Once more, how not to report a wine and health story

wine and health

No, NPR, most Americans haven’t been passed out on the the sofa during the pandemic, despite what your story says.

This time, it’s NPR that doesn’t do the reporting and accepts the neo-Prohibitionist arguments that drinking will kill us sooner rather than later

Dear NPR:

Yes, I understand about budget cuts and the changing landscape for traditional media. But that’s still not an excuse for the sloppy reporting in this story, which ran on Friday. It recounted the arguments – most not necessarily true – that the neo-Prohibitionists use in their attempt to once again outlaw alcohol in the U.S.

Hence, I will reiterate my offer to serve as a sounding board the next time something like this comes up. Because, frankly, you missed a lot:

• What’s the bias of the people you’re interviewing? In this case, the story quoted several federal health officials warning us that we’ll kill ourselves if we keep drinking the way we have been during the pandemic. This is where you should have noted these are the same people who said drinking a bottle of wine is the same as smoking 10 cigarettes and that wine with dinner constitutes binge drinking.

• You also took at face value the claim that we’re drinking staggering sums of booze during the pandemic. Which isn’t true. Yes, the story in the link is a bit jargony, but the point is that overall wine sales are down because of restaurant closures. So, in fact, we’re drinking less wine during the pandemic (also borne out here).

• The story said more people die from alcohol-related diseases each year than from drug overdoses, which is damned scary – save for one thing. Drinking is legal and booze is easy to get. Drugs, if you need enough to overdose, usually aren’t legal or easy to get. It’s a lot more convenient to kill yourself with alcohol, since you don’t have to meet a guy in a parking lot to buy heroin or coke, or to forge an Oxycontin prescription and hope the pharmacist doesn’t notice.

• The story ignores the astonishing statistic that one-third of us don’t drink, which is among the highest abstention rates in the industrialized world. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. So, next time, you need to ask: How can we be drinking ourselves to death if so many of us don’t drink?

• The story overlooks the tremendous progress that has been made with legitimate drinking problems, like underage and binge drinking, alcoholism, and drunk driving. For example, alcohol-related crashes have declined by almost one-half since 1985. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, either.

Finally, a few words about one of my favorite neo-Prohibitionist flummoxes, something called “alcohol use disorder,” and which figures prominently in the story. Health officials claim that 15 million of us suffer from this, but the definition is so broad that it includes me, the Big Guy, and almost anyone who takes wine seriously. After all, don’t we spend a “great deal of time… in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking”?

None of this is written to denigrate the serious problems caused by alcohol abuse. It’s something that I’ve been writing about for decades. Rather, it’s to give you the background you need the next time you have to write a story about how we’re drinking ourselves to death.

Yours in quality journalism,

The Wine Curmudgeon


3 thoughts on “Once more, how not to report a wine and health story

  • By Terry Koch - Reply

    I haven’t seen statistics to back up my notion, but I’m inclined to believe that neo-prohibitionism is less a threat to wine enjoyment than that recent cultural fad that identifies wine-drinking with well-to-do white suburban women. As a consequence of this odd meme, the rest of us, and especially insecure guys, may be shying away from (at least public) wine consumption. The only cure? Wine Curmudgeon to the rescue, educating the rest of us that testosterone and wine have been a mix from the distant mists of history, and that not all wines are for the private-jet set. Thank you!

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      The WC will gladly shoulder another burden to save wine from itself, Terry. I have to admit, though, that I’m not sure we need to get in the middle of another “real men and quiche” discussion. Suffice it to say that the World War I French soldier, the poilu, needed cheap red wine, pinard, to survive the horrors of the trenches. I never want to have to be that manly.

  • By Michaela Rodeno - Reply

    Thanks, WC. I’m disappointed to learn that my beloved NPR has now fallen into this trap (they’re not alone).The lazy reporting on a complex social issue is what gave rise to Women for WineSense in early 1990, the most recent time the anti-alcohol campaigners went on the attack. We helped fight that off by sharing wine and health research data to media and policy makers – who were happy to hear from the moderate middle. Here we go again…

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