Sunday, February 11, 2007

WFOR Sweeps Scare Tactics

Herald Watch is going to go off-topic for a second and discuss a story that just aired on WFOR CBS 4. February is a sweeps month which means that local news broadcasts are filled with sensationalistic stories that can be teased all night long so that you'll watch.

Tonight's offering comes from Jennifer Santiago and is about Salvia Divinorum, a hallucinogenic herb that is 100% legal in Florida as of this writing. Santiago's story was about how the herb is becoming more and more popular. It included a segment in which she confronted a Coconut Grove head shop operator who immediately kicked her out. Apparently Santiago had sent someone in with a hidden camera to buy Salvia and the person was not asked for ID. The head shop operator claims that they don't sell anything to anyone under 18. But we never really get to see the person who bought the stuff so how do we know she wasn't 35 years old?

But the most disturbing thing about the report from a journalistic standpoint was the claim from Kathleen Chidester, the mother of Brett Chidester who allegedly died as a result of using Salvia. I say allegedly because the report was so sketchy on the the details that it left one wondering what really happened to the boy. Mrs. Chidester mentions briefly that he killed himself with Carbon Monoxide. The mother goes on to claim that her son's writings after he tried Salvia "prove" that it was responsible for his death.

Now I'm not condoning any drug use and Salvia may be dangerous but Santiago's report does nothing to educate anyone about how the drug works, what is known about it, and what the real dangers might be for those who try it. The dead boy may have been seriously depressed to begin with and the drug may or may not have contributed to his death but Santiago's report raises more questions than it answers. For example, if use of the drug is widespread as Santiago claims in her report and it's as deadly as Mrs. Chidester claims then how come we don't hear more about Salvia deaths?

A big thumbs down to a sensationalistic and uninformative report on a subject that could be truly important. The thing is, that after watching it, I'm disinclined to believe that it is.


Blackwingbear said...

It always amazes me how people (such as this journalist you speak of) will knock something that is not only harmless but helpful and medicinal, which they ignore larger problems like alcoholism and methamphetamine use. Salvia is NOT to be used recreationally, but medicinally can be used for both meditation and vision-questing. Many people have found that after prolonged use, they feel more interconnected with other forms of life. In the case of the boy who died of carbon-monoxide, he had committed suicide because he felt so detached from and unavailable to his parents.. When his mother found out he had used Salvia, she blamed it on that rather than admit she did not really know her own son.

Henry Gomez said...

I don't know what properties the herb does or doesn't have. I am skeptical of claims of medicinal properties of anything that hasn't been thoroughly studied by scientists. The point is that I still know nothing after watching the report in question.

Anonymous said...

The point of the report in question was not to inform but to pull in extra viewers. As long as that was accomplished, the TV station doesn't care about the issues you raise. If they did care, the report would obviously have been less questionable. It's just a business move, not a public service.

Anonymous said...

You must not have seen the reporter's on camera tag. She specifically says that the drug can be used responsibly and has been used for centuries in Mexico.

Henry Gomez said...

Does one throwaway line negate the tone and content of the whole rest of the report?