Opinion: The media's attitude to drugs

Cheryl McGrath / February 07, 2014 11:23 AM

If you blinked you might have missed it, but The Daily Telegraph made a quick story change when reporting the death of respected US actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on Monday.

The news of the actor’s sudden passing was not even a day old when this headline hit the homepage of the Sydney newspaper:


But in less than an hour, that headline was pulled to make way for this: 


The change of heart might not have happened if not for Twitter. Greg Jericho tweeted “Christ what pricks” and it turned out that was the consensus.  Many commenters on social media were convinced it was a fake.

It was definitely one of the more insensitive headlines about a death that we’ve seen in some time. Whether this was an example of The Daily Telegraph's editors seeing an error in judgment, or just trying to keep the peace, the feedback obviously worked. Outrage isn’t exactly in short supply on social media, but this was an example of it making waves in a positive way.

On the flip side, it begs the question what the reaction would be – if any – if the headline was about a regular guy on the street instead. We frequently see stories throughout national tabloids scapegoating “lowlifes” who "threw their lives away" to drugs. But when we know the person, the story is flipped on its head – it’s shaped as a long-term struggle with a disease.

Seymour Hoffman’s death was a tragedy, but The Daily Telegraph just showed how easily the story could have been framed as a story about a little known drug addict who couldn’t control himself.

It definitely makes you question the ways the media talks about drug abuse on a daily basis and how ethical that might be.

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