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.