Meth and Crack: Media Constructions and Political Consequences

Edward G. Armstrong, Murray State University

This paper compares the media constructions of meth and crack and the political consequences of these constructions. Specifically, I detail six commonalities. (1) Both meth and crack are erroneously defined as something radically different than methamphetamine and cocaine. (2) Both substances are falsely considered "instantly addicting," fatal, and a direct cause of violence. (3) A shared vocabulary is used in the portrayals of meth and crack--both are epidemics. (4) Questionable research reports are presented that show that meth and crack use promote the spread of HIV. (5) First-hand accounts demonstrate the alleged consequences of the substances for the destruction of the family and the resulting crisis in social services such as foster care. (6) The concept of "meth baby" is invented and seen as the modern equivalent of the "crack baby." Data on meth are derived from a content analysis of every article in the InfoTrac online library that uses the term "meth" in its headlines. Comparable statements on crack are culled from the extensive available sources in the scholarly literature. Media accounts of meth and crack tend to focus on the underclass substance users, ignoring individuals who use the substances who are outside this suspect class. A crucial element in the discussions of meth and crack is scapegoating, blaming the drugs or their alleged effects on their users for a wide variety of preexisting social ills. The notion that poverty and unemployment set the stage for the cultural milieu in which drug selling takes place is completely ignored. According to media reports, it's the crack that has destroyed urban neighborhoods. Likewise, meth labs are seen as responsible for "rural blight" and meth considered the number-one threat to rural America.

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Updated 05/20/2006