Tobacco Row

MPP volunteer Whitney Painter approached the two men, who stood out with their slicked hair and suits. After a few minutes, she says, she realized "they were on a mission. All they wanted to know was, could I buy pot for them, did someone there have some, how much did I smoke. I said, 'You're not going to find any marijuana here. That's not what this is about. It's about sick people going to prison.'"

Painter steered Bass and Labash to Chuck Thomas, whose account of the interview follows. One of the two said, "You said there would be people with pot here. How can we go about getting some?"

Thomas explained that the law had not yet gone into effect, but that when it did, marijuana would be available to people who were seriously ill and had a doctor's recommendation.

One of the reporters said, "But we listen to Cypress Hill! We watch Cheech and Chong! How can we get some pot?"

Thomas answered, "If you have concerns about medical marijuana, tell me what they are, and I'll try to address them."

Then Labash said, "Dave likes to smoke pot," upon which Bass gave Labash a stern look. Labash said, "But Dave, you've smoked in front of me." Labash was probably joking, but Thomas did not like being mocked. "I've done hundreds of interviews," he says, "and this was the weirdest ever. They were asking tabloid-quality questions, really just fishing and not catching anything."

After midnight, the two journalists continued to buttonhole party goers. After about 10 people complained to MPP executive director Robert Kampia that they were being asked for pot, he decided to put an end to it. His account follows. Kampia walked up to Bass and Labash mid interview, saying, "Have you asked anyone here for marijuana, in any way, shape, or form?"

"No," said one.

"Sort of," said the other.

"That's it!" Kampia said. "You're out of here!"

"We're the media," said one. "You can't tell us to leave!"

According to one observer, David Bass puffed up his chest and joked that he was a marine. Then a rumble broke out, as Kampia grabbed Bass by the lapels and pushed him. "His beer went flying, his friend lunged at me, and all kinds of Marijuana Policy Project people dived in the middle," recalls Kampia. When the dust cleared, the two reporters were gone.

Thomas and Kampia are still fuming about the incident, which they recounted to the Washington Post, to no avail. "It didn't occur to them that any of us could be sincere," says Kampia. "They were sure this was a facade so we could deal drugs in the back room, rather than a legitimate political issue."

Labash calls the story ludicrous. "I may have jokingly inquired about the propensity of medical marijuana activists to use marijuana at their medical marijuana party, but in absolutely no way did I attempt to procure marijuana, medical or otherwise," he says. The November 16 Weekly Standard ran a series of election-night vignettes, but not a word about the party at Food for Thought.


Spin City

Just before Thanksgiving, as New Yorker editors sent Kurt Andersen's uninspired profile of Tom Hanks to press, that magazine's publicity department spotted two news bites to use as bait for its press release (in case you haven't heard, Hanks regrets giving money to President Clinton and has toyed with the idea of running for office). A week later, just days after the magazine hit the stands, the press release yielded miles of publicity. Monday, November 30: the New York Post splashes the Hanks story across the front page ("H'WOOD HERO DUMPS ON PREZ"). Monday night: Camera crews descend on Hanks at a Manhattan gala to record his "backpedaling" remarks. Tuesday, December 1: NY1 runs footage of Hanks joking, "No more interviews for The New Yorker," the Post and the Daily News run inside stories on the backpedaling, and The New York Times struggles to catch up by reprinting Sunday's AP story ("FOR A NOTED CLINTON DONOR, SECOND THOUGHTS"). Wednesday, December 2: the Times's Maureen Dowd weighs in with an endorsement of President Hanks, enabling New Yorker editor David Remnick to declare a PR victory. But did anyone actually read the story?

Research: Andrew Tutino

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