Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wente: "As a columnist, my job is to express a point of view, not to present all points of view". No kidding.

I've gotten some personal e-mails asking why I didn't link to Margaret Wente's "indepth" 4 part series on harm reduction and Insite. My initial draft post on it had been in the works for weeks and was very, very lengthy. What it boils down to though is that her 4 columns are crap. Not crappy writing, no, it's written all interestingly with catchy little thought-provoking one-liners and set-ups to make readers with no real knowledge of either side of the issue think "Well, of course I don't agree with harm reduction! Who would?!" No, in that sense, the columns are very, very well done.

In terms of being balanced, in-depth, investigative journalism they are, as I've said, utter crap. I guess the argument is that as a columnist she only has to present one point of view. She's not doing investigative journalism, she's creating discussion and presenting an opinion. Sadly, Wente makes no bones about not having done key research such as, say, talking to the people at Insite. No, they apparently have the power here and are over exposed in the media as she claims in the follow-up "Margaret Wente Answers Your Questions":

Matthew Elrod, Vancouver: Why did you not offer the Insite researchers an opportunity to defend themselves?

Margaret Wente: Matthew, Insite and its supporters have ably defended their position in these pages and elsewhere, and I am sure they will be given the chance to do so again. Also, as a columnist, my job is to express a point of view, not to present all points of view.

Wente clearly also didn't consult "Basics of Addictions Medicine" as is obvious when she says, 'Drug addiction is 100 per cent curable through changing your personal behaviour"

She didn't do their fact checking then, even for their own argument. She supports "tough love" measures such as AA & NA and similar programs throughout the columns and on line questions. Yet the position of those and similar organizations is that you are always an addict. You are never cured, and you will have to fight this fight for your entire life. The neurological research backs this up.

Elsewhere in the on-line questions Wente states: "One thing I heard from addictions doctors is that they really want more facilities for people who are still using — which AA-type programs won't accept." Apparently Insite and Onsite (which has had very little media coverage) a short term recovery centre at the same location just slipped her mind then. Or perhaps she doesn't consider them facilities for people who are still using....

One regret I have from this ongoing saga is that I was pretty sidetracked by reading and commenting and fuming over the columns that I neglected to copy the Letters to the Editor from the series. I haven't yet gone back to the G&M website to search for these. I'm certain that, like the example below from the comments to the on-line questions , the letters to the editor will respond in a much more accurate and succinct way than my initial response to Wente's series.

Dan Shortt from Toronto, Canada writes: Ms. Wente states that no addiction is benign, and says that the addict not only hurts themselves, but society, their families, and their communities. I wonder would she consider the opposite hypothesis, i.e. that the current 'war on drugs' leaves addicts being hurt by society, their families, and their communities? Ms. Wente has spoken out strongly on favour of the 'tough-love' approach to addiction, i.e. that the addict be given a choice between rehabilitation or jail. I wonder would she advocate the same approach to alcohol and cigarette addiction. No? Is it because these products are legal, making their abuse more socially and morally acceptable, despite the obvious harm they do to society?

Finally, it's interesting that in all of her articles, Ms. Wente doesn't once mention Dr. Gabor Mate, a physician with extensive experience working with addicts in Vancouver's East Side. Dr. Mate has been a contributor to the G & M in the past, and recently written a best-selling book about addiction. He reports in his book that a story that appeared in the G & M in January 2007 stated that of a 245 million dollar budget for a national drug strategy, 73% of the funds were directed towards law enforcement, while only 3% of funds went to prevention and harm reduction. Is it any wonder that the '4 Pillars' model is not working, when 3/4 of the funds available are used to prop-up just one of the 4 pillars?

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