This study examined the coverage of methamphetamine from 1997 to 2005 by three newspapers serving small Midwestern cities and contrasted their portrayals of methamphetamine problems with available data on the severity of the meth problem in each locality. Results of quantitative and qualitative content analyses show that—to varying degrees, across sites and over time—newspaper coverage of meth was disproportionate to the scale of the meth problem as indicated by site-specific treatment admissions data. To some extent, each of the three newspapers used drug-scare rhetoric (e.g., medical metaphors such as “plague”) to describe the prevalence and effects of meth. Results indicate that two of the three newspapers’ portrayals of meth were conducive to promoting a moral panic over the drug. Potential explanations for variations in coverage are discussed, and findings are considered in light of research on prior drug scares.
- Drug scare
- Moral panic