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Vivian McPeak [Twitter]
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Vivian McPeak doesn’t like making very public mistakes.
He might even blame you for them.


Vivian McPeak, executive director of Hempfest, usually welcomes attention. But he didn’t just disavow his own Facebook posting from Thursday. He went on the attack Friday against Toke Signals for publicizing the fact that McPeak himself said that allowing and providing a place for smoking marijuana in the park could be a felony.

McPeak, after making an emotional Thursday afternoon Facebook post, seemed unaccountably surprised that mentioning felony charges in connection with the world’s largest pot festival might produce a reaction.

Vivian seems somehow not to have noticed that at least two hours before putting up the news story — when this reporter shared McPeak’s own post which started the entire brouhaha — I had asked him, “What say you, Vivian McPeak?”

McPeak, as he has reliably done since 2008, when I first started covering this beat, had ignored my question. Seriously, I’ve been waiting at least seven years, and I’ve still never gotten a single scoop from this guy. Even when I was a member of the Hempfest Core Group and metaphorically smooching McPeak’s rather wrinkled ass (believe me, I wish I didn’t know that, but the always-into-himself Vivian posed nude for the cover of a one-off magazine in 2013… enough of tiny things, though), the man never gave me anything, apparently preferring instead the adulation of the the unquestioning mainstream press.

McPeak had also ignored a public, heartfelt plea published with the article once it went up, asking anyone mentioned in the piece to add their own perspectives. He chose not to avail himself of that opportunity.

What McPeak did instead — almost as if were playing some elementary schoolyard game of gotcha — was mount an awkward online attack on Toke Signals, the article in question, and its author, not taking into account the fact that if McPeak’s own post were accurate (and even — or  especially — if it wasn’t!), people really needed to know.

Some weird sort of time compression seems to have happened in McPeak’s version of events, as well.

“The article from Toke of the Town is patently incorrect,” McPeak posted on Friday afternoon, incorrectly using the name of the Village Voice blog I made famous years ago, and haven’t worked at since 2013. “I made a typo on Facebook that was corrected in minutes,” McPeak posted, referencing a post he had in fact left publicly visible for more than two hours. “The truth is Seattle HEMPFEST [Editor’s note: he always puts that in all caps, as if he were a REALTOR or an OB/GYN or something] has received a smoking exemption from the City of Seattle Police Department.”

Now, if ol’ Viv  had been professional enough to share this info directly with me, rather than playing “gotcha” on Facebook with it, he and I together could have perhaps engaged in a little teamwork to inform the masses — which, after all, is my stock in trade.

But… that ain’t how Viv gets down.

“It is not a felony to smoke pot, that is totally inaccurate,” McPeak posted on his Facebook page on Friday, totally not owning the fact that his own bumbling is what started the rumor in the first place. “There is no indication that the city will have a policy of enforcement any different than in past years.”

“The Class C felony is having an area for the consumption of cannabis, such as a cannabis club, or a designated smoking area,” McPeak posted, seemingly unaware that this information was, in fact, in my article, which such a busy and important man might not have had time to read. “If Steve Elliott had spent about 3 minutes verifying his info before he shot from the hip he would have quickly seen what the facts were.” (Remember how hard I tried to get him to respond before I even printed anything? Communication — the kind between people, not guys shouting from their Facebook walls, pounding their chests, and flinging monkey poop like Viv did — is important.)

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McPeak’s original post, from Thursday, July 30, stayed up just over 2 hours. Or by McPeak Time, “less than 10 minutes.” [Facebook]

Well, if Vivian McPeak had spent about 30 seconds acting like a professional, dealing with the media, instead of like some vituperative, petulant child having his widdle tantrum, then he wouldn’t be reading this very article at this very instant. Funny how shit works out, ain’t it, Viv?

“Steve needs to take that article down, or retract the false statements in it,” Vivian posted, once again ignoring the fact that the false statements upon which the article was based had been publicly posted by himself, and revealing his unattractively controlling side. “I’ve been ill, and I only had 3 hours sleep the night before and I went off slightly half cocked and when I caught my typo I immediately corrected it,” he posted, using his threadbare yearly go-to “poor me” act, which years ago entered the realm of self-parody. (Years ago, my then-wife and I started a smoking game at Hempfest, I mean HEMPFEST. Each time Vivian would use the phrase “soul crushing” to describe his responsibilities, we’d take a toke. We always got very stoned.)

McPeak's second, "attack" post, basically "don't ever look at it or talk about it when I fuck up, because I'm Vivian McPeak, and stuff" [Facebook]
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McPeak’s second, “attack” post, basically “don’t ever look at it or talk about it when I fuck up, because I’m Vivian McPeak, and stuff”

Well, FINALLY. The big man finally admitted some culpability in his own massive, messy fuck-up. And to do so, well, he only need to preserve his own sense of infallibility by lying about how long the post was up. Ten minutes. Really, Viv? But overall, the admission represents progress, one supposes, because Viv’s usual way of doing business in such a situation is to throw one of his unpaid volunteers under the bus.

“Rather than contact me or anyone from HEMPFEST (or simply read SB 2136) Steve jumped at the opportunity to try people that HEMPFEST was gonna be a bad place to be,” McPeak falsely posted.

I mean seriously. Is this dude 12? He sometimes seems so far up his own ass, he doesn’t know my job is to report when he fucks up. Paging Self-Absorption Central! Sorry, Viv! Did you notice I’m not in the Hempfest Core anymore?

“The truth is I predict it will have ZERO IMPACT on attendance,” McPeak confidently, and almost certainly correctly, predicted (which of course doesn’t change the fact that he had massively stepped in his own shit the day before). “But in deference to his advertisers Steve should correct his inaccurate information immediately.”

“He can credit me for making the mistake, because that would be entirely accurate,” McPeak posted magnanimously. (Finally, after hundreds of words of pointing the finger at me for reporting HIS fuck up, he admits he fucks up. Progress!)

“Are we having fun yet?” McPeak concludes.

Well. No, but the fun begins now, Viv.

Let me first point out that in a journalism career which began in the 1970s, I have never dealt with an organization more irrationally hostile to the alternative press. We’re talking about their natural allies here — cannabis-friendly news. And they’ve treated me as if I were their enemy since at least 2012, when I dared point out the hypocrisy of their I-502 signage and “neutral” pro-502 emphasis.

Secondly, it has been my distinct displeasure, in sussing out this story, to have been assailed by a couple of members of the Hempfest Core Group. Even as McPeak himself ignored me for at least two hours, then whined about the story that was based on his own post, these members were contacting me privately on Facebook with increasingly rude and irrational messages.

Hint for newbies: Calling the press “asshole” isn’t an effective method of forging bonds with those who cover you. When you do that, articles like this, that make your leader really unhappy tend to result. Hi Darby Doobie!

Call it a lesson. And it didn’t have to happen this way.

It seems obvious Hempfest REALLY needs a professional PR person to handle and/or avoid messes like these, especially if McPeak is going to insist on the right to post irrational and scary messages on his Facebook wall about what might happen at Hempfest. Oops, I mean HEMPFEST.

Name calling, public displays of amateurishness, an adversarial and hostile relationship with the press — even spitefully attempting to make the press look bad? It doesn’t have to be this way, Vivian McPeak. Everything isn’t about your fragile ego, dude.

Hire a professional. Please.

Until that happens, it’s likely “the world’s biggest pot protestival” will continue to look a hell of a lot like Amateur Hour.

Postscript: What it sounds like is that the city of Seattle is putting the pressure on Hempfest not to allow cannabis smoking, which has taken place every year so far in the quarter-century history of the festival. 

McPeak himself, when asked Friday evening about this, downplayed the reefer smoking ban.

“The city told us that we could not do the adult smoking lounge that we had last year because of the SB 2136,” Vivian told Toke Signals. “They have not pressured us to prohibit smoking, in fact, the city (parks department) just issued the first ever ‘smoking exemption’ that covers tobacco smoking.

“But as far as pot smoking they have not asked us to do anything different from past years,” McPeak said. “That said, we do make announcements that cannabis smoking is not legal at HEMPFEST, as a public courtesy, so fools don’t think it is a legal free zone because of I-502, as many attendees are misinformed.”

So there you have it: Pot smoking is officially not allowed at Hempfest, do it at your own risk; tobacco smoking is just fine; “yay legalization!”

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