Work and World

The Media Lies About Drugs | The War On Drugs

marijuana the burning weed with its roots in hell [Music] [Applause] all wars have their propaganda front and the war on drugs is no different throughout its hundred year history large sections of the media have acted more as campaigners for the drug war than as reporters of actual evidence and truth and this isn’t just about ridiculous drug exploitation movies america’s public enemy number one is drug abuse when richard nixon first declared his war on drugs in 1970 he explicitly asked american news networks to warn our youth constantly against the dangers of drugs when reagan wanted to ramp up the drug war in the 80s he claimed that the newsrooms of our media centers have a special opportunity to send alarm signals across the nation and all too often newspapers and networks were happy to oblige because scare stories around drugs generate newspaper sales and drive online traffic the media has a drug problem and we need to stage an intervention phyllis’s case is typical most teenagers start off with marijuana then they decide to see if heroin has any kick it does one of the great myths of the war on drugs is the idea that cannabis acts as a gateway drug these claims have been parroted by media outlets for decades that something in weed makes people more likely to try potentially dangerous addictive drugs like cocaine or heroin this idea has been kicking about since the 1930s but was really popularized in the 70s by people like robert dupont richard nixon’s drug czar who declared that marijuana was actually the most dangerous drug threatening america tonight in our marijuana 101 series we ask if marijuana is a gateway drug now many believe that smoking pot actually leads to using harder substances the problem with all this is that the entire gateway drug theory has been pretty much completely debunked by the scientific community the majority of people who track cocaine have smoked marijuana before that is true but the fact is the majority of people who have done marijuana do not go on to use heroin or cocaine so we can say the majority of people who have done heroin they’ve also done milk they’ve also brushed their teeth what we have is a confusion between correlation and causation in fact one could probably take this argument further and suggest that the reason so many people who use harder drugs have also used cannabis is the simple fact that all drugs are illegal basically if you go buy some weed from your dealer they might also try to sell you cocaine mdma or ketamine if these products were legal and you bought them all at different places that crossover would probably never even occur which means maybe the real gateway might just be the war on drugs itself in 1986 len bias was a rising star of college basketball he’d just been signed to the nba and went out with friends to celebrate that night he died of a heart attack this caused a media frenzy with the press blaming his death on a mysterious new drug apparently sweeping across america called crack within months major networks were dropping shows like 48 hours on crack street cocaine country and the doping of a nation crack vials like this one are turning up empty and discarded in the streets in the parks in the schoolyards around the nation members of the police department are raising a civil branch we’re gonna come back we’ll see what drugs they find tell the camera okay good newspapers were flooded with stories of a nationwide crack epidemic but there were big problems with this narrative first of all crack wasn’t a new drug it was just cocaine that you can smoke and bias hadn’t actually smoked crack he’d accidentally ingested several grams of powder cocaine in a drink but amid the hysteria following bias’s death journalists found they can make almost any claim they wanted about crack and it would be believed there was never more than three or four percent of the population generally that was using crack on a regular basis even at the height of the quote unquote epidemic it was never that pervasive this had a serious impact riding the wave of panic around crack within months the reagan administration had passed the anti-drug abuse act under these laws possession of five grams of crack was treated as harshly as 500 grams of powder cocaine enforcement fell disproportionately on black and hispanic communities and began the progression towards the out of control mass incarceration we see in america today there was no statistical difference between black people and white people when it came to crack use it was all about media hysteria but it justified racially biased policing and another issue emerged ira chattanooga a young doctor in chicago began noticing that the babies of some women he treated who used crack cocaine were born with certain medical issues this was immediately picked up on by the media and the myth of the crack baby was born the story spread like wildfire across the press the specs a loomed of an entire generation mentally and physically ruined by crack who had overwhelmed the essential infrastructure of american social services i’ve seen young mothers with babies and strollers buying crack in the neighborhood where i live and of course there was a vulnerable group to demonize here as well women of color he went after women who supposedly used cocaine during pregnancy because we said that these children would not be able to learn uh properly they would be a burden on society because of the damage done by their mothers having used crack doing their pregnancy laws started getting passed that meant pregnant women who use drugs could be prosecuted for child abuse drug dealing and even manslaughter once again primarily affecting women of color the claims here proved vastly overstated if not completely untrue no generation of blighted crack babies actually emerged to overwhelm the medical and educational systems in fact most of the symptoms from the original study were actually found to be caused by the babies being born prematurely those premature births were often the result of poverty instability and criminalization once again the root problem might well have been the war on drugs itself later in the 1980s a new type of dance music culture swept across the uk as thousands of people gathered in fields to party to acid house music largely fueled by their favorite new drug ecstasy years later kelvin mackenzie editor of the sun newspaper at the time openly admitted to making stories up around ecstasy and the assumption that when it came to drugs he could print anything no matter how wild or ridiculous and it would be believed yeah you know there was a desire for kind of shocking drug stories stories which would work on two levels really appeal to younger readers you would go oh look at this there’s a story about tablets this week and then to their parents you would go wow this is shocking this has been a dynamic of tabloid moral panics for decades whipping up fear around new drug cultures while simultaneously glamorizing them to increase sales in 1989 reporters from the sun infiltrated a massive rave in berkshire where the organizers had set up little bits of tin foil to fall from the ceiling like confetti so it would reflect their light show which must have been very pretty but the sun reported that these bits of foil were in fact wrappers for this terrifying new drug ecstasy of course rappers for ecstasy pills isn’t the most outrageous drug lie of all time but it’s wild to hear a journalist be so open about the sort of misinformation they peddled when it came to drugs there’s a whole culture of faking stories for tabloid newspapers i remember thinking what would make a good story would be to link the sale of ecstasy tablets to a football tournament which was euro 96 at the time so i got some extra tablets and i asked the mate of mine and to paint some euro 96 logos on the tablets and then presented them to the paper as these branded equity tablets which was for sale to football hooligans there’s also a point at which these failures stop being just a bit of tabloid fun and become something much more serious in 1995 an 18 year old girl named leah betts died after taking ecstasy the press seized on this tragedy using it to create a sense of national crisis here death was being used to sell papers it was a good story for tabloid papers but it was also a good story for middle market papers like the daily mail in the mail on sunday because the narrative was the ecstasy nightmare is coming to the suburbs posters started popping up around britain carrying the slogan just one ecstasy tablet took leah bets created by ad agencies whose major clients included alcohol companies who saw rave culture as a threat it later emerged that it wasn’t actually the mdma that killed leah betts it was that she drank too much water after taking it and her system collapsed but aside from the basic inaccuracy the incident highlights a major problem in how drugs are reported multiple studies have shown that almost every single ecstasy death gets extensive media coverage compared to a tiny proportion of deaths related to alcohol and other drugs new sites have a morbid certainty that stories about pills generate interest in a way that alcohol stories just don’t especially when those stories involve the death of young people and particularly young women unfortunately what this does is create a broader sense in society that mdma is vastly more harmful and dangerous than booze which it isn’t in fact the evidence shows that when used carefully ecstasy is considerably safer than alcohol but you’d never know that from looking at the news at the time it fell to the anarchist ban chumbawamba to put up their own series of posters to try and counteract the misinformation around leah bets we took the original poster which was a picture of leia betts and it just said sorted what we did is we just changed the word sorted to distorted using the word distorted seemed like a very relevant choice a word because the media were distorting the truth about why leo better died and how safe or unsafe the drug was in the summer of 2018 reports started flooding the british media of a deadly new drug terrorizing the city of stoke on trent this had all the hallmarks of a classic hyped up drug scare first off they gave the substance a catchy new name monkey dust then they claimed that this new drug turned its users into murderous psychopaths with superhuman strength but this drug wasn’t new at all it was a synthetic catheter like most other so-called bath salts and have been around for a few years and most of the lurid reports of psychotic ultra violence were wildly inaccurate many media outlets led with a video of a guy apparently on monkey dust standing on a roof who then jumps off and struggles with police only that video was actually from 2014 and there’s no evidence he was a monkey dust or anything else regardless major media sites still ran the story next papers claim that monkey dust turned users into cannibals complete with illustrations of hannibal lecter the only problem this was actually a recycling of a long debunked story from the us where a man named austin harouf was found chewing on the bodies of a couple he’d murdered those murders had been originally blamed on the drug flacker but it was ultimately discovered that he just had trace amounts of cannabis and alcohol in his system and that he suffered from severe mental health disorders again and again media reports describe monkey dust as an epidemic turning users into zombies with superhuman strength like the incredible hulk and describing stoke on tren as a scene from the night of the living dead none of these claims were properly interrogated or put into context they were simply published under the old rule of thumb that when it comes to drugs you can say pretty much anything you want as long as you make it sound scary enough and though news sites doing a bit of sensationalist reporting for clicks might not sound like a big deal there’s a really serious problem here if you call drug users zombies enough that’s how people will start to see them not as vulnerable people in need of help but as inhuman monsters to be feared and despised and having the media stigmatize them is simply further cruelty and can very literally cost lives there’s mountains of evidence the stigmatizing language used in reporting like this affects not only how people treat drug users but those users own willingness to seek help the war on drugs may well be coming to an end sooner rather than later but it’s time for a fundamental change not only in how we police drug use but in the language we use to talk about it we’d like to congratulate drugs for winning the war on drugs you
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