The Deconstruction of a Drug Crisis: Media Coverage of Drug Issues during the 1996 Presidential Campaign

By Deseran, Travis A.; Orcutt, James D. | Journal of Drug Issues, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

The Deconstruction of a Drug Crisis: Media Coverage of Drug Issues during the 1996 Presidential Campaign


Deseran, Travis A., Orcutt, James D., Journal of Drug Issues


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 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 1 980s and leads to quite a different view of political and media work on drug crises. Over the course of the 1 996 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 chug 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.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Deconstruction of a Drug Crisis: Media Coverage of Drug Issues during the 1996 Presidential Campaign
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.