Ashley III Halsey: how the drug czar uses lazy reporters

On Monday, I wrote Washington Post Reporter Bamboozled by Drug Czar, about a Washington Post article by staff reporter Ashley III Halsey: Feds: Watch out for drivers high on drugs.

It was a truly bad piece by Halsey that blatantly misrepresented the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report. And it was about an event where Transportation Safety Director Ray LaHood was talking about drunk driving, joined by the Drug Czar.

Readers have asked if I would pass on any response I got from Halsey, so here goes. It’s not very much, but it sure is instructive.

I wrote:

This article is factually wrong, based on the Government’s own reports. It might be helpful if you actually read the study that the Drug Czar fed you and tricked you into reporting on falsely.

The NHTSA specifically cautioned against the exact kind of blatant fear mongering that you fell for.

The report said: “Caution should be exercised in assuming that drug presence implies driver impairment. Drug tests do not necessarily indicate current impairment. Drug presence can be measured for a period of days or weeks after ingestion in many cases. This latency of drug presence may partially explain the consistency between daytime and nighttime drug findings.”

Thus the “11 percent of motorists are high” section of your article is completely false.

Remember that the drug czar is required by law to lie, and should not be assumed to be a reliable source.

Please correct your article.

Halsey’s response:

Your arrogance and ignorance are impressive.


Before I could digest that, another response arrived.


Another reader sent me an email that says you’re a blogger, so I apologize for suggesting you’re arrogant. Arrogance is a necessary part of the blogger shtick. In light of your suggestion that I’d been “spoon fed” information you might be amused by the email I just received from a woman who says she’s Ray LaHood’s press secretary:

Now this gets interesting. Halsey actually included the email from Jill Zuckman, the Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Transportation, who wrote to Halsey:

So, we put out actual news yesterday, and you decide to a) not show up, b) not call, and c) focus on the non-news. Very odd.

and Zuckman then attached several articles (USA today, AP, Denver Post, etc.) about the LaHood press conference that all focused on LaHood’s campaign against drunk drivers, and never mentioned Kerlikowske’s nonsense distraction.

Now, Zuckman’s approach to a reporter may leave something to be desired in the way of tact, but it’s understandable when the Washington Post completely botches something like this.

What’s amazing is that it appears that Halsey was sending this to me as a way of showing that he wasn’t being spoon-fed — that he was his own man (after all, LaHood’s office didn’t like what he wrote). But that wasn’t the point at all.

Both Zuckman and I were chastising him for essentially the same thing. I was chastising him for reporting false information, and Zuckman was chastising him for reporting that instead of the real information in the press conference.

Just for fun, let’s attempt to recreate what Washington Post staff reporter Ashley Halsey III did for his paycheck (based on what Zuckman said and what Halsey wrote):

  1. Received news releases from LaHood and Kerlikowske about a press conference regarding drunk driving and the holidays.
  2. Didn’t go to the press conference.
  3. Didn’t call LaHood’s office to interview, get facts, verify information.
  4. Decided to focus the article about a report the Drug Czar mentioned.
  5. Didn’t bother to read it.
  6. Fell for Kerlikowske’s trick of implying that the report actually said something concrete about drugged driving (which it doesn’t) and went ahead and gave statistics that were completely false.
  7. Got pissed off when called on it.

This is exactly how the Drug Czar is able to work (Walters did this beautifully during his term). He finds lazy reporters and sets them up.

He’ll send out a release that says something like… “Drugged driving is becoming a significant problem in this country. According to a recent NHSTA study, 11% of all drivers tested positive for illegal drugs.” Now we know what he’s doing there, and that testing positive means little about impairment or present use (among other factors) but the lazy reporter makes the unsupported connection in his head — “Wow, 11% of all drivers are stoned!” — and puts it in print, doing the actual work of creating the lie for the Drug Czar, while the Drug Czar just sits back and smiles.

I did end up writing Ashley back, and tried to keep it nice in the hopes that he’d respond about the actual issue…


Thanks for responding. I apologize for assuming you had been spoon-fed the information, but then I still don’t understand how you managed to state that 11% of motorists are high on the weekend. Nothing in the NHTSA study indicated that. This was a new study to start to attempt to define benchmarks — it had absolutely no validity in terms of noting impairment (or being “high”), which is why the researchers were so careful to say that assumptions (like the ones in your article) should not be drawn from the research. It correctly noted that the way the study was conducted, the drivers who tested positive could very easily have merely used marijuana weeks earlier, which would say nothing about dangers on the road.

The drug czar has a nasty habit of throwing out irrelevant statistics and inferring that they mean something sinister, allowing the reporter to do the dirty work of actually making the incorrect statement. That’s really what I meant by the spoon-fed comment.

Again, thanks for the response. I think it’s extremely important that we not let people like the Drug Czar contaminate important discussions about drug policy with non-existent (or at least unproven) fears.

But nothing so far.

I’m still hoping there may be a correction at some point, but it doesn’t really appear that it’ll come from Halsey. I’d love to be proven wrong.

It would be great if he got pissed off about being used, instead of being pissed off about being caught.

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61 Responses to Ashley III Halsey: how the drug czar uses lazy reporters

  1. SisterZombie says:

    The score is now 28.57% & 47.87 respectively

    Where do I send the good news?

  2. Loooserscantbechoosers says:

    47.2% & 27.59%

    His mother will be very cross with us :>)

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  4. Samuel Taylor says:

    In all due respect to Pete, his opening paragraph to Halsey was a bit, scorchingly mild. I would like to reiterate, that the Original Article, did not use the word Marijuana or Cannabis, or any other word strictly delegated to our beloved plant. It simply said “drugs”. All Drugs. Given that, I do not find this, drab, uninteresting, but excellently presented press release. I feel sorry for Halsey for his boring beat! His space limitations and subject matter do not leave him much latitude to express much talent, if he has any!

    I think we’re all a bit touchy on the issue, and many of you here who are angry about this article need to read it again with an open mind, and not one presupposing that “high” is an exclusive term for smoking marijuana. I cannot use it here in TN anymore, as the crackheads have stolen it. “getting high” is assumed to mean smoking crack here now.
    High just means under the influence. If you honestly do not believe that 11% of the people on the road on a Saturday night are not under the influence of either an illegal or a legal substance, but to the point of some impairment… well, I simply do not know what how to begin to discuss further the topic.

    How do you think all of the donutivors catch so many people under the influence!

    “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.” – Abraham Lincoln

  5. Kittentitties says:

    Samual Taylor; there are many of us here who do not use drugs of any kind -I personally do not even drink coffee, but desperately wish to see the end of the failed policy of prohibition -and that includes crack & meth. Ashley’s article was a piece of trash and his reaction to Pete was disrespectful and arrogant.

    45.09 and dropping fast:

  6. Pete says:


    I was not using the word “high” as exclusive to smoking marijuana. Halsey was simply stating a blatant lie. Something that was not in the report, and I dare say that the drug czar didn’t even feed it to him that directly.

    Here’s the deal. The study found that roughly 11% of drivers who volunteered to be tested in a study, tested positive for some illegal drug (could be marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc.) But that doesn’t mean that those drivers were HIGH (on marijuana cocaine, heroin, meth, etc) at the time. Only that it was in their system.

    Ashley said that they were all high, despite the fact that the study specifically, multiple time, said that people should NOT reach that conclusion.

    Read it with an open mind, but pay attention, please.

  7. Biggoose9727 says:

    Halsey is an arrogant prick and gives real reporters a bad name.

  8. Maria says:

    Well, I’m grateful to Halsey for one thing, I found this blog and a wonderful writer thanks to his terrible article. Thank you Halsey!

  9. SisterZombie says:

    Ashley’s CredRate now says he’s “SOMEWHAT CREDIBLE” at 33.44%

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