Alcohol Scare Tactics Work
News editors are much more interested a report that 44% of college
students are supposedly “binge drinking” than in one
finding that only about one-half of one percent of college students
binge drink. The exaggerated and misleading “scare”
report is carried in headlines across the country while the non-scare
report is greeted with yawns and ignored.
Alcohol activist groups such as the Center on Addiction and Substance
Abuse (CASA), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI),
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Center on Alcohol Marketing
and Youth (CAMY), and Henry Wechsler’s College Alcohol Study
project capitalize on the thirst for exaggerated and sensationalist
“America’s Doctor,” Dean Edell, M.D., has pointed
out that “the Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) examined the bias toward scare stories in mainstream newspapers.
In a clever sting operation, the journal published two articles
on the same subject: the link between nuclear radiation exposure
and cancer.” The scary study found a higher rate of cancer
among a small number of workers in a radiation research laboratory
in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The non-scare story found no
increase in cancer among 18,000,000 people living near nuclear facilities.
Dr. Edell explains that “JAMA issued carefully crafted press
releases, of similar length and tone, on both stories. The editors
wanted to see how newspapers around the country would handle both
stories. Their. sting worked.”
The results? “Seventeen newspapers, and major ones at that,
covered at least one of the studies. Nearly half of the stories
dealt only with the scarier report about the nuclear lab workers.
Papers as august as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and
USA Today didn’t even mention the reassuring study. The papers
that did cover both reports wrote in far greater detail about Oak
Ridge. The wire services, a primary news source for media around
the world, were just as bad.” 1
Many temperance-oriented groups and activist leaders typically
ignore positive findings about alcohol and focus on any negative
result they can find in a study, regardless of its significance.
It’s hard to get publicity and to raise money if the public
realizes that underage drinking continues to drop along with alcohol-related
- 1. Edell, Dean. Trust the Media
at Your Peril (It’s Your Health, Not theirs. Chapter one in
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