Pubdate: Sun, 25 Aug 2013
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2013 Summit Daily News
Author: David Sirota
Note: David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books "Hostile 
Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future."


Whether it is the impeached Bill Clinton leaving office with solid 
approval ratings or the once-disgraced Eliot Spitzer now surging in 
New York City electoral polls, there is ample evidence that America 
forgives public figures for their transgressions. And yet, contrition 
is not exactly common on the public stage. Like the Fonz from "Happy 
Days," today's media stars, politicians and celebrities often have 
trouble saying the words "I was wrong" or "I am sorry" - even when 
they have made obvious mistakes and when apologies are clearly necessary.

Such a pervasive hostility to self-reproach is one of the big reasons 
that the recent mea culpa from CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is so 
significant. Indeed, his apology for previously advocating marijuana 
prohibition is a critical reminder not just that the Drug War is 
misguided, but also that public figures bear a special responsibility 
to admit mistakes. Why? Because when they refuse to admit error, they 
allow destructive misperceptions to persist in the larger population.

Gupta, you may recall, was one of America's most well-known and 
influential drug warriors. As a physician with a cable television 
platform, he gained political notoriety, in part, by adding the 
credibility of his medical degrees to his ideological jeremiads 
against legalizing medicinal marijuana. But this month, in an essay 
entitled "Why I changed my mind on weed," the good doctor renounced 
his opposition to medicinal marijuana and asked for forgiveness for 
misleading so many Americans about the therapeutic merits of cannabis.

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years 
in the United States (about marijuana), and I apologize for my own 
role in that," he wrote in the essay that previewed his new CNN 
documentary called "Weed."

In exploring why he got the story of marijuana so wrong, Gupta 
admitted to making an assumption that is all too prevalent in 
21st-century journalism: He admitted to simply trusting the federal 
government, without verifying whether the government's prohibitionist 
policy is based on facts.

"I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana 
as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof," he wrote.

"Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in 
the category of the most dangerous drugs that have 'no accepted 
medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.' (But) they didn't have 
the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes 
to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high 
potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical 
applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works."

The new Gupta is, of course, absolutely correct in his assessment. 
Yes, the Drug War has been an epic and expensive failure that has 
ruined far too many lives. Yes, marijuana does have medicinal value. 
And yes, it is a perverse form of Reefer Madness for science-averse 
politicians to continue preventing patients from getting marijuana 
because those politicians still associate pot with the hippies they 
loathed in the 1960s.

In issuing such a self-critical apology, Gupta has shown genuine 
courage. As a television correspondent, he knows full well that the 
media's "gotcha!" machine may ridicule him for flip-flopping, and 
further, that some in his audience will see his reversal as proof 
that his reporting should never be trusted again.

But in an age when pundits rarely admit their egregious errors and 
politicians still don't apologize for wars started on false premises, 
it can be the other way around. Public figures like Gupta who admit 
their errors can end up being far more trustworthy than those who 
never admit to being wrong.
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