Tampa Bay Times “Deadly Dose” Stories on Kratom were Bought and Paid For By Trial Attorneys – It’s Shameless Checkbook Journalism

December 26, 2023

The Tampa Bay Times spent months researching the kratom consumer community, the sources of kratom raw materials coming from Southeast Asia, the vendors who manufacture and sell kratom in the United States, and alleged deaths associated with kratom use.

By the description of the Tampa Bay Times,  6 months of full time work by 4 journalists to expose what the reporters now claim to be a deadly substance marketed by sinister vendors.

Throughout those 6 months of intense discussions with these reporters, I can tell you they consistently showed their bias and unexplainable lack of interest in talking with any kratom consumer who says their experience with using kratom has improved the quality of their lives — or even saved their lives.

Consistently, the reporters told the AKA that was “not the focus” of their story.

Now the truth behind this biased hit job on kratom has come to light.

We now know why the “focus” of their story was who claim that kratom killed a family member — who may be potential clients for the trial attorneys — and not on those who claim kratom has helped them.

We now know why the “focus” of their story was on kratom vendors who are named defendants in product liability lawsuits by one group of trial attorneys.

It is because the Tampa Bay Times was receiving money from trial attorneys who provided both funding to support this biased attack on kratom and delivered anti-kratom claims from the clients those lawyers represent?

It is commonly called “Checkbook Journalism” but it is rarely so blatant as is the case with the Tampa Bay Times and their three-part hit piece on kratom.

When the AKA raised the issue of whether the story was being funded by trial attorneys — based on social media posts by Matt Wetherington, one of the leading trial attorneys who is bringing multiple kratom death lawsuits — the response from Rebecca Woolington, the Senior Story Editor/Investigations at the Tampa Bay Times, was shockingly strident. Ms. Woolington ignored and summarily dismissed the significant red flags about the direct collaboration between Mr. Weatherington and the Tampa Bay Times.

Here is what Ms. Woolington told the AKA in an email on November 6, 2023 after a lengthy discussion and followed by AKA sending several social media posts by Mr. Wetherington that raised legitimate questions about the fairness of the Tampa Bay Times investigation on kratom, in which she directly denied any funding by trial attorneys and claimed offense at the idea anyone would challenge the integrity of the Times.

Here are excerpts from that email::


The problem with Ms. Woolington’s strident claim is the FACT that Matt Wetherington has stated plainly that “lawyers” provided financial support to the Tampa Bay Times for their so-called“impartial” investigation and made the clear admission on his own X (formerly Twitter) account:
Setting aside the issue with a trial attorney funding of what is supposed to be a completely independent investigation by a newspaper — Mr. Wetherington is a smart lawyer and a fierce advocate for his clients — the problem for the Tampa Bay Times is they have a much higher ethical responsibility to the public to actually be independent.

Journalists have a duty to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, much less actually take money for a story that is a real conflict of interest.

If the Tampa Bay Times wants to take biased funding and exclusively use one-sided and deliberately distorted information — and intentionally exclude any other viewpoints — then they should publish these articles on the Opinion Page.

Better yet, maybe it should just be called what it looks like — an Infomercial for the trial attorneys.

Ms. Woolington makes the point herself when she also stated in her email to me that her “concern from the start was that someone was making untrue claims about the integrity of the Tampa Bay Times . . .”


Ms. Woolington decided to be a schoolyard bully on the legitimate complaint by stridently claiming that the Tampa Bay Times did not accept either funding or support from trial attorneys.

It is Mr. Wetherington who says Ms. Woolington is not telling the truth about the fact the Tampa Bay Times received  a “pay-to-play” financial contribution to finance a so-called “investigation” into the now discredited “Deadly Dose” series on kratom.

Ms. Woolington said the dots the AKA connected were “nonsensical.”

What “integrity” is Ms. Woolington talking about?


The AKA provided to Ms. Woolington this screenshot from Mr. Wetherington’s post on an anti-kratom Facebook group where he was coordinating anti-kratom stories — which was the “focus” of the Tampa Bay Times stories:

Mr. Wetherington told the anti-kratom parties to contact the Tampa Bay Times and that he had “no problem you using my name” because, as he describes it himself,  he is “obviously out there with . . . Tampa Times.”

But Ms. Woolington vehemently denied any collaboration with trial attorneys or accepting money from them for this story, and she arrogantly states the AKA will “never be able to prove it because it’s not true.”

Actually, it’s more likely she meant the AKA would never be able to prove it because she didn’t think we would be able to discover the truth.

Adding to the ethics problem for the Tampa Bay Times, Mr. Wetherington appears to have publicly admitted to “lawyers” funding this investigation into kratom.

So who is telling the truth?

It seems the dots are connecting.

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