‘F*ck it’ reporter’s pot coverage raises ethical concerns, dramatic exit could draw FCC fine
Anti-pot activists complained for months about coverage by an Alaska TV reporter who dramatically quit her job Sunday night during a live broadcast.
Charlo Greene ended her report on the Alaska Cannabis Club by disclosing she owned the business linking medical marijuana users with growers and then resigned from her job with KTVA-TV to focus on marijuana legalization.
“F*ck it, I quit,” said Greene, who shrugged and walked out of the camera shot, stunning viewers and colleagues.
“Thank goodness it was on a Sunday night when most of the people were in the downstairs studio,” she told Vice. “I was doing my live hit in the upstairs one, so I didn’t see anything happening in the actual newsroom itself, but there were a couple of higher-ups that were on my floor that were kind of freaking out — a little panicked. The phones were ringing off the hook, and I was escorted out. That was it.”
Video of her departure went viral Monday, and she announced an online fundraising campaign to promote a ballot measure to legalize recreational pot use in Alaska.
Greene said she went public because polling shows support for the measure is slipping, and she was frustrated by misinformation spread by legalization foes.
But opponents of the legal weed measure said they complained to Greene’s employer months ago about perceived bias in her five-part series, “Considering Cannabis,” reported the Alaska Dispatch News.
The reporter traveled to Washington and Colorado to examine legal marijuana businesses and regulations in those states – where voters have approved similar measures to the one Greene supports.
The series aired just days after Greene officially registered Alaska Cannabis Club under her legal name – Charlene Egbe – and a spokeswoman from the anti-pot “No On 2” group met with KTVA’s news director.
The spokeswoman pointed out perceived errors and biases and explained points the group thought should have been included, and news director Bert Rudman said he would consider their concerns.
Deborah Williams, the opposition group’s spokeswoman, said she decided to turn down subsequent interview requests from Greene because she felt the reporter was aggressively biased.
The executive director of Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police complained to the news director last month about Greene’s reporting.
“When she spoke with me she seemed only interested in information that supported her point of view,” wrote Kalie Klaysmat, the law enforcement group official. “She did not explore contrary information; she attacked it. That she seems to be the primary reporter covering marijuana issues and has such a strong personal opinion on this very divisive topic causes me to question the station’s editorial judgment.”
Pro-legalization groups have distanced themselves from Greene after her profane sign-off, saying the episode overshadowed important issues raised by her reporting on medical marijuana patients.
A spokesman for the pro-legalization Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said he was not aware whether any pro-pot groups had prior knowledge of Greene’s plans to quit.
The spokesman said it had been rumored for months that Greene was involved in a marijuana business.
Rudman, the KTVA news director, appeared on air Monday to apologize for the profanity and address ethics concerns about Greene’s reporting.
“She had a personal and business stake in the issue she was reporting but did not disclose that interest to us,” Rudman said.
A journalism ethics expert at the Poynter Institute said Greene’s reporting showed an apparent conflict of interest.
“She meant to cause a spectacle,” Al Tompkins, who teaches at the Florida-based school. “She meant to cause harm to her employer. She meant to draw attention to herself — and she did.”
Tompkins said KTVA could face possible sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.
“The (FCC) takes a very dim view of using the F-word on television,” he said.
Although Greene has become an Internet folk hero after the incident, pro-pot advocates aren’t sure they will seek out her help in promoting their cause.
“She very clearly has her own plans,” said Taylor Bickford, of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Watch Greene’s explanation for her actions posted online by Alaska Cannabis Club: