The long-running whitewash benefiting the Montana Meth Project continued Monday, Oct. 16, when White House Drug Czar John Walters appeared in Great Falls to award founder Tom Siebel with a certificate of recognition for his shock-and-awe anti-drug campaign.
The Montana Meth Project, Walters gushed, is “an extraordinary example of the results we can achieve when we combine the power of advertising with the dedication and expertise of the leaders of this community.” The campaign “keeps Montana’s young people safe from the dangers of meth,” Walters said, and “the program truly is a model for prevention efforts nationwide.”
Tom Siebel was on hand to accept the applause: “It’s an honor to be recognized for the impact the Meth Project is having in the state…The message is resonating with teens. And we are beginning to stem the epidemic that has been crippling our communities,” said Siebel, adding that the advertising campaign has been “almost unbelievably successful” at reining in the meth epidemic.
The rhetoric is nothing new, and neither is its rapid regurgitation by media and politicians.
In August, we reported findings from the Montana Meth Project’s own survey data contradicting claims that the project is a raving success, alongside the concerns of drug prevention experts who say scare tactics like the Meth Project’s have failed for decades.
The Meth Project routinely touts that 70-90 percent of Montana teens absorb its ads at least three times a week (as could be expected from the state’s largest advertiser, with a $6 million annual budget), and how its ads have prompted more discussion about the drug. It chooses to ignore its own study’s findings of a statistically significant increase in the number of teens who don’t think it’s risky to try meth, and the large number who say the ads exaggerate meth’s risks. The project has also played up meth’s reputation as a burgeoning epidemic, though in fact Montana youths’ meth use has declined every year since 1999, a cumulative 38-percent drop in the six-year span ending in 2005, when the Meth Project launched.
But facts be damned, the Meth Project has continued to reap effusive praise, and several other states continue their efforts to import the eye-catching, high-budget campaign. It would be nice—productive even—to see a more complete discussion of the project’s strengths and weaknesses instead of dogged, dogmatic praise. That hasn’t yet happened in a state too wowed by Siebel’s gift to look closer, and what the White House drug czar made clear Monday is that he certainly isn’t going to be the one to start.