Cracked Coverage

Television News, The Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy

Cracked Coverage

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: Published: April 1994

Media Studies > TV, Politics > Political Science

Carefully documenting the deceptions and excesses of television news coverage of the so-called cocaine epidemic, Cracked Coverage stands as a bold indictment of the backlash politics of the Reagan coalition and its implicit racism, the mercenary outlook of the drug control establishment, and the enterprising reporting of crusading journalism. Blending theoretical and empirical analyses, Jimmie L. Reeves and Richard Campbell explore how TV news not only interprets "reality" in ways that reflect prevailing ideologies, but is in many respects responsible for constructing that reality. Their examination of the complexity of television and its role in American social, cultural, and political conflict is focused specifically on the ways in which American television during the Reagan years helped stage and legitimate the "war on drugs," one of the great moral panics of the postwar era.
The authors persuasively argue, for example, that powder cocaine in the early Reagan years was understood and treated very differently on television and by the state than was crack cocaine, which was discovered by the news media in late 1985. In their critical analysis of 270 news stories broadcast between 1981 and 1988, Reeves and Campbell demonstrate a disturbing disparity between the earlier presentation of the middle- and upper-class "white" drug offender, for whom therapeutic recovery was an available option, and the subsequent news treatment of the inner-city "black" drug delinquent, often described as beyond rehabilitation and subject only to intensified strategies of law and order. Enlivened by provocative discussions of Nancy Reagan’s antidrug activism, the dramatic death of basketball star Len Bias, and the myth of the crack baby, the book argues that Reagan’s war on drugs was at heart a political spectacle that advanced the reactionary agenda of the New and Religious Right—an agenda that dismissed social problems grounded in economic devastation as individual moral problems that could simply be remedied by just saying "no."
Wide ranging and authoritative, Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy is a truly interdisciplinary work that will attract readers across the humanities and social sciences in addition to students, scholars, journalists, and policy makers interested in the media and drug-related issues.


Cracked Coverage assesses news reports on the cocaine issue in the U.S. by NBC, ABC, and CBS television networks. The authors skillfully demonstrate how much of an integral part the war on drugs, and the accompanying television airtime, was in the rise of the New and Religious Right during the 1980s. . . . Reeves and Campbell provide a fascinating and often provocative insight into the social policies of the Reagan era, assuring stimulating reading for those interested in the drug control debate and the proactive role of the media in modern society.” — David Bewley-Taylor, Journal of American Studies

"Cracked Coverage is more than a brilliant and provocative study of televised discourse on cocaine in American society during the 1980s. Campbell and Reeves take what could have been another narrow study of the way network news represents the current drug crisis and turn it into a remarkable examination of race, class, and gender under the Reagan years." — Robin D. G. Kelley, University of Michigan

"Cracked Coverage weaves together an impressive range of social and cultural developments in order to reconstruct the political context of 1980s America and the place of television within it. By starting with and focusing on television news’ coverage of the ‘drug crisis’ and the ‘war on drugs,’ the book is able to draw into the argument everything from debates over modernity and new economic developments to questions of surveillance and spectacle, from narrative theory to Foucault, from the nuclear family and feminism to Nancy Reagan. The result is one of the most compelling and original analyses of the rise of the New Right and of the role of the media in this campaign." — Lawrence Grossberg, University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign

"This is a pathbreaking, often brilliant book that every journalist, ‘drug expert,’ and elected and unelected policy maker in the U. S. should be forced to read." — Craig Reinarman, University of California, Santa Cruz


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

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