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How media coverage of the opioid crisis has changed over time – Varsity




The last decade has seen a steady increase in Canadian media coverage on opioid use. The mounting number of opioid-related deaths — over 9,000 since 2016 alone — has led to the characterization of the issue as a crisis or epidemic.

A 2019 University of Toronto-affiliated study analyzed trends in news reporting related to opioids in Canada from 2000–2017 to understand how the portrayal of the issue has changed in the media over time.

Co-authors Dr. Fiona Webster, a medical sociologist and an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University; and Dr. Abhimanyu Sud, a physician and an assistant Professor in U of T’s Faculty of Family and Community Medicine, discussed the findings of their research with The Varsity.

“The point is not to demonize or vilify the media, or any particular journal per se, but to look at how the media both creates and reflects back to us what our own social values are, [and] what our own beliefs are,” Webster said.

An evolving narrative

In their analysis of 826 Canadian news articles, the emergence of prominent themes around opioids varied greatly from 2000–2017.

The authors noted a clear departure from discussions dominated by clinical pain care and the promise of opioid treatments in the early 2000s to growing concerns over the highly-addictive nature of the substance and critiques of the pharmaceutical industry at the turn of the decade. Concern over physician prescribing practices and deceit by the pharmaceutical industry were then replaced by an emphasis on the illicit drug market and its adulteration with fentanyl in the latter half of the 2010s.

“We found in our study that pharma’s role in all of this for the most part disappeared from view as the crisis continued,” said Webster. “And we thought that was very interesting, and it is important to tell that story.”

Critical content analysis

To identify the underlying societal values and beliefs that have influenced the definition of the opioid crisis in public discourse, the authors used an approach called ‘critical content analysis.’

This method involves “looking at [opioid coverage] with a view not just to describe what we found, but to think about who benefits from these types of stories, [and] who’s being excluded or marginalized,” explained Webster.

The analysis was in part informed by critical theory and what has been termed the ‘new capitalism,’ especially due to its implications across social life. In the case of opioids, individuals with chronic pain or experience with opioids are often among the most vulnerable members of society, and the consequences of advanced capitalist practices materialize through what Webster describes as “ongoing attacks on social welfare systems.”

“We could see that people were being positioned as criminals… [which feeds] into people’s ideas that we should be reducing social benefits for people, that these types of people are somehow unworthy of our attention and our support as a society.”

This belief is closely tied to that of personal responsibility in health, which has led to the moralization of health issues, such as substance use and dependence. Indeed, a 2017 research study showed that patients with substance use disorder face higher stigma for their condition in society than those with other psychiatric disorders.

“That… neoliberal positioning is related to this idea that people are individually responsible for things like their own health, and that view completely ignores the structural and social inequities that produce health disparities,” said Webster.

Beliefs such as these are especially harmful because they not only reinforce stigma against already-marginalized groups, but also preclude conversations about systemic change.

Defining the scope of the problem

The authors noted frequent use of sensational language to characterize opioid use by Canadian news outlets when tackling the opioid problem.

And yet, defining the scope of the issue itself, along with its origin in particular, was often nebulous. “Is the crisis the drugs? Is the crisis how the drugs are used? [We] need to be specific about the locus of the crisis if we want to actually address it,” said Sud.

The authors also identified repeated efforts to assign blame to particular groups or individuals, such as the government or physicians, as a prominent theme. References to criminality — illegal drug use, drug trafficking, and drug-seeking behaviour — were also found to be a recurrent topic in articles attempting to define the nature of the problem.

Furthermore, their findings showed a tendency for high-risk opioid use to be described as a self-contained phenomenon. This is opposed to academic research, which shows it existing in conjunction with other substance use problems and mental health conditions, as well as socio-structural determinants of health.

When asked about her thoughts on the relative lack of coverage on these underlying factors, Webster cautioned against taking too simplistic of a view, but theorized that “It reflects the values of our society and the fact that we would rather think that these problems are caused by drug cartels and street users.”

Indeed, the opioid crisis does not exist in a vacuum; there are many institutional and systemic forces at play. Webster noted that deep-rooted issues such as racism, classism, and gender bias are all implicated in the rise in overdose-related deaths. However, this nuance is rarely captured in news articles.

A telling example is the relative absence of reporting on the impact of opioids on Indigenous communities in Canada, despite there being extensive evidence of Indigenous people being disproportionately affected. This effect is attributable to a historical social context of intergenerational trauma, colonialism, and racism that has been inflicted onto Indigenous people.

The social construction of the “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” opioid user narrative

The authors sought to draw attention to the ways in which the opioid crisis was being socially constructed, and in particular, the ways in which media reporting distorted reality.

A pervasive narrative theme identified in their analysis was the idea of the legitimate versus illegitimate user. Legitimate users were those who became dependent after being prescribed opioids by a physician.

“They don’t misuse [opioids] or divert them or crush them or sell them, but they use it to treat their pain,” Sud noted of the typical media portrayal. “Most explicitly, they’re no junkie.” They were described as ‘the common person’ — otherwise upstanding citizens who had fallen victim to misfortune. Importantly, legitimate users were those perceived as being worthy of care.

“We call this a critical analysis… because we look at what’s there, but you also look for what’s not there, or… what’s not explicitly constructed versus what’s explicitly constructed,” Sud explained.

“So in constructing this legitimate patient, you construct also the illegitimate patient, the person who’s a junkie, who uses street drugs, who’s not working, who’s not employed, and [who’s] not contributing to larger society,” he continued. “This was one of the most… telling sort of construction, because we see this is in the discourse around solutions and interventions around the opioid crisis, and it creates a lot of problems because it pits people against each other.”

The ‘junkie’ stereotype is neither new nor accurate, and as Webster noted, these individuals are often characterized in “very one-dimensional ways,” which is not only stigmatizing but damaging for families who have lost a loved one to overdose.

And while these categorizations themselves are problematic, Sud explained that they can create even more problems when used as the basis for policy.

This work comes at a critical time, as an unprecedented overdose crisis unfolds in Canada and across North America, and media reporting plays an increasingly influential role in shaping the public’s perception of the issue.

Both Sud and Webster reflected on the need for people to “be careful consumers of media of all forms,” and to think critically about the types of stories being told rather than just accepting them at face value.

Disclosure: Indhu Rammohan is the President of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy U of T Chapter.

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Sanders campaign prods media outlets: 'What are they missing about Bernie's appeal?' – CNN



Bernie Sanders’ big win in Nevada over the weekend highlighted the hostility between his campaign and MSNBC, the network with a progressive brand but an establishment bent.
The campaign continued to criticize the network over the weekend — in response to highly controversial remarks by Chris Matthews and others. One MSNBC regular, Anand Giridharadas, called out Matthews on the air and said “something is happening in America right now that actually does not fit our mental models. It certainly doesn’t fit the mental models of a lot of people on TV.”
So I’m wondering: Is this the big media story of the 2020 race?
In 2016, all roads led to Trump, who frequently sparred with Fox News despite all of the natural overlaps between the Fox audience and the Trump base. Something similar, though not the same, is happening now with Sanders and MSNBC. Page Six reported Friday night that Sanders loudly criticized NBC and MSNBC officials before last week’s Dem debate. According to the story, Sanders approached MSNBC president Phil Griffin and said “Phil, your network has not been playing a fair role in this campaign. I am upset. Is anything going to change?”

What Matthews said

When Sanders took an early lead in Saturday’s NV caucuses, Matthews likened it “to the shock of France falling to Germany during WWII,” as The Daily Beast wrote here. This analogy placed Sanders in the shoes of Nazi soldiers. Sanders comms director Mike Casca tweeted this in response: “Never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a Jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the Nazis to the Third Reich.”

What Giridharadas said

Sanders’ wins are a “wake-up moment for the American power establishment,” he said on “AM Joy” Sunday morning. “For Michael Bloomberg, to those of us in the media, to Democratic Party, to donors, to CEOs. Many in this establishment are behaving, in my view, as they face the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination, like out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy.” Instead, he said, they should be asking “Why is this happening? What is going on in the lives of my fellow citizens that they may be voting for something I find so hard to understand?”
Giridharadas, a paid contributor to NBC and MSNBC, then asked, “Why is Chris Matthews on this air talking about the victory of Bernie Sanders, who had kin murdered in the Holocaust, analogizing it to the Nazi conquest of France? The people who are stuck in an old way of thinking, in 20th century frameworks, in gulag thinking, are missing what is going on.” MSNBC declined to comment…
→ Marie Harf said on Fox that Matthews should “personally apologize to Bernie Sanders…”

The view from Sanders HQ

“I think one of the big questions is how and whether news outlets reassess whether they got it right on Bernie,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir told me Sunday. “And if not, how does that change coverage going forward? What are they missing about Bernie’s appeal?”
Shakir has called out MSNBC by name and challenged print outlets that, in his view, have been exceedingly negative. The more delegates Sanders gains, the more of a megaphone Shakir has regarding this subject…


— CNN’s political pros have 6 takeaways from the caucuses here… (CNN)
— CNN’s David Chalian explaining the delegate math that favors Sanders: “It’s getting late early…” (Mediaite)
— “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd: “If nobody drops out before Super Tuesday, is it even possible to stop Bernie Sanders?” Dan Pfeiffer: “I do not believe it is.” (MTP)
— During CNN’s coverage on Saturday, Van Jones cited Latino and youth support for Sanders: “You got a new generation stepping up. They’re not scared of any of these ideas and they’re tired of hearing Republicans calling everything we say socialist. They ruined the word socialist…” (Beast)
— WaPo’s Page One headline on Monday: “Sanders’s ascent forces a reckoning for Democrats…” (WaPo)
— Coming up: “Sanders plans to be up on the air with commercials in every South Carolina media market this week, and his staff is scrambling to add new rallies to his schedule as they take aim at their next big target:” overtaking Joe Biden… (NYT)

Sanders cites CBS polls

Per CNN’s Annie Grayer, Sanders did something on Sunday that’s unusual for him: He read poll numbers aloud at a rally. “Some of the folks in the corporate media are getting a little bit nervous,” he told supporters in Houston. “They say, you know, Bernie can’t beat Trump. So let’s look at some of the polls out today.”
Sanders read results from Sunday morning’s new CBS/YouGov poll that showed him beating Trump in a general election match-up and in key battleground states…

The view from Jacobin

Jacobin, the leading socialist magazine in the US, published a piece after the Nevada “blowout” that said “face it, establishment Democrats — it’s his party now.
Jacobin has been allied with Sanders for years. The mag’s publisher Bhaskar Sunkara told me, “I think the key is that the Never Bernie wave won’t materialize. Most Dems like him and his lead is growing. They’ll reconcile themselves to him just like Republican media to Trump.” Sunkara’s prediction: “Bernie will be just a regular Dem candidate which fits his actual profile — not radical but someone who’s been in Washington for a long time and who proposes popular economic and social reforms.”
Sunkara said web traffic to Jacobin “is up year over year around 60 percent.” Print subscriptions are up 40 percent year over year. “People are really dialed in right now,” he said…

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This video has circulated in media reports since at least October 2019 — months before the novel coronavirus outbreak – AFP Factcheck



A video has been viewed tens of thousands of times in multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter that claim its shows shoppers scrambling to enter a supermarket in China after the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The claim is false; the video has circulated in media reports since at least October 2019, two months before the viral outbreak was first reported.

The video was published here on Facebook on February 7, 2020.

It has been viewed more than 23,000 times and shared more than 1,000 times.

The 15-second video, filmed from inside a supermarket, shows scores of people scrambling under the shop’s shutters as it opens. 

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

Screenshot of misleading Facebook post

The post’s caption reads: “Seriously / Jokes aside, this will cause the virus to spread more easily, why why why?????”

The virus referenced is the novel coronavirus, a new strain of coronavirus that emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019. The epidemic has since killed at least 2,400 and infected about 80,000 globally. Here is an AFP report on the ongoing viral epidemic. 

The same video was also shared here, here, and here on Facebook and here on Twitter, alongside a similar claim.

The video has been shared in a misleading context; the video has circulated in multiple media reports since at least October 2019, months before the novel coronavirus outbreak was first reported in late December 2019.

A reverse image search found this October 8, 2019 article published by MailOnline, the website for British tabloid The Daily Mail, headlined “Bizarre moment ‘zombie’ shoppers force their way under a store’s front shutter in rush for a promotion on eggs”.

The report reads, in part: “Shoppers desperate to get their hands on promotional eggs look like ‘zombies’ as they crawl under a supermarket’s shutters.

“The bizarre footage from Sanjiang Supermarket in Qingdao, east China, shows the ‘middle-aged’ customers bend the metal gate as they rush to get into the store.”

Below is a screenshot comparison of the misleading video on Facebook (L) and the video on The Daily Mail website (R):

Screenshot comparison of the misleading video on Facebook (L) and the video on The Daily Mail website (R)

At the beginning of the video, a man can be heard speaking Mandarin. His comments translate to English as: “My door! My door!”

Towards the end of the clip, his comments translate to English as: “Ah terrifying, terrifying!”

The video was also published in this article by the UK-based news website ViralTab, dated October 4, 2019. 

The report, in part, states: “This footage shows a mob of middle-aged and elderly shoppers forcing their way into a supermarket “like zombies” during a mad rush for a promotion on eggs. 

“The footage was filmed from inside Sanjiang Supermarket in Qingdao, a coastal city in East China’s Shandong Province, on 4th October.”

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Right-wing media spinning Russian Meddling as a media narrative – CNN



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