Bath Salts

The Legend of the Miami Cannibal Provides Lessons in Shoddy Drug Journalism

A new analysis of TV reports about a shocking crime rumored to be caused by "bath salts" reveals familiar patterns.

|

CBS Miami

Four years ago this month, news of a shocking crime in Miami, allegedly triggered by a dangerous new designer drug, made headlines across the country and around the world. But as I explain in my latest Forbes column, the story of the "Miami cannibal attack" tells us more about the shoddiness of drug journalism than it does about the hazards posed by "bath salts":

No one knows why Rudy Eugene, a 31-year-old car wash employee, suddenly launched himself at Ronald Poppo, a 65-year-old homeless man he encountered on Miami's McArthur Causeway, chewing off most of his victim's face in an 18-minute assault that ended only after a police officer shot him dead. But one thing is certain: "Bath salts" did not make him do it.

We know that because toxicological tests found no trace of synthetic cathinones, the stimulants known as bath salts, in Eugene's body. But the results of those tests were not announced until a month after the attack, which happened on a Saturday afternoon in May 2012. In the meantime, news outlets around the world, based on zero evidence aside from one police officer's speculation,attributed Eugene's savage violence to a drug he had not taken, using security camera footage of the "Causeway Cannibal" (a.k.a. the "Miami Zombie") to illustrate the horrors wrought by a nonexistent "epidemic."

Reviewing that bizarre episode in a recent issue of the journal Contemporary Drug Problems, two researchers at the University of Minnesota, neuroscientist Natashia Swalve and media scholar Ruth DeFoster, draw some lessons that could help journalists avoid such drug panics in the future. That's assuming journalists want to avoid drug panics. Their track record before, during and after the Great Bath Salt Freakout of 2012 suggests otherwise.

Read the whole thing.

NEXT: Brickbat: Meet Me Anywhere But Montana

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Having read those stories at the time, I don’t recall stories reporting this as speculation. It was reported as fact.

  2. Related to the media, per Drudge who has two links on the media today:

    Standing in his front office before the State of the Union, Rhodes quickly does the political math on the breaking Iran story. “Now they’ll show scary pictures of people praying to the supreme leader,” he predicts, looking at the screen. Three beats more, and his brain has spun a story line to stanch the bleeding. He turns to Price. “We’re resolving this, because we have relationships,” he says.

    Price turns to his computer and begins tapping away at the administration’s well-cultivated network of officials, talking heads, columnists and newspaper reporters, web jockeys and outside advocates who can tweet at critics and tweak their stories backed up by quotations from “senior White House officials” and “spokespeople.” I watch the message bounce from Rhodes’s brain to Price’s keyboard to the three big briefing podiums ? the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon ? and across the Twitterverse, where it springs to life in dozens of insta-stories, which over the next five hours don formal dress for mainstream outlets. It’s a tutorial in the making of a digital news microclimate ? a storm that is easy to mistake these days for a fact of nature, but whose author is sitting next to me right now.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05…..-guru.html

    How Democratic cake gets made in the modern era.

  3. $89 an hour! Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening?And i get surly a chek of $1260……0 whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids.
    Here is what i did

    ——————— http://www.nypost55.com

  4. This is pure and simple another case of the media covering up for either the government or the biotech industry OR BOTH as they continue to let experimentation get away from them in our long march toward their accidental initiation of the zombie apocalypse.

    1. Zombies = targets.The progs will shit out of luck.

  5. God damn are you a national treasure, Sullum.

  6. “face-chewing situation”

    Nice album name.

  7. No one knows why Rudy Eugene, a 31-year-old car wash employee, suddenly launched himself at Ronald Poppo, a 65-year-old homeless man he encountered on Miami’s McArthur Causeway, chewing off most of his victim’s face in an 18-minute assault that ended only after a police officer shot him dead. But one thing is certain: “Bath salts” did not make him do it.

    Everyone knows why.

    He was a zombie.

    And blaming it on bath salts is a lot easier for Joe Libertarian to take than ‘the dead walk among us’.

    They blame most zombie attacks on drugs. When the outbreaks are bigger you’ll see ‘arson’, or ‘wildfires’, or ‘shootout’. It’s like how they call the hole left after a hellmouth spits something out a ‘sinkhole’.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.