Jeffrey E. Graham of Watertown isn’t the first pundit to embellish reality to stir the pot among his followers. But how much does he consider the consequences of doing so?
When Aaron G. Woolf ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, the Watertown Daily Times published a photograph of him at a campaign event. Graham wondered aloud on his blog if we printed it to put the candidate in a less favorable light.
Capturing an image using the Dutch angle is used by some photographers to create a sense of unease about the subject matter, Graham wrote. He inferred we may have conspired to have Woolf portrayed this way so readers would develop a negative opinion about him.
The list of absurd comments on Graham’s blog post grew quite long. Everyone here at the newspaper involved with this graphic was excoriated.
My former co-worker Amanda Morrison, who took this image of Woolf, eventually posted her own comment to defend herself. Given her renown as an exceptional photographer, I couldn’t believe she was put in a position where she had to remind commenters of her dedication to the highest journalistic standards.
Anyone familiar with her work knows that the Dutch angle is a technique she has frequently used. Graham responded to Morrison’s comment by saying he would never question her integrity.
But that was the whole point! Any plan we at the newspaper had cooked up to discredit Woolf with this photograph would only be effective if the photographer was in on the scheme.
So Graham either lied to Morrison about not trying to impugn her professional ethics or he knowingly floated a fraudulent suggestion that we attempted to burn Woolf. One way or the other, he was peddling a falsehood to his readers.
Stoking people’s emotions over an issue is one thing. But playing fast and loose with someone’s reputation is reckless. Morrison deserved much better than what she got from Graham.
Few people I know enjoy criticism, but there are times when it’s justified. I’ve engaged in opinion writing for nearly 30 years and need to accept feedback about my work, as harsh as it may be.
But Graham’s recent comment on his blog that I may want the state to legalize domestic violence, sexual abuse against children or animal cruelty for tax purposes is disturbing and offensive. He’s made some truly asinine statements over the years, but I couldn’t overlook his appalling choice of words here.
Graham responded to an editorial we published Sunday calling on state legislators to decriminalize recreational marijuana. We’ve repeatedly made this appeal over the past few years, and there are valid reasons for doing so. And contrary to Graham’s assertion, we articulated several of them.
For one, there’s growing momentum in the country to legalize recreational marijuana use. Secondly, it’s authorized in Canada and soon will be among members of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne, which will make it more difficult to police here in New York. Lastly, the state could use tax revenue from recreational marijuana to help plug the hole in its projected $6.1 billion budget deficit.
“I was reading along in Jerry’s editorial on the need to legalize recreational marijuana this year. It will be presented to the Legislature again. Then I come to the final paragraph. With a $6.2B budget shortfall, pot tax revenue is manna from Heaven. Anything is OK if it feeds the insatiable desire for more government. The reason for legalizing pot or anything else in government should be, is it in the public interest? To suggest something of dubious value be legalized merely because its money poses profound moral issues. Perhaps Jerry wants wife beating, child molestation, or animal abuse be legal if the state can find a way to monetize it.”
The editorial did not claim that anything goes as long as it brings in cash. Intoxicating yourself is problematic, but the harm can be limited to you if controlled sufficiently.
Adults in a free society should be able to choose if they wish to use these substances. If Graham doesn’t agree, why does he sell alcohol for a living?
Permitting people to medicate themselves is one thing. But intentionally inflicting physical injury and emotional pain on others is reprehensible.
No, neither I nor the newspaper would want these acts to be legalized. We’ve made our positions on such evil practices crystal clear in previous editorials and columns, so Graham should know better.
The move toward decriminalizing recreational marijuana is inevitable; it represents the wish of a growing segment of the public. More states and the federal government are reducing regulations against it.
The editorial encouraged additional research on the long-term effects of marijuana use. It also urged lawmakers to carefully study the drug’s consequences while drafting sensible policies allowing it.
But the reality is that New York has a $6.1 billion budget deficit that’s not going to mend itself. Would Graham and those in his Amen Corner prefer legislators to increase corporate, payroll or sales taxes?
And Graham & Co. are wrong about us wanting a “big government” solution to handle the budget deficit. The previous week, we called for the state Legislature to do a better job controlling spending — did that editorial slip their minds?
Taxing recreational marijuana has benefited other states. According to a story published June 12 by the Denver Post, Colorado surpassed $1 billion in tax, license and fee revenue on sales exceeding $6.5 billion since 2014. Washington state collected $319 million in tax revenue last year, and California collected $354 million from recreational marijuana in 2018.
The “war on drugs” in this country has been a disaster. We implemented Prohibition 100 years ago — and look how that turned out! Decriminalizing marijuana use will allow us to devote more resources to treating addiction to it as a public health problem; just throwing people in prison hasn’t done much good.
If Graham has a coherent argument against legalizing recreational marijuana, he could have initiated an honest and intelligent discussion on this topic. But suggesting the repulsive idea that I’d like to see women brutalized, children violated and animals tortured to raise tax revenue certainly wasn’t it.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.