Drug Policy

Critical Defect

The New York Times just says no


"The basic ethic of news reporting," explains a booklet produced by the New York Times Newspaper in Education Program, is to "convey reliable information from trustworthy sources, present the information objectively, and acknowledge both sides of an issue." The booklet then proceeds to violate every one of those principles.

In Focus on Marijuana, a new lesson guide for middle and high school teachers, the Gray Lady lends her venerable name to "anti-drug education" that praises evenhandedness while ignoring contrary viewpoints and teaches "critical thinking skills" by passing along propaganda. The 85-page booklet, produced in cooperation with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, exemplifies the current vogue in "substance prevention," which eschews "didactic approaches or scare tactics" in favor of "interactive teaching techniques." The lesson plans are full of questions, but there is still only one right answer.

Students may have some questions of their own. According to Lesson 1, for example, it's a "myth" that "marijuana is not addictive." Yet a New York Times article in Lesson 4 refers to "the debate over whether marijuana is…habit-forming." Lesson 1, which suggests that it's reckless to try marijuana because some people use it to excess, notes in passing that the same could be said of alcohol. Lesson 5, ostensibly about the dangers of smoking marijuana, focuses mainly on tobacco. Similarly, Lesson 7 is supposed to be about "drugged driving," but almost all the data it presents deal with alcohol.

Along with the contradictions and non sequiturs, there are plenty of questionable claims. An article by a physician asserts that "marijuana today is anywhere from 10 to 20 times as potent as what was passed around at Woodstock." The lesson guide says it's a "myth" that "marijuana makes you feel relaxed and laid back," suggesting that pot smokers are just as likely to be become "enraged" and aggressive.

Focus on Marijuana urges teachers to "impress upon students the importance of evaluating information for themselves and finding trustworthy sources of information." The lessons may well accomplish that goal, but probably not in the way The New York Times intended.