Cannabis North

TV reporter who quit on-air to run pot business had been subject of complaints about bias

Until Sunday's 10 p.m. newscast, there was Charlo Greene and Charlene Egbe.

The former was a West High graduate who grew up to report for KTVA Channel 11 News under the screen name "Charlo Greene."

The latter was a passionate marijuana legalization advocate and a listed owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, a medical marijuana dispensary operating in a gray area of the law.

Sunday night, the two joined in spectacular fashion when Greene quit her job live on the air with a colorful expletive and the announcement that she was, in fact, the owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club -- which she'd just finished reporting on.

Greene's dramatic public exit from the news business raised her profile overnight to Internet pot legalization folk hero and viral Internet sensation.

But in Alaska, the episode has raised questions about Greene's months spent filing reports for KTVA -- including a five-part series -- on Alaska's controversial marijuana legalization initiative while simultaneously operating a dispensary that would stand to profit if pot became fully legal here.

On Monday, the main group opposing the ballot measure that would make pot legal in Alaska said it had complained about Greene to the station before.


The main group supporting the "yes" campaign distanced itself from Greene, saying her delivery method may have overshadowed her message and acknowledging that rumors of her involvement in a pot business had circulated before Sunday night.

The video of Greene -- captured on a handful of cellphone cameras Sunday night -- quickly dropped into the feeding frenzy of the Internet.

In less than 24 hours, the video received upward of 5 million YouTube views. It trended on Facebook, along with the Baltimore Ravens and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" star Kris Jenner's divorce filings. It appeared on the Huffington Post and its French cousin, Le Huffington Post. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, E! Online and US Weekly alike took note. A hashtag version of Greene's memorable sign-off line swept through Twitter like brush fire.

Much of the coverage outside Alaska focused on the taboo word Greene used on the air.

Meanwhile, KTVA removed Greene's bio from its website and scrubbed much of her reporting as well, though her April-May five-part series on marijuana legalization still exists on YouTube.

On Monday, the station remained silent on the matter until 4:30 p.m., when a statement from news director Bert Rudman was posted on its website and social media feeds. KTVA apologized for the on-air profanity and said it wasn't aware of Greene's conflict of interest.

KTVA opened its 5 p.m. news report Monday with anchor Joe Vigil and reporter Lauren Maxwell acknowledging the incident. Then Rudman delivered a message, taped in the newsroom, that was identical to the statement posted online.

"She had a personal and business stake in the issue she was reporting but did not disclose that interest to us," Rudman said. "This betrayed the basic bedrock of responsible journalism."

The station would not answer questions Monday beyond the statement.

Journalism ethics expert Al Tompkins, who teaches at the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Poynter Institute, said the station could face Federal Communications Commission sanctions for the on-air expletive if someone files a complaint.

"The (FCC) takes a very dim view of using the f-word on television," Tompkins said.

A media officer with the FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Much more serious, Tompkins said, is the apparent conflict of interest in Greene's previous reporting on the topic.

"She meant to cause a spectacle. She meant to cause harm to her employer," he said. "She meant to draw attention to herself. And she did."

Greene, who could not be reached Monday for this story, told that she went public because "polling is showing support is slipping" for the Alaska legalization initiative and she felt frustrated by what she saw as misinformation circulated by those against legalization.

"Otherwise I would have just been behind the scenes (in the media) the entire time, just making sure the fear mongering, and the non-facts they put out there that journalists never want to do the work to actually fact check themselves -- I would have just stayed there to make sure it's a fair fight," she told Vice. "But polling has been showing that the fear-mongering is working, so I had to step away to make sure Alaskans know what's really at stake. And the opportunity that is ahead of us."

Greene told Vice that she felt expendable as a reporter.


"The people aren't really going to miss you, or me, or any random reporter for the most part," she said. "Why not just use the position I was put in to make sure that my next chapter is just wide open for me?"

The main group opposing the bid to make marijuana legal in Alaska, "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2," said Monday its leaders complained months ago to Greene's bosses about what they saw as her biased reporting.

The trouble began with a five-part series called "Considering Cannabis," in which Greene traveled to Washington and Colorado to report on legal marijuana businesses and regulations.

After the series aired -- days after Greene officially registered her Alaska Cannabis Club business under her legal name -- Vote No On 2 campaign spokeswoman Deborah Williams met with KTVA's news director, she said.

"We asked for a meeting with the news director," Williams said. " We sat down and spent at least an hour pointing out what we thought were the biases and inaccuracies in her stories and providing him with the information we thought to be crucial to include."

Rudman said he would take their concerns under consideration, Williams said. After that, Williams said she would no longer be interviewed by Greene because she felt her approach was aggressively biased.

In August, Kalie Klaysmat, executive director of the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, wrote Rudman to complain about Greene's reporting.

"When she spoke with me she seemed only interested in information that supported her point of view," Klaysmat wrote in the letter. "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."


Taylor Bickford, the spokesman for the pro-legalization Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said the frenzy around Greene's profane signoff could overshadow what he described as important issues raised by her reporting, including the status of medical marijuana patients in Alaska.

But he distanced the campaign from Greene, saying the "yes" campaign had no prior knowledge of Greene's plans nor coordination with her.

It was rumored that Greene was involved with a pot business, Bickford said.

"That rumor had sort of been circulating for a while," he said. "We didn't really understand her involvement in it."

There are no plans to bring her aboard the campaign in any official capacity, he said.

"She very clearly has her own plans."

Those plans involve advocating for marijuana legalization and expanding her business into recreational use, Greene said in a video posted on her Facebook "public figure" page -- which had garnered more than 20,000 likes in nine hours.

The slickly produced video showed Greene alone against a stark backdrop, speaking with zeal about marijuana legalization, which she called her "life's work."

"I'm not afraid," she said. "Clearly."

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.