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Anwer the question in 2 or 2-and-a-half pages.Explain the concept of “moral panic” (Garland, 2008) and apply it to the coverage on the “drug crisis” of the 1996 Presidential Campaign (Deseran and Orcutt, 2009)I will upload two reading below
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© 2009 BY THE JOURNAL OF DRUG ISSUES
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF A DRUG CRISIS: MEDIA
COVERAGE OF DRUG ISSUES DURING THE 1996
PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
TRAVIS A. DESERAN, JAMES D. ORCUTT
The 1996 U.S. presidential campaign represents an unusual and important case
for research on the social construction of drug problems. Presidential candidate
Robert Dole and other prominent politicians made dramatic claims about a growing
teenage “drug crisis” based on supportive evidence from several national surveys.
However, these claims were often ignored and even criticized by the news media.
This paper examines how and why journalists responded so differently to this
putative crisis than they did to earlier drug crises, such as the media “feeding
frenzy” about crack cocaine in the 1980s. An analysis of news stories, political
statements, and editorial commentary that appeared in major news outlets during
1995 and 1996 reveals a number of tactics that media workers employed to
deconstruct politicians’ claims and to frame the drug issue as an election-year
strategy rather than as an authentic crisis.
INTRODUCTION
Anti-drug campaigns in the United States have been fertile terrain for theoretical
and empirical work on the social construction of public problems. Starting with
Becker’s (1963) account of Harry Anslinger’s entrepreneurial role in the passage
of the Marihuana Tax Act and Gusfield’s (1963) analysis of the symbolic politics
of the Prohibition Movement, numerous studies have shown how claims-makers
in government, in social movements, and in the mass media collaborated in the
__________
Travis A. Deseran, M.S., is a senior research manager at Healthcare Research Consulting Group
in New York City. He received his Master’s degree in sociology at Florida State University. James
D. Orcutt, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of sociology at Florida State University. His interests include
deviance theory, the social construction of alcohol and drug problems, and the epidemiology of deviant
drinking and drug use.
JOURNAL OF DRUG ISSUES 0022-0426/09/04 871-892
DESERAN, ORCUTT
construction of a series of “drug crises” over the past century (Goode & Ben-Yehuda,
1994; Musto, 1999; Reinarman, 2006).
The mid-to-late 1980s was an especially fruitful period for constructionist
research on drug problems. Even though national surveys indicated that most
forms of drug use were declining during this period, these years were marked by
unprecedented levels of public and political concern over an “epidemic” of cocaine
use among American adolescents. Subsequently, researchers and commentators
focused on how media “hype”—intense and sensationalistic claims-making activity
by journalists—created the conditions for a moral panic about teenage drug use
(Diamond, Accosta, & Thornton, 1987; Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994; Jensen, Gerber,
& Babcock, 1991; Orcutt & Turner, 1993; Reinarman & Levine, 1989a, 1989b).
Beginning in 1986, press coverage of drug issues increased dramatically with
news articles and broadcasts routinely characterizing the crack cocaine problem as
a “crisis,” “epidemic,” or “plague” (Chiricos, 1996; Reinarman & Levine, 1989a;
Shoemaker, 1989). Politicians capitalized on heightened concerns about drug
issues, and the “War on Drugs” became a dominant theme in election campaigns
and in federal legislation through the rest of the decade. In general, constructionist
analyses of this period have reinforced a view of drug crises as collaborative
claims-making activity in which political leaders and, “media organizations [work]
in unison to promote fears of drug abuse” (Glassner, 1999, p. 131; also see Best,
1999; Reinarman, 2006).
However, in this paper we examine a subsequent episode of claims-making
activity that contrasts in important ways with the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and
leads to quite a different view of political and media work on drug crises. Over the
course of the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign, a number of prominent politicians—
most notably, Republican nominee Robert Dole—engaged in a well-financed and
widely-publicized effort to define teenage drug use as a serious national crisis.
Furthermore, significant increases in survey estimates of drug use during the early
1990s provided a rich empirical resource for claims about a growing teenage drug
problem. Yet, as we will show in our analysis of national news stories about drug
issues during the mid-1990s, the intense “hype” and sensationalism of a decade
earlier was virtually absent from media coverage of this putative crisis. Instead,
the news media employed a variety of critical techniques to deconstruct politicians’
claims and to frame the drug issue as a political strategy rather than as an authentic
crisis. In positioning themselves outside of the claims-making arena as analysts
rather than as collaborators, many journalists adopted, in effect, a constructionist
stance toward politicians’ claims and counter-claims about the drug problem.
Thus, the ill-fated anti-drug campaign of 1996 serves as a useful negative case
to gain theoretical insight into organizational, political, and historical conditions
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DECONSTRUCTION OF A DRUG CRISIS
that promote or discourage the development of drug crises. Similar to Best’s (1999)
examination of “short-lived” social problems, such as “wilding” and freeway
violence, we attempt to determine why neither empirical evidence of increasing
drug use nor sponsorship by powerful political interests was sufficient to generate
more than short-lived media coverage of the alleged crisis. By identifying factors
that set this episode apart from previous instances of intense and sustained media
work on drug epidemics, we hope to arrive at a fuller understanding of variations
and contingencies in processes of claims-making about illegal drug use and other
public problems.
METHODS
We analyze claims about teenage drug use made by politicians, government
officials, journalists, and drug researchers that appeared in four major newspapers,
two weekly news magazines, and one television news program from September 1995
to October 1996. For newspaper evidence, we systematically searched the Nexis©
database to find articles on teenage drug use from the New York Times, the Washington
Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.1 In addition, we examined articles on
teenage drug use from two weekly news magazines, Newsweek and U.S. News &
World Report, and transcripts from the Public Broadcasting System’s NewsHour,
which devoted two broadcasts to the issue of teenage drug use. Political claims were
taken from speeches by Senator Dole, President Clinton, and other politicians that
were cited in news articles and often available on the Internet. Both Dole and Clinton
ran campaign ads mentioning drug use that were transcribed in the New York Times
and the Washington Post. Finally, we examined the results and press reports of two
national surveys: the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse conducted by the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Monitoring the Future
survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research
(ISR) under grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Media coverage of teenage drug use peaked during three months immediately
preceding the 1996 presidential election, but the basic themes in claims-making
activity and media framing of the drug issue were established in 1995. Two
nationwide surveys released in late 1995 showed significant increases in estimates
of teenage drug use beginning in 1992, the year Bill Clinton won the United States
presidential election. We begin by showing how politicians’ and media workers’
responses to these survey results served as a foundation for their respective stances
toward the election-year drug crisis. Then, we focus on the intensification of claimsmaking activity in August 1996, when results were released from the 1995 National
Household Survey on Drug Abuse. We show how politicians used these results
to bolster claims about a growing and serious teenage drug problem in campaign
speeches, television advertising, and talk show appearances. Finally, we examine
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the techniques that media workers used to deconstruct these crisis-claims and to
frame the drug issue as a calculated political strategy.
SEPTEMBER 1995: THE BEGINNING OF THE DEBATE
One of the first indications of increased teenage drug use was provided by the
1994 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, conducted by the Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS). Released in September 1995, the survey
showed that estimates of monthly rates of teenage drug use had increased from
6.1% in 1992 to 9.5% in 1994.2 Much of this increase was attributable to marijuana
use, which increased from an estimate of 4.0% in 1992 to 7.3% in 1994 (Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 1995). In the press
conference, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala summarized these results and offered
some interpretations of the increases. She noted that, “while most types of illicit drug
use have not increased—and casual cocaine use continues to decline—marijuana use
among 12 to 17 year olds has nearly doubled since 1992” (Shalala, 1995a, emphasis
in original). She suggested a causal sequence of events, referring to statistics showing
a relationship between attitudes toward drug use and the prevalence of drug use:
“When teenagers’ perception of the harm caused by marijuana goes down, marijuana
use goes up. It’s that simple.” Discussing some of the implications of the findings,
she stated the need for a “steady drumbeat” of anti-drug messages to youths.
While the press conference focused on the dangers of teenage drug use, both
Shalala and Lee Brown, the White House drug policy advisor, made several direct
references to the political climate surrounding the survey findings. Shalala (1995a)
took an overtly partisan stance in her speech and attacked a proposed budget passed
by the Republican-majority House of Representatives that would affect the funding
of HHS:
The 1994 Household Survey confirms the wisdom of the Clinton
Administration’s comprehensive anti-drug strategy. It also confirms
the folly…of the House Republicans’ budget proposal to slash drug
prevention and treatment funds and leave our children to fend for
themselves in the midst of a resurgence of marijuana.
After Shalala’s speech, Brown (1995) also criticized the Republican Congress:
“Drug use is up, yet Congress is cutting the funds for the prevention activities for
kids that we know work.”
Republican politicians were quick to respond by asserting that the results were
evidence of ineffective leadership by President Clinton. Senator Dole, who had not
yet been nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, was one of the first
politicians to attribute responsibility for the rise in teenage drug use to the Clinton
administration. On the same day as the press conference, Dole denounced Clinton’s
drug policies from the Senate floor: “While drug use has gone up during the last two
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DECONSTRUCTION OF A DRUG CRISIS
and a half years, the Clinton administration has sat on the sidelines, transforming the
war on drugs into a full-scale retreat” (Washington Post, 1995). While politicians
and government officials were issuing grave warnings about neglect of a growing
drug problem, the media devoted little coverage to the results of the Household
survey. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran brief articles mentioning
the findings and highlighting the increase in marijuana use among teenagers.3 Both
articles focused on statistics from the survey rather than on the emerging debate
between the Clinton administration and the Republican opposition.
On December 15, 1995 the results of another major drug survey were released,
providing further evidence of increases in teenage drug use. The Monitoring the
Future survey of high-school students, conducted by researchers at the University
of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research (ISR), showed an increase in teenage
drug use starting in 1992. According to the survey results, the percentage of high
school seniors who reported past-month use of any illicit drug rose from 14.4%
in 1992 to 23.8% in 1995. At the press conference, Shalala again portrayed the
increases in a dramatic fashion: “We have sounded alarm bells about rising levels
of substance abuse by American teenagers. Today, I want to ring that alarm bell
faster and louder and send a message to every parent in this country: your children
are at risk” (Shalala, 1995b). Again, she defended the administration and attacked
the Republican budget initiatives:
Our bold approach [to dealing with drug use] is the right way—the
common sense way—to help families and save futures… This is not
the time to pull back—as the Republican budget is doing—when
the monsters of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are reaching out their
long arms to snatch away our young people, their health, and their
lives (1995b).
Unlike the Household survey, the ISR survey received a large amount of media
coverage the day after the press conference. However, the coverage focused on
the political environment in which the survey was released instead of the social
ramifications of teenage substance abuse. Both the New York Times and the
Washington Post featured lengthy articles detailing the findings and the political
debate surrounding teenage drug use. According to the December 16 front page
article in the Washington Post, the survey, “stoked an already heated partisan debate
over the Clinton administration’s anti-drug efforts” (Thomas, 1995). This debate
was also noted by the New York Times: “The Clinton administration and Republican
Congressional leaders blamed each other for making the problem of drug use among
young people worse” (New York Times, 1995). The article quoted Bob Dole, who
was still campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination: “[F]rom day
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one, this [Clinton] administration has regrettably failed to make the war on drugs
the top priority it should be.”
On December 19, only four days after the 1995 ISR press release, Republican
Senator Orrin Hatch released a lengthy report for Congress entitled “Losing Ground
Against Drugs: A Report on Increasing Illicit Drug Use and National Drug Policy.”
Highly critical of the drug policies of the Clinton administration, he argued for a
renewed focus on the problem of teenage drug use: “Drug use has in fact experienced
a dramatic resurgence among our youth, a disturbing trend that could quickly return
the United States to the epidemic of drug use that characterized the decade of the
1970s” (Hatch, 1995, pp. 1-2). In the report, Hatch referred to a survey from the
December 1995 Gallup Poll Monthly (Saad, 1995), in which the respondents ranked
drug abuse second, below violent crime, as “the most serious domestic issue facing
the country today.”
Whereas politicians used drug use and public opinion data to make broad claims
about the seriousness of the drug problem and to assert their leadership on the issue,
journalists began to adopt a more analytical approach to these survey data. In a
February 20, 1996 New York Times article, “Marijuana Use by Youth Continues to
Rise,” Christopher Wren (1996a) closely examined data from both the Household
and ISR surveys. His article discussed the increases in teenage drug use as well
as changes in attitudes, and included two graphs that illustrated these trends. One
of these graphs was an unusually sophisticated presentation of 16 years of data on
marijuana use and disapproval of drug use from the Monitoring the Future Study.
In addition to highlighting key historical events (e.g., “June 1986: Basketball star
Len Bias died from an overdose of cocaine”), the graph also revealed that the annual
prevalence of marijuana use among high school seniors began to increase during
George Bush’s presidency in 1992, a year before Clinton took office. The analytical
approach of this article—and its use of graphics that placed time-series data in
historical context—differed markedly from the dramatic and often distorted use of
drug statistics by media workers during the mid-1980s (see Orcutt & Turner, 1993).
Later in 1996, as political claims-making intensified, this analytical approach to data
on teenage drug use became even more apparent in media coverage of the drug issue.
A CRISIS IN THE MAKING? THE 1995 NATIONAL HOUSEHOLD SURVEY ON DRUG ABUSE
Although it was mentioned occasionally in campaign speeches and news articles
throughout the summer, teenage drug use remained a dormant issue until the release
of the 1995 Household survey on August 20, 1996. The 1995 Household survey
showed that estimates of past month illicit drug use by youth aged 12-17 increased
from 8.2% in 1994 to 10.9% in 1995 (SAMHSA, 1996a). Again, marijuana use
accounted for much of this increase, rising from 6.0% in 1994 to 8.2% in 1995.
Past month cocaine use by teenagers rose from 0.3% to 0.8%, an increase of 166%.
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DECONSTRUCTION OF A DRUG CRISIS
While the increases from 1994 to 1995 were only moderate, they extended an upward
trend in drug use statistics since 1992. After declining steadily between 1979 and
1991, estimates of overall drug use among teenagers increased 105% from 1992 to
1995, with marijuana use increasing by 141%.
In this press conference, HHS Secretary Shalala highlighted the importance of the
community rather than the government in reducing drug use: “None of us can afford
to forget that youth substance abuse is an American problem—not a government
problem—and it’s going to take the leadership of citizens and communities all
across the country, from every region and every walk of life, and especially from
parents, to save our children” (SAMHSA, 1996b). She claimed that drug use should
be seen as a threat to children rather than as a campaign issue, and offered three
interpretations of the findings that dissociated teenage drug use from its immediate
political context: (1) the increases began in 1992, whereas Clinton was inaugurated
in 1993: “What we’re seeing is something very serious, a multi-year trend that
began before [the Clinton administration] came to office”; (2) the level of drug use
among teenagers was still relatively low, “far below the peak years of the late 1970s
and early 1980s”; and (3) debate over teenage drug use should not be mediated
by political partisanship: “The kids do not know whether they are Republicans or
Democrats yet…. This is a bipartisan issue” (Public Broadcasting System [PBS],
1996a). In another press conference later that day, White House press secretary
Mike McCurry re-emphasized Shalala’s final point: “The one thing we can’t do is
to turn drug use among young people into a political football because that is the
wrong message for kids” (Nichols, 1996).
On August 21, 1996, the results of the 1995 Household survey made front page
headlines in almost every major newspaper. However, in each of the initial articles,
reportage of the increases in teenage drug use was counterbalanced with observations
about their impact on the presidential campaign. For example, the Washington Post
headline read, “Teens’ Use of Drugs Still Rising: GOP Seizes on Survey Showing a
Doubling to 10.9 % Since 1992” (Suro, 1996a). The New York Times, after noting
that, “marijuana smoking among teenagers had jumped 141 % from 1992 to 1995
and overall teenage drug use more than doubled,” stated that, “[t]he figures were
immediately pounced upon as campaign ammunition by Republicans” (Goldberg,
1996).
The media’s dual focus on social and p …
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