Got pot?

Here in Chico we brace ourselves each year for the potential onslaught of violent behavior, public intoxication and urination and other alcohol-fueled shenanigans that come with Halloween. And our local law enforcement agency hunkers down as well, bringing in backup from across the state and paying a lot of overtime to our own officers. This year, along with volunteers, uniformed officers, horse-mounted units and mutual aid, undercover agents from the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force, or BINTF, working in conjunction with agents from the Redding Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, “conducted a convert [sic] undercover operation in the downtown Chico area during the Halloween festivities.” That according to a press release faxed a day after the festivities.

We imagine these special agents, dressed like Deadheads, approached suspected marijuana perpetrators and asked, “Dude, you got any smoke, man?” Whatever the approach, it worked. Twice. First in the Downtown Park, where a Corning man allegedly sold an eighth of an ounce to an undercover agent. A little later the policía scored again. “While agents continued a roving patrol of the area, they then contacted three male subjects in front of the Brick Works at 1st and Wall Streets…” the press release says. Of course, the Brick Works is not located at First and Wall streets. But hey, these agents were probably under the influence of second-hand smoke. Anyway, one of the three “male subjects” gave an agent a “small useable amount” of marijuana. Apparently that guy was no Bogart and agreed to share his weed. But his generosity came back to bite him when agents arrested the man for being “in the process of providing marijuana.” His two companions were arrested as well, one also for allegedly “providing marijuana” and the other on charges of public intoxication and possession of a quarter-ounce of pot. All four of the suspected potheads were hustled off and booked into the Butte County Jail. Maybe it’s just me, but on Halloween the last thing I’m worried about is people smoking, selling or sharing pot.

I wrote the following for this column on Monday, Nov. 5: “Last Friday, Nov. 2, the Enterprise-Record ran this headline across the top of its front page: ‘Powder called area’s first “credible” threat.’ The powder, of course, was suspected anthrax. A Chico couple reported it had arrived in an envelope from a book club in Indiana two days earlier. That same evening the lights went out in Chico, and I suspect that the combination of fear of a local anthrax attack coupled with the news that bridges in San Francisco could be targeted caused a lot of locals to connect the power outage to terrorist activities. As I write this I’m waiting to see how the paper plays up results of the tests on the powder. If it turns out the powder was indeed anthrax, then it will get the ‘WE’RE AT WAR!’ size headline, and rightfully so. However, I’m guessing that should it come out that the powder was nothing more than sugar or baking soda or some sort of postal additive to aid in sorting the mail, then the story, if reported at all, will wind up buried in the Briefs column on page 3A.”

Am I smart or what? Turns out I was right. On Monday evening the Butte County Sheriff’s Office sent out a press release stating the powder had tested negative for anthrax. The next day the E-R ran the story in the Briefs column on page 3A, just as I predicted. I’m not faulting the E-R. This is simply too often the nature of journalism. You grab your readers by the lapels and shout into their faces with a frightening headline over an ominous story. You instill a false sense of danger, but by gosh you get their attention. Then, when the story proves false, you do a tiny follow-up on page 3A. That’s because the truth of the matter was not nearly as exciting as the prospect of Chico making it onto the list of terrorists’ targeted cities. But I think, in a responsible world, the E-R should have run the follow-up story right where the initial one ran—across the top of the front page. But that’s not how you sell papers.