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As Social Critic readers know, there has been no blow-by-blow effort to dissect news of the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. The reason? Doing so relies too heavily on speculation. Until special counsel Robert S. Mueller III weighs in, the jury remains out. Of course, that hasn’t stopped a bifurcated mainstream media from leaving little doubt in the minds of their respective readers and viewers as to how guilty — or innocent — President Trump is of Russia-collusion allegations. Caught between the competing partisan wings of the American media, one can expect that from time to time key “dots” will fail to connect in the public mind. This is one such time.

The first under-reported development centers around the revelation that FBI Director James Comey, according to the Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, made use of a Gmail account to transact FBI business. This is relevant not simply in the context of whether or not classified information may have been conveyed over a Gmail account — which Comey denies — but because the Russian “hack” began with phishing emails.

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Just as Canada made a sweeping decision to fully legalize marijuana, former Mexican President Vicente Fox made headlines of his own after joining the board of “High Times”, a publication that has carried the crusade for cannabis legalization since its inception. In an interview with the Associated Press, Fox argues in favor of extending legalization not just to marijuana but to all so-called street drugs. Fox cites as a reason for his position the brutality associated with the illegal drug trades. Government cannot successfully regulate people’s behavior, he argues, and so individuals ought to be free to do what they wish without fear of criminal repercussion.

Fox’s support of drug legalization is no longer the minority opinion it once was among national leaders. In the U.S., eight states — Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Colorado, Maine and Vermont — have legalized recreational marijuana. Lawmakers are increasingly supportive of marijuana legalization not just as a means to relieve prison overcrowding but as another source of jobs, tax and investment revenue. When it comes to an across-the-board legalization at the federal level, however, a wait-and-see approach ought to be embraced. Why? Because early evidence in the wake of successful State-based decriminalization initiatives reveal problems policymakers have yet to resolve.

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Journalism is in the midst of a slow-motion crisis.

When I was in journalism school, students learned how to write using the “inverted pyramid” approach. The inverted pyramid is a style of writing that dates back to the days when paper real estate — in a print newspaper — was limited. Editors who wished to make room for breaking stories needed the option to lop the bottom of the story off with minimal risk of omitting critical details. The inverted pyramid calls for the most vital aspects of a story to appear at the top. This allows editors more flexibility while recognizing the fact that not all readers make the page jump to continue reading an article that concludes elsewhere. As a result, it was important then — as it is now — to lead with the most relevant details. A properly crafted story lede (introduction) encapsulates the basics: Who?, What?, When?, Where? and Why?.

In the Digital Era print real estate isn’t the limiting factor it once was. But there are indications the digital medium has shortened readers’ attention spans. It is of vital importance, as a result, to impart key facts “up top” — if only because web viewers are likely to skim content and move on.

Something, however, has changed in the way a lot of news organizations craft and promote stories. Call it sloppiness — lax editing — or journalistic “spin”. Some of the most controversial stories to appear in mainstream media are prefaced by misleading headlines on social media — titles that don’t square with a complete read of the content. Misleading headlines on social media posts are far from the only problem, however. Take, as an example, two contradictory narratives: Person/institution “X” and person/institution “Y” disagree over who did what or why. What should a responsible journalist do with this unwieldy story line? The answer is to disclose the ambiguity very early on  — to make clear to readers that a situation is in flux and/or that key aspects of the story are in dispute.

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