Pubdate: Mon, 26 Aug 2013
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2013 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: David Sirota
Page: A11


DENVER - 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
titled "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.

"Surely, (the government) 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,'"he wrote.
"(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."

The new Gupta is, of course, absolutely correct in his assessment.
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, because he knows that some 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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