Politicians and Media Hype Drug Fears 

††Politicians and Media Hype Drug Fears 

Posted by FoM on August 31, 2000 at 07:33:22 PT
By Joel Miller†
Source: WorldNetDaily†

Here's a rule in life: When things become political, they become messed up. Here's another rule: When things become fodder for media, they get even worse. As soon as a problem enters the political field for a solution, it is subject to the petty whims, egos and pressures for which politics is best known. Worse still, as soon as it hits the press, it is subject to the most absurd sorts of story-hyping exaggeration imaginable -- terror and doom, after all, are the best things to sell papers. This is doubly true when the terror and doom involve drugs. 
The little-remembered case of basketball player Len Bias and House Speaker Tip O'Neill is a perfect example. A star player, drafted from the University of Maryland in 1986 to shoot hoops with the Boston Celtics, Bias was celebrating his good fortune with friends on June 18 that year. Late into a night of partying, Bias began to feel ill and laid down to get some rest -- as it turned out, a lot more rest than he anticipated. The medical examiner chalked up Bias' death to the effects of cocaine. Deemed a straight shooter and morally upstanding fellow, news of Bias' passing sparked an uproar in Boston -- especially when his death was tied to not just the passť drug of recreational choice, cocaine, but to what was then the newest form of the drug: crack. While the word "crack" doesn't ignite the same bonfire of fear in the hearts and minds of America that it once did, the new crystalline and smokeable form of cocaine -- much like freebase -- was hot fodder for news at the time. In her May 11, 1999, feature on the history of America's crack "epidemic," Maia Szalavitz chronicles just how far the media went in its coverage of the drug's effects, inflating the danger of the cocaine derivative to King Kong proportions. In 1986, the same year Bias died, Time magazine called crack addiction the "issue of the year," while Newsweek dubbed it the "most addictive drug known to man." U.S. News and World Report actually deemed crack's effect to be similar to that of the medieval plagues and called it "the number one problem we face." Just in the year between October 1988 and October 1989, the Washington Post published over 1,500 stories related to crack cocaine, and President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy proffered the notion that the drug was killing "a whole generation of children." With word of one-toke addiction and jarring stories like Bias' death set alongside wild and doom-chanting press coverage, everybody was fearful of the new scourge. Everybody but Tip O'Neill, that is. Where the average Joe saw little but trouble, Speaker of the House O'Neill, the infamous Democrat representing Boston, saw opportunity. The Democrats had long been seen as velvety soft when it came to drug policy, and O'Neill saw Bias' death as a tool to shake that perception. Reagan, you'll remember, ate the Democrats for lunch in 1984, and, as told in Dan Baum's 1997 book, "Smoke and Mirrors," O'Neill considered new Democrat-sponsored anti-drug legislation as a possible key to stemming the tide of the Reagan Revolution. "Immediately upon returning from the July 4 (1986) recess," recounts Baum, "Tip O'Neill called an emergency meeting of the crime-related committee chairmen. Write some g--damned legislation, he thundered. All anybody up in Boston is talking about is Len Bias. The papers are screaming for blood. ... If we can do this fast enough, he said to the Democratic leadership arrayed around him, we can take the issue away from the White House." Wishful thinking, it turned out. In the end, Reagan still held title for heavyweight drug warrior and O'Neill's Democrats had to wait another six years till Bill Clinton in 1992 could seize the presidency. Before all was over, however, O'Neill managed to pass, without holding congressional hearings, the most draconian drug-control measures in American history and slated a whopping $4 billion to fill the national drug-war coffers. As evidenced by his earnest chat with the committee chairmen, O'Neill did not drum up the anti-drug measures for the sake of workable policy or the interest of public health -- but rather to win in a political game of one-upmanship with Reagan and the Republicans. Unfortunately for O'Neill, the Gipper-lead GOP managed to emerge from the battle looking still more hard-nosed on dope than the Dems. Politically, Tip shot snake eyes, but not before adding new teeth to the jaws of government -- sharp incisors to take a bite out of drug crime. Stoked by media hype, O'Neill took up the anti-drug banner for the purpose of garnering voter support, and drug policy became a pawn in a political game, moved and directed to suit temporary political ends -- not actually deal with drugs. Not that this is anything new. In the late 1800s, cocaine was viewed as a wonder drug. After chomping on the occasional coca leaf, Freud called it a "magical substance." He even thought of using it to wean opium addicts from their habit. Cocaine could be found lacing elixirs, cordials, even cigarettes, and was in wide use throughout American society. Parke, Davis and Co. marketed cocaine in 15 different forms -- many of which were sold solely for recreational purposes. "Cocaine: The First Epidemic," an entry in the Time-Life book, "Mysteries of the Human Body," contains many facts about dope your high-school history teachers probably failed to bring to your attention. A wine-and-cocaine beverage from France, for instance, a coca liqueur, was said to have been invented by Thomas Edison, adored by Pope Leo XIII, and apparently possessed, according to those who consumed it, the ability to fortify and refresh the body and brain and restore health and vitality. Starting with Coca-Cola, soda companies began manufacturing beverages containing cocaine. Besides Coke, Some of the original cocaine drinks were "Nerv-Ola," "Wise-Ola" and the aptly named "Dope." Cocaine, it was thought, could cure anything: headaches, asthma, indigestion, the blues. One such medicine marketed by Lloyd Manufacturing Co. was dubbed, "Cocaine Toothache Drops" and boasted an "Instantaneous Cure!" Price: 15 cents. The ad -- a copy of which I keep at my desk -- would drive present-day anti-Joe Camel types into frothy-mouthed fits of apoplexy. Featuring two young children building a toy house with miniature logs, the ad notes that the wonder medication is "for sale by all druggists." What? Without a prescription. Over-the-counter cocaine. For younkers to buy! 'Fraid so. But, ever-striving for an attention-grabbing headline, by 1886, newspapers began circulating stories harping on cocaine's addictiveness. Like the racist tinge to the mid-1980s crack fears, blacks who used the drug were soon labeled "cocaine fiends" and worry soon spread in the South that, doped out of their gourds on cocaine, "cocainized Negroes" would run rampant through the countryside, harming the innocent and possibly looting chicken coops. In 1914 -- despite no constitutional provision for such action -- Congress stepped in with the Harrison Act and brought the sale and distribution of cocaine under federal control. As it happens, the 19th century cocaine "epidemic" was just like the crack "epidemic" in that it was basically a non-problem until the politicians and media got a hold of it. Sociologist Craig Reinarman, author of "Crack in America," as cited in Szalavitz's story, pins blame for the crack scare on the press. "At a minimum," he says, "the media accelerated its spread." "There is no major corporation which could have afforded the coverage and exposure that crack got for free," says Reinarman. So, why did the press pump crack mania with the vigor it did? Simple: It sold papers and boosted ratings. One CBS News feature on crack garnered the best ratings of any news show for the previous half-decade. Further, the resultant public fear -- good old-fashioned moral panic in Reinarman's judgment -- played directly into the hands of politicians looking for issues on which to build their respective crime-fighting legacies. "When it came to crack," writes Szalavitz, "the media escalated the panic and propelled a political arms race, in which Democrats and Republicans fought to outdo each other as anti-drug crusaders." Just like most arms races, the drug war has continued with each side forever upping the ante. Nixon was tough, but O'Neill and Reagan were tougher, George Bush tougher still, and, despite that non-inhalant marijuana record, Bill Clinton's administration has tightened the thumbscrews even more. So, now, with a new administration on the horizon and the present anti-drug course being an obvious failure, the question is how tough does it have to get before we say "enough"? E-Mail: jmiller worldnetdaily.comJoel Miller is managing editor of WorldNetDaily Publishing. To View This Item Online Visit: Published: August 31, 2000Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Copyright: 2000,, Inc.Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comAddress: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Website: Articles:Witch Way on Drugs? Would Jesus Do About Dope? Toke Over The Line, Sweet Jesus? Yak, Don't Talk Smack 

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Comment #3 posted by FoM on August 31, 2000 at 23:52:38 PT

Thanks Observer

I checked the link you left and I want to look closer at it when the news slows up. I put web sites different places so I know where to find them when I get a little free time. Thank You! Peace, FoM!
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Comment #2 posted by observer on August 31, 2000 at 12:20:17 PT

Yellow Journalism Fuels Hysteria

Another first-class piece by Joel Miller! Excellent work! If all reporters were that probing and truthful, we wouldn't have to suffer through prohibition's side-effects."There is no major corporation which could have afforded the coverage and exposure that crack got for free," says Reinarman. So, why did the press pump crack mania with the vigor it did? Simple: It sold papers and boosted ratings. One CBS News feature on crack garnered the best ratings of any news show for the previous half-decade. In 1898, newspapers provided the major source of news in America. At this time, it was common practice for a newspaper to report the editor's interpretation of the news rather than objective journalism. If the information reported was inaccurate or biased, the American public had little means for verification. With this sort of influence, the newspapers wielded much political power. In order to increase circulation, the publishers of these papers often exploited their position by sponsoring a flamboyant and irresponsible approach to news reporting that became known as "yellow journalism." . . .Yellow Journalism (from a TNT Movie page, ironically) 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on August 31, 2000 at 08:59:58 PT

A Note about the NewsHawk

I forgot to put in the name of the NewsHawk so I'll post it here. Joel Miller sent the above article that he wrote to CannabisNews and I thought it was worth mentioning.Peace, FoM!
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