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LA Times One-Sided Account of Alcohol Survey
August 10, 2005
Maia Szalavitz
Article ignores experts who favor harm reduction methods - focuses on "uneducated parents"

The most dangerous kind of bias is that which doesn’t even recognize the existence of an alternate point of view. A recent example is the Los Angeles Times’ coverage of a survey by the American Medical Association, which found that one third of teens say that their parents have provided alcohol for them and that 25% of parents report that they have allowed their teens to drink.

The article quoted only experts who believe that, as the President of the AMA, Dr. Edward Hill told the paper, “parents may not understand the toll of teenage drinking,” and that such parents need to be “educated” about how dangerous teen drinking can be.

But what if these parents are actually doing the right thing? A recent study found that teens who were allowed to drink with their parents at home (but not teens whose parents threw drinking parties for them) were less likely than others to binge drink (See STATS in-depth examination of the media’s distorted coverage of teen alcohol use on our “Understanding Alcohol Abuse” web site).

And there is great debate amongst alcohol researchers about whether “harm reduction” measures like holding supervised drinking parties for teens could reduce the death toll from teen drinking, by preventing drunk driving, for example.

You’d never know this from reading the Los Angeles Times, however, which opened its story with an approving account of a North Carolina district attorney who has had parents arrested for providing booze. The paper covers the survey not as data to be analyzed but as something that “underscores the difficulty” faced by those who support such law enforcement.

Maybe they face this difficulty because, with over 80 percent of high school seniors reporting drinking at least once, the problem is not one of “uneducated” parents but of unrealistic alcohol policies and media coverage that doesn’t even acknowledge that alternatives exist?