Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"i smoked crack & wrote an article about it" - article

this is an article back from 1989 that was referenced in a recent slate article (about addiction to...number puzzles!), but i've thought so much about journalism and its repercussions today it seemed like a good post/article to share (i've been reading slate's old deep throat theory articles, that's why). it's fascinating when there's such cultural and media backlash--or maybe just sheer *reaction*--following a story - at what point are journalists making the news as opposed to just reporting it?

Cross fire in the drug war: aftermath of a crack article.

BY: Morley, Jefferson

I smoked crack and wrote an article abut it for The New Republic. As I had hoped, "What Crack Is Like" instigated many debates within the Washington political class and attracted more than a little interest outside that cloistered group. The article made three points, all of which will strike some people as self-evident: Crack is a pleasurable drug with unpleasant side effects; crack can "make sick sense to demoralized people" and the spread of crack capitalism is related to the phenomenon of Reaganism. That same week I published a historical-economic analysis of the drug problem in The Nation ("Contradictions of Cocaine Capitalism," October 2), which initially drew little media attention, no doubt because it was a more substantive article. In fact, the reactions to the New Republic piece were more interesting than the piece itself. The peculiarities of our so-called drug war and the desire for a new debate about the problem have never been more evident.

By noon of the day The New Republic rolled off the presses William Bennett had described my piece as "garbage" and called me "a defector in the drug war." In this compliment I resented only Bennett's implication that I was a soldier, not a citizen, and somehow bound to salute his efforts. Over the weekend, the usual suspects from the Sunday morning talk shows -- Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Al Hunt -- reiterated Bennett's criticisms, often word for word: "garbage," "irresponsible" and so on.

What especially galled the pundits was my remark that "if all you have in life is bad choices, crack may not be the most unpleasant of them." No one said this statement was untrue, as Michael Kinsley, editor of The New Republic, pointed out in my defense -- only that it was "unhelpful." Indeed, R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of The American Spectator, expressed a journalistic philosophy no longer current, even at Pravda. Tyrrell said my article was "contemptible" because I did not express support for benevolent state efforts to wipe out market activity.

Stephen Rosenfeld, a foreign policy columnist for The Washington Post, at least tried to debate the issue, devoting a confused column to my article. The ink not spent on abusing my person was spent quoting a Washington public health official about the crack experience. Rosenfeld was so excited that he never noticed the official's description of the crack experience in no way contradicted my own. The damaging effects of addiction to drug war rhetoric were evident. Rosenfeld asserted that crack "withers the mothering instinct" among the female users. Exactly how the drug does this, biologically and chemically, he was unable to explain.

The following Monday morning, I went on C-Span, the public affairs cable channel, and exchanged pleasantries with Brian Lamb, a conservative gentleman and a soothing interlocutor. Wasn't I condoning the use of crack? Lamb inquired. If anything I was discouraging it, I said. The curious could learn about the drug from my article. If they took it seriously, they would learn that in one man's very limited experience, crack's pleasure quickly gave way to its side effects, combining "the worst of marijuana and cocaine" and inducing both stupefaction and paranoia. "Let's go to the phones," Lamb said, eyes twinkling. He was enjoying the prospect of my imminent pasting by the vox populi.

Thirteen of the next fifteen callers approved of my article, several of them using the same phrase, "I'm with you 100 percent." What came through most consistently in the comments was a sense of relief at hearing someone in the media say something--anything--outside the rhetorical consensus of just-say-no and zero-tolerance.

I went on radio talk shows in Washington, Milwaukee, Detroit and Boston. "What's crack like?" my interviewers inevitably wanted to know. Or did they? Crack has been around for six years and smoked by millions of Americans. I asked several of these media representatives if they had ever posed the question to the many available crack users in their home towns. Most had not. They were such loyal soldiers in the drug war that they had forgotten to do their jobs. Others said that they regarded local crack smokers as less reliable and less interesting than me. "You're a real person," one TV reporters said in a revealing slip. "I mean, you're a real, articulate person."

The inevitable second question was, "They say you smoke crack once and you're addicted. Are you addicted?" The answer was no. I often replied by asking why they believed that one-time crack use leads to addiction. "That's what everybody says," answered Mark Belling, a talk show host in Milwaukee. Had he ever conducted a survey of crack users in his city to answer the question for himself? Neither he nor any other journalist critical of my article had ever attempted such reporting. (In fact, Harper's magazine reported in November that six out of ten crack users eventually become addicted, compared with nine out of ten cigarette users.)


blogger's note: i could have sworn i got this from a public source. but...perhaps i didn't. sorry. the remaining part of the post has been removed.


dvf said...

i actually read through this.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....do you own the rights to repost this? I think the New Republic does, but you don't.