- - Sunday, December 25, 2016

On Friday, Dec. 16 the Centers for Disease Control released its annual report of drug overdose deaths. The CDC reported that “rates of other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone (likely driven primarily by illicitly manufactured fentanyl) increased sharply overall and across many states.” By “sharply”, that includes a one year increase in New York State deaths of 135.7 percent from fentanyl alone.

While the CDC report is certainly worth reading and consulting on the heroin epidemic, it is also seriously deficient. In seven single-spaced pages with academic footnotes, there is precisely zero discussion of the sources of the problem. The words “Mexico,” “China” (source of fentanyl), “the border,” “cartels” or “trafficking” do not appear. A reader coming to the issue cold would have no idea where this poison came from or how it made its way to “Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia,” among other American states devastated according to the CDC.

On the same Friday, Dec. 16, running well over an hour, President Obama held his final news conference as president. In his opening monologue, the president made a tour de force of the world and the United States during his eight years in office. Although he mentioned some continuing social problems, heroin was not one of them. Five reporters from The Associated Press, Bloomberg and other major media outlets asked him questions. None of them asked about heroin deaths.

Still staying with Friday, Dec. 16, The Wall Street Journal produced an otherwise excellent Page 1 above the fold feature on the effects of the heroin epidemic on children who lose their parents. The story ran 67 precious inches of type and included three large color photos and two charts showing the rise in children placed with relatives or foster care due to the heroin epidemic. Again, the Journal’s reporters failed to reference “Mexico,” “China,” “the border,” “cartels” or “trafficking.”

So, we’re 0 of 3 on Friday the 16th. But maybe that was just an anomaly?

On Sunday, Dec. 18, The Washington Post ran its own feature on children caught up in the heroin epidemic — Page A-1 again but this time the coverage ran to 80 column inches and four color photos, taking up the entirety of two inside pages. It clearly dominated the Sunday edition of the paper and, just like the Journal’s feature totally failed to mention the source of the problem. None of the magic words appeared.

It is actually possible to report on the heroin epidemic in a reasonable and professional manner. In mid-November, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) ran a multipart feature which was shown in the United States and is still on their website. They began in Mexico with a first segment called, “America’s Heroin Trail: The Outdoor Factory that Feeds the U.S”. Later segments followed the drugs over the border to their users and showed the death and destruction that heroin and fentanyl cause. All or nearly all the magic words appeared.

The BBC’s production makes good sense: The problem starts here (Mexico and China). It goes through there (the Border) and it causes harm over there- New Hampshire or some other American State. To my knowledge, no American broadcast or cable network has ever done that, certainly not in recent years as heroin from Mexico and fentanyl from China have exploded on the American scene. To the extent that they have covered the issue at all, the American networks have exclusively focused on the suffering of the users and their relatives, just as the Journal and the Post did in the examples cited above. In one case, ABC did an hour long show, with their evening Anchor, David Muir, in the chair and he mentioned the word “Mexico” in one half of one sentence in Minute 51.

The response of the CDC, the Journal, the Post and the broadcasters is pretty common. The BBC’s report is what is uncommon and, to its credit, The Washington Times has also covered the subject professionally.

Why, then did the CDC and the American journalists not live up to normal professional standards? The answer, I would argue, is the border. Once you start asking, “Well, how did this poison get here to kill American citizens?” you are on a slippery slope towards Mexico, China and the border. That then feeds right into the border security arguments of Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions and President-elect Donald Trump. It’s a direct shot with no sidetracks.

So political correctness prevails. If you don’t ask the “how” question, you never reach the answer which is, “Without border security, there will be no halting the heroin epidemic.” And, if you don’t ask the “how” question, that means that political correctness is more important than American lives.

• William C. Triplett II is the former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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