is neglecting local sports news 
and pays too much attention to professionals. His recent example was the 
results of the March of Dimes basketball tournament.

Comment: The tournament was announced in a brief item in sports, but was 
not covered. Other non-sports March of Dimes fund-raising events during the 
year were covered in a similar manner, usually in Scene.

Another sports fan felt The Bee neglects small schools that do well if they 
are a few too many miles out of town. We want recognition, too, he said.

Comment: Editors understand that, but the appetite for recognition far 
outreaches the newspaper's capacity to deliver it.

"Another pity story"?

Several readers complained last Sunday about a Page 1 feature about a young 
mother's struggles to overcome adversity. One was angry at what she called 
"another pity story on the front page." She compared it to the National 
Enquirer, believed it should have been in the Metro section and felt far 
too much space was given the story -- space that should have gone to 
adequate national news that day, she said.

Comment: The story was a well written and very long narrative about the 
struggles of a young family to overcome adversity. I think such stories are 
necessary for readers to understand their communities, and the times in 
which we live, and Bee editors consistently put such stories on the front 
page when they feel they are well done. Had it not taken up so much space 
in the main news section, I doubt many readers would have complained.

Still another reader felt Bee editors should have put the fatal crash of a 
U.S. military plane on the front page, instead of inside the main news section.

Comment: By some standards, given the television exposure, the military 
crash was old news by the time the newspaper got to your doorstep. But some 
readers consider such stories big news because of the military angle, even 
though similar civilian accidents are common.

Several Internet users experienced problems with AccessBee, The Bee's 
Internet service provider, or questioned recent changes in the service.

Comment: For a quick response to questions or problems with Internet access 
on The Bee's system, contact Jim Bonfield, the on-line business development 
manager, at Finally, several readers reacted to the discussion in this column last week 
of The Bee's play on the story about the Florida recount conducted by the 
Miami Herald. The reactions were as diverse as the readers.

A few said The Bee's liberal bias was obviously to blame, and anyone who 
disagreed with that was wrong.

A few others said The Bee was so worried about conservative critics that 
the story was overplayed, the recount was meaningless and the newspaper was 
just a tool of corporate American interests.

One reader was so frustrated, he left this mixed-metaphor message as his 
final comment: "You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure it out!"

THE OMBUDSMAN deals with complaints and concerns about The Sacramento Bee's 
content. His opinions are his own.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom