Personal statement from Steve Markoff on the origins and background of ProCon.org
"The idea for ProCon.org began in 1984 when I was having discussions with a friend, Maury Weiner, former chief deputy to then Los Angeles mayor, Tom Bradley.
Our discussions were about how difficult and time consuming it was to try to understand important public issues.
We discussed how separating rhetoric and opinion from facts and informed views seemed to take hours and hours of research and was, therefore, practically impossible for the average citizen to do.
Although it was the job of the media (newspapers, periodicals, television, radio, and cable news programs - the Internet had not arrived yet) to define issues and present different sides, the media are often "for profit" organizations, and they often seemed to have their own agendas, which not infrequently conflicted with comprehensive and fair reporting.
Additionally, many of those in the news production business don't have the time or resources to adequately explore various sides of an issue, in their need to hit editorial deadlines.
The first ProCon issue grew from my embarrassment in 1985 when I was sitting next to Rose Bird, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court at a celebrity fundraising dinner in Los Angeles.
After I had been invited to sit next to the Chief Justice, and knowing nothing about her at the time, I asked my office researcher to put together a one-page summary on her views of various topics so I would be somewhat knowledgeable at the dinner and so I could carry on a decent conversation with her. During that dinner I casually mentioned to the Chief Justice that I noted she was against capital punishment (something I had read in my researcher's one-page summary).
The Chief Justice reacted strongly and told me that wasn't true, but that was how she was portrayed in the media. She went on to tell me that she personally didn't like capital punishment, but that it was the law which she was sworn to carry out. She emphasized that before she would vote to affirm a capital verdict, she wanted to make darn sure that each death penalty punishment verdict was the result of a full and fair trial. Embarrassed at being wrong on such a public issue with Chief Justice Bird, particularly because I was usually pretty careful about what I said, and surprised to boot because my researcher at the time, who went on to earn her Ph.D., seldom made such mistakes, I decided to check out the issue of the Chief Justice and the death penalty.
In the days following that dinner I began asking questions about Rose Bird's view on the death penalty to find out if she was just doing her job of ensuring that people convicted of capital crimes were fairly convicted, or if she was secretly thwarting the death penalty by finding tricky or improper ways to overturn capital punishment verdicts.
It seemed the more people I asked about the Chief Justice's views on the death penalty and other issues, the more confused I became, because even people that I thought were well educated and knowledgeable politically had strong conflicting views of her. Worse, it seemed that the more impassioned people were pro or con Rose Bird, the less it seemed they knew about her actual positions.
Being a bit stubborn and frustrated at the non answers I was finding, I started making notes of the pros and cons I learned. With many pages of comments that seemed to often contradict each other, Maury Weiner and I decided we would formalize the hunt for the truth of what Chief Justice Rose Bird believed on the death penalty and other issues. So, on October 11, 1985 we founded a 501(c)(3) organization called the Association of Media Accuracy (AMA), and 9 months of research later, we published our findings on Ms. Bird’s views in a 73-page booklet of pros and cons entitled Should Chief Justice Rose Bird Be Re-Confirmed in the Upcoming November 4, 1986 California Election?
On May 16, 1990 the AMA was officially renamed the Pro/Con Foundation.
While people seemed to appreciate our efforts, given the energy and resources it took to do the research and sort out the conflicting views on the two topics, we went back to our busy lives and put Procon to bed for a few years.
In 1994, while the Internet was emerging, the controversy over the use of medical marijuana came to my attention. I again began asking questions about facts and issues in the debate and found (sadly again) that although many people had strong, if not emotional, views on the topic, few seemed to have sound information on which they based their views or feelings.
I then began my own research (Maury was busy full time in his administrative job at the Tarzana Treatment Center as well as his volunteer efforts at Amnesty International and the AARP National Affairs Council) on some medical marijuana issues and published four informational booklets between May 1997 and August 1998 entitled:
In April 2002, Jeff Yablan and I launched MarijuanaInfo.org -- a website that set out the pros and cons in the medical marijuana debate, in effect a forum to help educate anyone interested in the medical marijuana issue.
The website was referenced in the federal appeals court case Conant v. Walters (decided Oct. 29, 2009) where Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in his concurring opinion:
"See (Medical) Marijuanainfo.org, at http://www.marijuanainfo.org (last visited Aug. 27, 2002) (exhaustive catalog of information and expert opinion on both sides of the medical marijuana debate.”
Later in 2002 the organization hired two more researchers, and we added pro-con websites on the topics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ACLU. On May 1, 2002 the websites were formally taken over by The A-Mark Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit private foundation formed (and funded primarily by my wife and me) in 1997.
On July 12, 2004, the ProCon websites were moved to a new 501(c)(3) public charity, ProCon.org.
ProCon.org, since its inception on July 12, 2004, has been primarily funded, directly and indirectly, by my wife and me. Our funding goals for ProCon.org have been:
To fund our vision of ProCon.org through its initial development. This goal was accomplished in 2005 when ProCon.org had built and launched six websites in the pro-con format.
To ensure that people cared about the content and information that ProCon.org offered. This goal was accomplished to our satisfaction in 2007 when ProCon.org surpassed 3.5 million website sessions for the year and had 38 total media references.
For ProCon.org to receive 40% third party funding. This goal should occur by December 31, 2014.
To see a complete list of individuals and organizations who have donated to ProCon.org, please visit the ProCon.org Donors & Sponsors page."