Media, Mayor, Booze–Happy New Year!!!

by William Skink

One of the positive results of last month’s election was the righting of the legislative wrong done to medical marijuana patients. Those in the wrong weren’t just anti-business Republicans led by Billings zealot, Steve Zabawa. I would include in that category a Democrat Governor who could’t muster a veto, and our lovely local media, who sensationalized the cannabis crusader, Jason Christ, and his roving caravan of pot card enablers.

Many years ago at the old blog I used to write for I would sometimes sarcastically react to articles like this one. It was obvious, at least to me, that the fix was in to depict marijuana’s medial use and the efforts to establish that access as threatening and dangerous, mainly because it fanned the controversy— and how else will corporate media dinosaurs subsist without fanning controversies?

I was reminded of this media tendency on Christmas, when I saw this post on Facebook from Rachel Carroll Rivas of the Montana Human Rights Network:

I dont usually do this but I’ve had the worst journalist experience I’ve ever had with ABC Fox MT out of Missoula (& I do a lot of press work). They have been an immoral instigator in the current Whitefish white supremacist story. They only care about # of website visits. Boo to them. Please consider using other sources.

While stoking controversy to get clicks is a nasty business, the fawning puff piece schtick can sometimes be even worse. And honestly I haven’t seen a more appropriate example of that kind of reporting than this piece by Missoulian reporter, Keila Szpaller, celebrating legal drug dealers who peddle the destructive yet socially acceptable and very profitable drug, alcohol. From the link:

Alcohol sales have been brisk in Missoula this holiday season, and some proprietors are reporting “significant” increases over last season.

Overall, purchases from Agency Liquor Stores are up 4 percent this year from 2015, an average annual bump, according to the Montana Department of Revenue. Agency Liquor Stores sell to all taverns and establishments in Montana that have an all-beverage license.

“Whiskey continues to be a top seller for Montana,” said the agency’s LaNor Stigen, in an email.

Indeed, whiskey accounts for 34 percent of all the cases sold in 2016; vodka isn’t too far behind at 29 percent, according to agency data. This year, sales of whiskey crept up 4 percent compared to last year, and tequila took a leap at 7 percent.

I don’t want to misrepresent the intention of this quality reporting. Obviously this article is not just shameless cheerleading for booze peddlers. It’s also an opportunity for owners of booze peddling establishments to speculate on the social dynamics contributing to their stellar year of selling booze:

In Missoula, owners attribute some of the uptick to the election and the economy, with various customers nursing malaise and others optimistic about the guard change in Washington, D.C.

“It seems like money is not as tight this year as it was in the past, maybe,” said James Jones, owner of the Press Box.

Checking out the comments on this article, I like this one enough to put here:

What these Liquor store owners don’t say in this article is the bread and butter of their business is cheap plastic bottle bottom shelf booze and Steel Reserve Beer. How many times a day does the ambulance get called out due to the homeless drinking this garbage which makes these folks rich.

Another thing the liquor store owners and local media don’t say is what we pay for the result of alcohol abuse. Thankfully I’m not media, and I don’t own a liquor store, so here it is:

* Alcohol-treatment centers around the state – supporting detoxification services, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and long- and short-term residential services: $10.7 million;

* Medical care in hospitals and clinics, treating conditions either caused or complicated by alcohol abuse: $100.3 million;

* Loss of life – removing productive workers from the economy, often at a young age in the prime of their working lives: $296.8 million;

* Loss of worker productivity – from higher tardiness and absenteeism, lower productivity while on the job, more sick days, a shorter or a more restricted working career paid for by businesses, governments and families: $53.3 million;

* Crime and criminal behavior – the extra police, judges and prison cells needed to protect citizens and enforce the laws that are broken because of the impairing impacts of alcohol: $49.1 million.

What isn’t itemized in this list is the ongoing cost of local politicians impairing their judgment with alcohol abuse. This old 4&20 post by CarFreeStupidity references Pam Walzer’s DUI arrest and links to the above study. More recently Mayor Engen publicly announced receiving treatment for his alcoholism while also simultaneously announcing his intention seek reelection.

And that’s just the public stuff. The stories floating around, and a few things I’ve personally witnessed, would make for some good reading. Maybe I’ll slip it in to the piece of “fiction” I’m working on.

There are lots of stories not being told, and one of the more curious reactions to the Mayor’s acknowledgement of being an alcoholic is this little etc. admission from the Indy:

Engen’s drinking habits were far from a mystery. At least one Indy staffer has stood in line behind an obviously intoxicated Engen, and stories of the overindulged mayor out on the town aren’t hard to find. And yet local media—the Indy included—has looked the other way. Which says something about our respect for Engen’s privacy, our discomfort with wagging a hypocritical finger and, just perhaps, the community’s complicity in enabling the mayor’s self-destructive behavior.

As uncomfortable as that suggestion is, awkward questions remain. Did the mayor’s drinking problem affect city business? Was there a precipitating event—as is so often the case with substance abuse—that convinced the mayor of the need to seek help? City officials say Engen won’t discuss the matter further.

No, the Mayor doesn’t have to discuss his personal struggle with alcohol abuse any further. But he does have to discuss how Missoula is going to deal with all the problems alcohol and drug abuse have contributed to, like chronic homelessness, sexual assaults on campus, domestic abuse in general, jail overcrowding and high suicide rates.

Because that’s what a politician running for reelection is supposed to be talking about.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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3 Responses to Media, Mayor, Booze–Happy New Year!!!

  1. JC says:

    Thanks for dredging up the past with the marijuana butter story. I know the kid who perpetrated the cookie crime. He’s a really sweet kid who was duped by a friend into thinking the butter was for her mom, when in fact it went to cookies for kids… The incident and resulting guilty plea and sentencing led the kid into further and further troubles with the law, one stupid simple thing compounding another, and it all started with an innocent event that all of us are guilty of — sharing a joint or some booze with our friends when we were kids. Except with one it is a felony with potential life sentence, and the other a joke to laugh about. And now he has to deal with a felony on his record, which has continually impacted his ability to get housing, employment and credit. Which further marginalizes him into the counter and criminal culture…

    I hope that the real problems of this community — and I’m not talking about the gentrification-related and taxpayer funded building boom — get drug into the mayor’s election campaign. I mean, after all it was our property taxes that paid for the mayor’s insurance and alcohol treatment. He owes the community a solid commitment to work on how to provide services for those who don’t have a gov-supplied ticket to rehab, or housing while trying to recover or survive long enough to find something different. Medicaid insured addicts have to wait 6 months to get into the local rehab — if they live that long; many have died waiting for treatment. It’s cheaper for the state that way.

  2. JC says:

    I did a quick look at this study from 2010 about alcohol taxes in Montana. Here’s a mindblower: the state has a $.07 (7 cent) tax on a six pack. And 23% of that tax goes to DPHHS for alcohol-related treatment service. So, if you do the math, that’s like less than 2 cents per six-pack. No wonder there’s a dearth of public treatment services available for non-offending drunks (those jailed for dui can eventually get sent to state DOC facilities like WATCH, but that’s another story, and huge expense…). If the state were serious about providing treatment services, it would jack the tax up, and devote the majority to treatment and prevention services.

    I’ll bet the $10.7 million for rehab services statewide in the article quoted above comes from the alcohol excise tax. Sounds about right percentage of total tax collections. And it’s just a drop in the bucket of needed services.

  3. Big Swede says:

    Hey Liz, how about a New Years prediction post?

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