Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971
My letter was sent by registered mail the morning after the article appeared. There have been two editions of the Sunday Times since then, neither of which have made reference to my letter. Neither have I received any explanation as to why the letter was not published. Perhaps because there is no reasonable explanation.
The article is reprehensible, the photograph preposterous. But worse than either is an editorial policy which gives them front page treatment. Because my letter is as much a criticism of the editor as it is of the author, this I suspect is the reason my letter has not appeared. Freedom of the press is coming to mean freedom to inveigh against whom one pleases without allowing the use of one's columns for the victims to defend themselves.
Not that I am defending the Salient article. It was both prejudiced and wasteful. Only one side's views of hallucinogenics was taken into account and the article was of little use or interest to the vast majority of students. However, it is one of the few pro-drug articles I have seen which urges respect for these chemicals and moderation in the use of. More important, though, Salient's circulation is limited to a small section of people who, hopefully, have enough intelligence to take advantage of the information available to them to seek out a second opinion on such topics. The Sunday Times is a family orentiated per. Its circulation exceeds 145,000.
But Rod Bryant's article was not an attack on Salient. Rather the basic story is the claim that "New Zealand Hippies are rushing to buy a book on local toadstools". Even this turns out to be unsubstantiated opinion.
On the Thursday following the Sunday Times article I contacted the publishers of Marie, Taylor's book. A.H. & A.W. Reed Ltd informed me that the book, which was released in March, was selling "quite slowly despite good critical reviews".
The following book sellers were also contacted: Whitcombe & Tombs, London Bookshops Cuba Street and Kirkcaidies, Unity Books, Technical Books, Roy Parsons, University Bookshop, Sweet & Maxwell on the Terrace, and Beacon Bookshop. All but the last two were stocking the book. In answer to "how has the book been selling?" all the stockists reported slow sales, much the same as any other book on flora and fauna. Whitcombes had noticed a slight increase in sales after the Sunday Times article.
I did not bother asking the University Bookship whether "students" had bought the three copies they had managed to dispose of. When I asked the other shops "what kind of people have been buying the book?" most sought clarification. "Were they 'hippies' or 'student types'?"
"Just the opposite," replied one manager. Without exception the book-sellers had sold what few copies they could to "ordinary people". When I told one lady that "hippies" were supposed to be rushing to buy the book she replied, "Utter rubbish!"
In fairness I must point out that an assistant at one of the stores had noticed a "few longhaired people" looking at the book. But they most definitely had not brought it.
I took the opportunity to inspect the book. As suspected, the author leaves one in no doubt as to the toxicity of the "magic" mushrooms.
The following edition of the Sunday Times (July 11th) contains another Rod Bryant drug-Story, "Little Pill—Lethal Push". It was not quite as bad as the previous one, but then it was shorter. We are told that there is a particularly bad kind of LSD, Strawberry Alarm Clock, going around Wellington at the moment. By some strange coincidence the Sports Post of the previous week (July 3rd) had told us exactly the same thing.
The following quote is from Rod Bryant's story: "The student health service at Victoria University has been consulted by people suffering from bad trips. But it is said drug users are scared to ask medical help for the risk of being handed over to the police."
I went to check it out with Dr Fleming. He had spoken to a reporter on the phone. He had been asked if he had noticed any increase in the incidence of bad trips over the last three weeks. Doctor Fleming replied that he had not, that in fact such cases were unusual. Moreover, that the amount of attention paid to them by the press was quite disproportionate. The context implies that the student health service thinks drug users are scared to ask for medical assistance for fear of being handed over to the police. Dr Fleming made no such claim. Rather, he pointed that the experience of the student health service suggested a low level of drug use on campus.
Rod Bryant ignored these statements on the low level of campus drug use and chose to quote Dr Fleming out of context to lend credence to his Strawberry Alarm Clock story, even though what Dr Fleming had to say on the incidence of bad trips lent no support to the story.
All of this leads me to suspect just what Rod Bryant's "informants on the Wellington drug scene" did say, in fact, whether, these informants really exist. It also leads me to doubt that Rod Bryant "spoke to three people who had bad trips on Strawberry Alarm Clock". Please don't get me wrong, I don't doubt quite a few people have had bad trips on this acid, just that Mr Bryant has spoken to them.
Salient challenges Rod Bryant to produce these informants and unfortunate trippers to a member of its staff or, say, a minister, layer, or doctor mutually agreed upon. We trust the Sunday Times will be as to publish the results of this challenge as Salient is.