New York Times Showcases Fashionable Cocaine Use

Cocaine got the star treatment in the June 10 New York Times.  In a lengthy article by reporter Melena Ryzik, the drug is celebrated as “something that's offered like coffee” in meetings of people in the “night life, entertainment, media and finance industries.”

It is “more socially acceptable than smoking” according to a former night-life reporter quoted in the story.

It is “flashy fun,” and “the perfect drug for our times,” according to different sources quoted in the story.  It is also prevalent across genres of pop culture, from movies, to Broadway, television, music – in fact there is a subgenre in hip-hop music called “cocaine rap” – according to the write-up.

In fact there is more laudatory “reporting” on cocaine in this profile piece than there is cautionary counter-balance.  Ryzik reports that cocaine is prevalent, especially in New York, but her sources tell her it's everywhere.  It isn't until the last five paragraphs of the story that she spends any ink detailing the dangers of the drug.

One medical expert quoted in the story attributes the prevalence of cocaine use in young adults to “generational amnesia,” saying that it has been too long since a celebrity died of an overdose to warn people of the drug's dangers. 

Ryzik mentions having interviewed people over the past five months about the prominence of cocaine use.  But she doesn't mention how wide a net she cast for those interviews.  If her pool of reference was merely people in the media, finance and entertainment industries in New York, that challenges the presumption of “prevalence” on a national basis.

Still, the rising incidents of normalized cocaine use in storylines in entertainment media are worth noting. One of the ways aberrant behavior becomes accepted is by casual portrayal in entertainment.

Drug use has been part of the fabric of American culture for centuries.  Responsible reporting on drugs by The New York Times won't change that.  But an article that spends more ink quoting sources singing its praises than it does warning of the dangers doesn't do anyone any good.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.