Check out this strange email exchange I had over the last two days with Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr and his special assistant, Ruth Bowman. The exchange came about because I’ve been working on a story for this week’s Stranger about how Seattle is at the leading edge of this country’s drug law reform movement.
We’ve posted my story early, here, because of the section of the story that involves Carr’s office. It was originally only a smallish part of the story, but it has turned into a bizarre and newsworthy back-and-forth involving fishy numbers, a front-page Seattle P-I article from November, and information fed to a P-I reporter by Carr that Carr himself now admits was false.
Here’s the backstory: On November 23, the P-I published a front-page article by Mike Lewis that looked at the fallout from Initiative 75, which all but decriminalized adult marijuana possession in Seattle. Voters approved I-75 by a large margin in 2003, and two years later the P-I story found few negative impacts from the measure’s requirement that marijuana busts become Seattle’s lowest law enforcement priority.
But the story also included quotes from Carr saying that while the negative effects from I-75 that he predicted had not actually materialized, I-75 also had not had the positive effect pot activists were claiming. Marijuana busts were low in number before the law took effect, Carr said, and remained similarly low in number afterward. “I’d say it’s had little to no effect,” he told Lewis. As proof of this assertion, Carr told Lewis that there had been only 74 marijuana filings by his office in 2002. In 2004, the year after I-75 took effect, there were 59 filings, Carr said. That’s not much of a drop—or, at least, it wouldn’t be, if it were true.
But you’ll notice that the 74 number has disappeared from the web version of the P-I’s story.
That’s because it’s not true. There were actually 160 marijuana filings by Carr’s office in 2002, which creates a 63 percent drop in filings between 2002 and 2004. With numbers like that, it’s hard to argue there’s been “no effect” from I-75.
The P-I hasn’t corrected the record yet, but I’m told it will do so shortly, probably with a story in tomorrow’s paper. Good reporters like Lewis don’t like to become conduits for false information.
Meanwhile, it took quite a bit of effort for me to get Carr to admit his mistake. On Monday, when I contacted his special assistant, Ruth Bowman, about the discrepancy, she at first told me that the error in the P-I article resulted from Mike Lewis misquoting Carr. So I called up Lewis and told him about the claim.
Lewis said that was bullshit, and that he had notes to prove Carr had given him the 74 figure. He also said that he had called Carr shortly after his I-75 article came out because pot activist Dominic Holden had complained that Carr’s 74 number in the P-I article seemed fishy. At that time, Carr told Lewis he stood by the 74 number. And I now know that Lewis called Carr again on Monday, after I told Lewis that Carr’s office was claiming Lewis was a misquoter. In that conversation, Lewis asked Carr again about the 74 number, and for the second time in two weeks, Carr stood by his number.
Then, shortly thereafter, Carr’s office changed its story. Bowman took back her previous statement, telling me Carr had not been misquoted by Lewis. She promised that support for the 74 figure would be coming soon, but a few minutes later I received this email, the first of several that would ultimately lead to Carr admitting his 74 figure was wrong. This first email was from Bowman, and contained no text, just the subject “Marijuana Data”—and an attachment.
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