The Gazette’s Embarrassing Coverage of the Meth Project Story

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Wow. I’ve seen some heavy-handed coverage from the Gazette before, but today’s “news” response to the academic study by David Erceg-Hurn stands out as a remarkable example of journalistic advocacy. I’m not even sure the lede was alive long enough to be buried.

The news in the story is the report that suggests that the Montana Meth Project not only has had limited impact, but has buried its own research that demonstrates weaknesses of the program. In her story today, Jennifer McKee devoted one paragraph to describing the study, two sentences to its findings, and the remaining 18 paragraphs to the same old anecdotal claims about the amazing, breathtaking, unprecedented success of the Meth Project.

Interesting to see what stories deserve “journalistic balance” and which ones don’t, isn’t it?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

2 Comments

  • I am obviously biased, being the author of the study in question, but the Billings Gazette story is pretty breathtaking in regards to its ignorance. If McKee had actually read my paper, she would not be making statements such as…

    "From 2003 until 2005, teen meth use dropped 11 percent. After the project began running ads, meth use dropped by an additional 45 percent in three years. Those statistics came from the project's own research."

    … because the Meth Project's own research shows that meth use has INCREASED over this period – as is clearly pointed out in my paper.

    The "45%" drop she reports is from another study – the Youth Risk Behaviour Survey – and is a misleading figure.

    According to this study, meth use dropped from 8.3% to 4.6% between 2005 and 2007. That's a RELATIVE decrease of 45%, but an absolute decrease of only 3.7%.

    In comparison, there was an absolute decrease in meth use of 3.3% between 2001 and 2003, before the launch of the campaign.

    This suggests that factors other than the ads are causing drops in meth use.

    The "amazing drops in meth use" Peg Shea and McKee talk about in the article aren't backed by their own data – which was the point of my study – to show that many of the claims the Meth Project have been making are misleading, and in some cases are directly contradicted by their own data.

  • Thanks for dropping by, David. It's unfortunate that the media response was so predictable. I think everyone was just so concerned about meth that they have been willing to abandon critical thinking about the subject.

    Of course, a fair amount of that hysteria was generated by the ads themselves.

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