Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Epidemic That Wasn't

FAIR writes about an article in the New York Times about the so-called crack baby epidemic which turns out not to have been either much of an epidemic or anywhere as dreadful as we all learned from the media:

A January 27 New York Times story, "The Epidemic That Wasn't," brought the news that researchers following children prenatally exposed to cocaine have found "the long-term effects of such exposure on children's brain development and behavior appear relatively small" and are "less severe than those of alcohol and are comparable to those of tobacco."

Though the Times makes it sound like breaking news, the fact is many reputable people disbelieved the whole "crack baby" phenomenon from the beginning: Even Dr. Ira Chasnoff, whose 1985 study spurred much of the early coverage, was lamenting as long ago as 1992 that medical research was being misused: "It's interesting, it sells newspapers and it perpetuates the us-vs.-them idea."

Indeed. What FAIR doesn't go into very much is the impact of the myth on women who had used crack and on poor women in general, especially African-American poor women, because crack as a form of cocaine is associated with the black community. These women were turned into monsters, based on the myth that the media perpetuated.

Something similar goes on with many of the Oh-My-God! articles about possible bad mothering:

The saddest part: Early on, researchers recognized that the social stigma attached to being identified as a "crack baby" could far outweigh any biological impact. The Times piece underscores that, with a source who says, "Society's expectations of the children and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity but by the social meaning" of the drug.

Indeed again, though I'd like to add that the society's expectations are also warped by the perfect-mother myth: Only women who do nothing wrong are viewed as acceptable mothers. Not perfect, mind you. Just barely acceptable.

I so wish journalists would remember that even epidemics that weren't have real victims.