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Letters to the Editor 

Week of Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pulitzer Surprise

Great. A flack likes our story: As a press agent who has done numerous pro bono campaigns for worthy causes, I thoroughly enjoyed your story ["The 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Public Relations," Matt Smith, April 13] and want to congratulate Jennifer Witherspoon as a colleague. I have worked on both sides of the journalistic fence and have encountered mistrust and downright hostility in some cases when I try to provide the press with the facts of the case. Most press are willing to work with a press agent and then use what they choose from the information we provide. I got into this side of the business because I wanted to support the causes I believe in, in a more tangible way. I love what I do, and it shows in my results.

That press agents are finally being acknowledged by the Pulitzer organization just makes it that much better for all of our futures. Once more thanks to you for writing it up and to Ms. Witherspoon.

Maureen "Mo" McFadden
Santa Barbara

Conspiracy freaks take note: As an ironic addendum to your story this week about the Sac Bee's Pulitzer and the role of Environmental Defense, it is notable that David Yarnold and the San Jose Mercury News were finalists in the same editorial category and lost to Tom Philp.

Yarnold just left the Merc (last week) to take a senior post at Environmental Defense in New York. Looks like he aced himself out of a prize. It will be interesting to see how an editorial writer turns into a PR guy.

David Vossbrink
Communications Director
Office of San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales

Growing Dispute

Source of disgruntlement: As one of the very few sources of information Matt Smith bothered to contact for his piece "Dumb as a Potted Plant" [April 6], I must express my dismay at the unprofessional and dishonest way by which he collected and processed the obtained information -- all to support a theory which no longer corresponds with reality. His theory is that because a hype-driven U.S. venture capital firm overplanted hemp in Canada in 1999 and subsequently went bankrupt, and because some individuals involved in today's U.S. "hemp industry" also support drug policy reform, there can't possibly be any economic justification for growing the crop in California. In evaluating his evidence, Smith completely ignored any information which did not fit his theory, for example on the consistent growth in Canadian hemp acreage since 2001. That trend is, based on interviews with Canadian processors and independent surveys of the U.S. market for natural foods, driven not by hype but by demand for foods, which offer omega-3 fatty acid, a balanced protein, and other nutritional benefits. He also misrepresented several of my statements made to him as well as the intentions of some of the actors involved in the pending California hemp legislation.

I had hoped that Smith would use the rather balanced information I offered him to recognize trends and shades of gray in this admittedly complex subject. Unfortunately, he did not and instead selectively used historical and mostly no longer relevant information to fit his preconceived notions. I suppose the issue was too complex for him to grasp; or maybe he does not believe in journalism as a tool for investigating reality in an unbiased and open manner. In terms of dogmatism and closed-mindedness, his behavior thus easily competes with the ideology-based claims made by some hemp advocates he so despises and who are increasingly irrelevant to the actual situation and growth of the industry.

The gradual emergence of an agricultural crop with a number of current and potential benefits deserves coverage by someone technically more qualified and journalistically more honest than Smith.

Dr. Gero Leson
Leson and Associates

Editor's note: I've examined Dr. Leson's claims of unprofessionalism and dishonesty in some detail and believe them to be reflections of differences of opinion between him and our columnist.


In Garrett Kamps' OK Then column in the April 20 issue, Ross Harris was incorrectly identified as Todd Harris. SF Weekly regrets the error.


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