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May 2014
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Media nonsense

Maia Szalavitz has another excellent article, this time in Salon: How NBC and our reactionary media perpetuate the war on drugs

Journalists are no less likely to take drugs than anyone else—indeed, in my admittedly anecdotal experience, they’re morelikely to use. You’d think that this would make us especially skeptical both about federal policies that failed to prevent our own drug-taking and about extreme claims about drug users.

But the press may actually be one of the biggest obstacles to reform. Instead of asking tough questions, reporters tend to simply parrot conventional wisdom—and reinforce the idea that the drug war is the only way, even when drug warriors’ claims contradict the evidence of the writers’ own lives.

In the last month alone, we’ve seen several particularly egregious examples of mindless reporting—including one that is explicit in propping up longtime racist stereotypes about drug users. If we want better care—and, especially, less incarceration—for addicted people, we can’t just sit by while the media stirs up frequent drug panics. If we don’t challenge the stale formula that “crackdowns” are the best response to drug-related harm and that “typical drug addicts” are black, reform will remain marginal, at best.

In a way, it’s kind of like the movies. When the cold war ended, movie makers needed bad guys, and drug dealers were the easy choice, so we saw an explosion of movies involving drug cartels or drug dealers, in order to have unsympathetic characters that the hero could vanquish.

For the media, for decades, drug panic stories and drug war “victories” have been the easy way to get a quick story. The government was willing to do most of the heavy lifting, practically writing it for you, and it fit the age-old truth that scaring the people is the surest way to get them to read your “news.”

Whenever I can, I try to educate/admonish reporters who take that easy way.

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15 comments to Media nonsense

  • kaptinemo

    OT: They finally figured it out that the DrugWar is economically unfeasible due to the enormous strain it causes on the economy.

    After reformers have been saying this for DECADES.

    Wakey, wakey; can they smell the coffee yet? They ought to; it’s been effin’ boiling over for the past 30-40 years. The stink has been in our nostrils for exactly as long.

  • thelbert

    in the early seventies the standard tv villian was a drug addicted vietnam veteran. he always wore a field jacket to identify himself.

    • Frank W.

      In the late 60s (Dragnet, Ironside, Hawaii 50) it was always a costumed Evil Hippie, or Innocent Misguided Hippie. Jill Banner played so many “hippies” on Dragnet she must have had a separate wardrobe closet. Watching these series, thanks to MeTV, you could get a good overview of how reactionary the TV industry was, and has been up until recently.

      • Windy

        As the TV industry STILL is, at least on the soaps,particularly Days of Our Lives, so moralistic while they have the characters bed hopping almost daily, as well as engaging in other far more serious illegal activities, from theft, to illegal surveillance, illegal imprisonment, and including murder.

  • primus

    How about a TV show where the villain is a misguided district attorney who goes against the direct orders of her boss? How about one where the villain is an evil Wall Streeter who is thigh deep in the drug trade while at the same time rubbing elbows with the elites? A banker who is laundering black money for the cartels and at the same time, foreclosing on widows?

  • kaptinemo

    “In a way, it’s kind of like the movies. When the cold war ended, movie makers needed bad guys, and drug dealers were the easy choice…”

    It wasn’t just the entertainment industry. I worked at a Fed agency, and after the Sovs fell, you could see the scurrying around, looking for a way to keep the budgets brimming.

    For those old enough, do you recall the ‘Peace Dividend’ we were supposed to enjoy now that the USSR was becoming a bad dream? We didn’t get it in no small part because of the DrugWar; anything to keep the Military/Industrial complex going was kosher, and to Hell with the effect that would have on civil liberties.

    And so huge amounts of taxpayer’s money were allocated for yet another boondoggle.

    (Look up the history of ‘Team B’ and you’ll understand why I said ‘boondoggle; the Sovs were already on the ropes by the 1980’s, and in truth had been kept alive courtesy of low-interest loans from the very people the Sovs said they wanted to hang. Deity alone knows how many NV War casualties were caused by munitions made in factories built with Western money. The banksters need today’s drug cartels in the same way they needed the Soviets: war, no matter how phony, is ‘good for business’.)

    • claygooding

      When the US walked in on Russia’s top of the line anti-aircraft defense systems taking back Kuwait it was all over but the singing,,,and the fat bitch was warming up in the bathroom.
      I can remember a scurry of activity around the Treasury Dept and the Pentagon in those years following the demise of the Soviet bad guys and a big push in PSA ‘s and drug user is abuser ads,,,when Al Qaeda showed up if course the ONDCP was involved in that and found a built in hand wringing drugs funding terrorists scam that worked for a decade.
      And of course Clinton stripped the military and balanced the budget with the savings after Bush I did such a good job in the Kuwait war so Bush II could come back and rebuild it while attacking Saddam again,,,that was one of the biggest expenses of Desert Storm,,,refitting units on the fly.
      Now the defense industry is knee deep in the WAsD providing equipment and maintenance on drug war assets,,the damn wrug war is a self feeding cancer.
      We need all drug warriors to have forced chemo therapy with no MMJ..

    • Howard

      Many people — our “leaders” especially — suffer from “enemy deficit disorder”(EDD). If a war of some kind isn’t underway, some unidentified enemy of some kind somewhere is getting away with evil deeds. And if those evil doers aren’t foreign, well, by gawd, they’ll conjure up domestic evil doers. A lack of war is actually uncomfortable for these people. And it’s unacceptable to think that any war can run its course. Because if we stop fighting it can only mean the evil doers have tricked us into thinking we won.

      EDD is a terrible affliction. Cannabis can help.

  • claygooding

    Hemp prohibition corporate funded through the media and lobbying in Congress,,it worked once and the same rich families that still own those industries and still want hemp off the open market are still being served,,I saw where CO Agri is “requesting over a million acres for hemp production,,waiting for the answer to that is a seat edger.
    So far they are keeping production too low to impact any of the established markets,,,except alcohol,,,and marijuana is doing that,,,not hemp.
    Imagine when every farmer and every state that has the right conditions wants in on a crop they can produce biofuel to plow with instead of buying diesel from big oil?

  • Howard

    Unfortunately Maia commits the same type of error she’s criticizing. She rightly questions this claim;

    In the 1960s, the wide acceptance of marijuana paved the way for a heroin problem in America and the War on Drugs. Today, with two states legalizing marijuana, could this happen again?

    But then immediately misquotes the claim;

    “Re-read that first sentence: “The wide acceptance of marijuana paved the way for a heroin epidemic” is a claim that is stated as fact. But is it true?”

    [words in bold my emphasis]

    ———-

    A “problem” is not necessarily the same as an “epidemic” (although it can be argued that an epidemic can be a problem).

    Am I quibbling here? Probably. But I’ll say this, the War On Drugs — especially the way it’s reported — has caused me to question a lot of what’s claimed about a lot of things. Now, any time I read a straight up claim about anything without corroborating data, I wonder about it. And it even causes me to look closely at the writing of those whom I generally agree with (thanks Maia).

    • thelbert

      exaggeration sells

    • Common Science

      Once again the effects of prohibition are misconstrued in a careless oversimplification, as you say Howard; ‘…a straight up claim without corroborating data…’ No statistics have ever supported the marijuana leads to heroin myth. The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse tackled this in a number of chapters. The one that most covered the heady Sixties, IMHO:

      Progression To Other Drugs
      V. Marihuana and Social Policy

      The “no-no’s”- as the kids call them-are the fences on these cliffs. That is, we have set up taboos and say there’s a cliff there. Now – one of the problems socially is that we set up “no-no’s” where there are no cliffs. There are no cliffs and people jump over these [fences] and they say, “No cliffs! See no cliffs!” [Then, over other fences-and] chop-chop-chop-crash! See, it’s just as dangerous to set up fences without any cliffs as not have fences where there are cliffs.

      http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/nc/ncrec1_8.htm

  • Jean Valjean

    This is just a cheap makeover for the gateway theory by reversing the perspective. It used to be “cannabis leads to heroin.” Now it’s “we’ve got all this heroin being used, it must be because of cannabis legalization.” I think the important demographic will see this as more of the same old prohibitionist horse shit.

    • B. Snow

      This variant gateway theory is kinda ridiculous – Although it would be a fair assumption that anyone willing to use heroin, Probably wouldn’t turn-down a joint. That doesn’t prove anything other than the fact that they have some degree of access to the black market, and therefor to the places that are likely to sell both of these drugs.
      So, the Venn diagrams for heroin users & marijuana users overlap to some degree… Not exactly ‘Breaking News’ – IMO.

      Everyone able to buy a clue (or even rent one) has flat-out admitted that increased heroin use is largely due to the gov ‘cracking down on’ prescription painkiller “abuse”.

      When you create an ‘artificial’ scarcity of prescription pain-meds, and the fact that they tend to have a complex production process that almost no one can replicate.

      Intended or Not – this leads People came to realize that heroin was not only cheaper, but also that the supply both could, AND would – rise to meet the demand that was created by stricter controls on prescription opiates.

      Were people dying from prescription pain use/abuse, and sometimes overdose? Sure – did we really make it better by restricting Doctor’s ability to prescribe them = Nope!
      *Mr. Rogers Voice* – “Can you say unintentional consequences boys and girls? -great- I knew you could…”

  • I’ve not yet read her article, sorry. But there is another (probably) similar analysis in the Licit & Illicit Drugs book published by the Consumers Union.

    And it has the fortunate circumstance of taking place with a “drug” no one was promoting and no so-called reformers were trying to remove stigma from.

    in other words we can see the huge rise in use was due entirely to the self-righteous blowhard prohibitionists themselves.

    I am in no way trying to diminish Maia’s work. However, I wanted to point out you can download the whole analysis (chapter) here in both PDF and ePub formats. (Also the whole book as PDF or ePub is near that page. MUCHO thanks to Cliff Schaffer!)

    Prohibitionists Launch a Drug Menace
    In related news (Pete’s closing comments). Go to CSPAN and search for John Stockwell. Last I checked they only had one video of him. In it he describes something similar, and MANY other interesting things.

    Of course I don’t share these because I think no one here has seen them. Perhaps everyone has. But maybe not. In any case, they are worth sharing with the confused (non avowed legalizers) to help them be less confused.