Why does drug reporting suck? Still.

Media criticism.
Aug. 10 2005 6:17 PM

Why Does Drug Reporting Suck?


Whenever I fall into a funk over the press corps' abysmal coverage of illicit drugs, I console myself with the knowledge that, as awful as the coverage is, it's always been that way. Then, to confirm my cynical sentiments, I pull out a monograph from 1974 titled "Major Newspaper Coverage of Drug Issues" from the drug section of my library and reread it.

Robert P. Bomboy wrote the monograph for the Drug Abuse Council, a 1970s project of the liberal Ford Foundation that assessed the impact of illicit drugs and made policy recommendations. Bomboy found drug coverage to be moralistic in conception, gullible in sourcing, and formulaic in execution.


"Today's headlines and news stories on drug abuse often echo those found in newspaper stories of the thirties, when Harry J. Anslinger, the stern and energetic foe of drug use, took over the Federal Bureau of Narcotics," writes Bomboy. Anslinger was an original exponent of the "reefer madness" school of drug education. "Hemp Around Their Necks," a chapter from his 1961 book The Story of the Narcotic Gangs, provides a taste of his rhetorical style, one that survives in today's coverage of illicit drug use, especially methamphetamine use.

Bomboy interviewed reporters and editors across the country during his research and came up with these drug-coverage axioms that are truer today than they were in 1974:

A great deal of drug reporting on [sic] major newspapers reflects ignorance, fear and false preconceptions.

Nothing that happens to a journalist will shake him of his false ideas about drugs and drug users when he begins his reporting, Bomboy asserts. "His editors and colleagues, having the same mental picture, are not likely to challenge his story," he writes. "So the old myths are perpetuated in the public's mind."

Newspapers continue to be most strongly interested in the sensational or dramatic aspects of the drug abuse story.

For confirmation, please see the recent press treatment of "meth mouth."

Acting out of a lack of interest at best, class bias, racism and fear at worst, newsmen take pains to disassociate themselves from addicts.

"Newsmen still too easily accept conceptions of drug abusers as dope fiends, 'crazies,' uncontrollable animals, the leading contributors to urban crime, objects of fear and loathing," he writes.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.