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Best Cheap Thrill: a postscript and, yes, an apology

Folks, I want to step in here again and say that I appreciate all the comments you've submitted to the thread from yesterday's post, the slams as well as the defenses of the item. But actually I have to disagree with one of our defenders, the commenter named Rob--I don't think people are, for the most part, stupid. I think that, in many respects, their instincts are ahead of those of most journalists most of the time. I would say instead that one of the biggest problems with the news media is that they usually presume their readers to be stupid.

Having read a lot of comments and emails in the last 12 hours from readers who've seen the lives of loved ones wrecked or ended by meth, I think the readers were ahead of us on this one. We believed that there was a legitimate point to be made about the dangers of overhyping meth or any other drug of the hour, as I said yesterday. That was why I approved the item. But if you're going to make that point regarding meth, it deserves some careful qualification--clearly, meth is not just any drug in the way it takes hold of many users--and in retrospect, casting it as a gag item in the Best of the Twin Cities issue was not the way to raise the point. For the record, we think it would be a bad idea to go out and try crystal meth, in much the same way it would be a bad idea to go out and try a round of Russian roulette.

What I wrote in my initial note yesterday was prompted in part by the fact that of the first 10 or 11 responses we got at our office, no fewer than five were from TV reporters or radio producers looking to generate an easy one-day media story. I don't have a lot of respect for follow-the-leader feeding frenzies, in journalism or anywhere else.

But since I wrote that, as you can see from the Blotter comment thread below and the one attached to the item itself, we have heard from a number of people whose firsthand experience is palpable, horrendous, and undeniable. If you've read this paper to any extent at all, you know that there are plenty of people whose feet we relish putting to the fire. Drug casualties and their loved ones aren't among them. What makes me feel worse, frankly, is that we have always worked hard in our news and features section to avoid the class biases and blind spots that shape way too much of the news coverage available today. What I mean is that we try regularly to tell stories that cast a light on people most media don't bother with, since those people don't belong to the most desirable ad/demographic niches.

And we blew it on that score here, in my view. Would we have published a satiric item about meth if it were tearing through the city neighborhoods where we live in the way it's tearing through many small towns and suburbs? No, I can't imagine we would; I can't imagine it would even occur to us to do so. We're sorry for the blind spot we put on display, and for the pain it clearly caused for many readers.