I used to think of Slate’s online magazine as cutting edge stuff, but lately their coverage, at least of things I know something about, shows them to be staunchly conservative. Given that they’re owned by the Washington Post, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.
Today an article by William Saletan on the web titlebar is known by the more balanced title “MADD vs. Rick Berman’s American Beverage Institute: Who’s Right About Drunken Driving?” but on the webpage itself by the much less so “Mad at MADD: Alcohol merchants say you shouldn’t donate to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Really?” (I’m hardly perfect, but I still can’t help but point out it’s not usually referred to as “drunken driving,” but “drunk driving.”)
The article itself is all smoke and mirrors, and starts out by trying to sound reasonable, before veering way off the rails of reasonableness, much like MADD itself, who the author wastes no time in defending. What got apparent MADD-shill William Saletan’s hackles raised was that someone had the temerity to suggest that the neo-prohibitionist organization was not ready for sainthood. Specifically, the American Beverage Institute released a press release pointing out that “Mothers Against Drunk Driving Receives Another ‘D’ from Charity Rating Guide.” The fact that their press release is true seems not to matter, nor is the fact that this is not the first year that MADD’s rating as a charity has been called into question. Saletan accuses the release of “shouting,” as if a press release could shout without turning on the ALL CAPS. Hey Bill, LISTEN UP; that’s how you shout in print.
But his real beef is that he seems to believe that the ABI shouldn’t be allowed to criticize MADD since they’re a trade organization that represents the interests of alcohol producers, therefore anything they have to say on the subject is suspect. It’s an argument that has some merit, but only if it works both ways. MADD has been twisting facts for decades, but when they do it it’s in the service of a higher purpose, therefore it’s allowed, one has to guess.
Then Saletan goes on to accuse the ABI of having its own agenda, that of weakening drunken-driving regulations and claims that essentially ABI wants people to drive drunk, and they probably hate dogs and children, too. I’m exaggerating — only slightly — but the point is that he takes the position that everything ABI does is evil and everything MADD does is benign and well-intentioned. The irony, of course, is that nothing could be further from the truth.
Saletan argues that “ABI has fought MADD on nearly every alcohol-related issue” and that “ABI doesn’t argue for moderation,” despite the fact that the top of their home page includes the phrase “Drink Responsibly, Drive Responsibly.” His dripping sarcasm would be easier to take without such hypocrisy. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there might even be a reason why the ABI might oppose an organization like MADD, whose very being is to undermine every aspect of the alcohol industry. MADD, and other neo-prohibitionist organizations, have been attacking the alcohol industry virtually non-stop since prohibition ended yet Saletan doesn’t seem to believe that the ABI even has the right to defend themselves.
The fact that he refers to the ABI as using “extremism” is almost laughable, especially given his own attempt to smear ABI president Rick Berman by using examples of non-alcohol lobbying and companies. He suggests that while he doesn’t “know enough about MADD’s finances to tell you whether MADD is the best investment of your charitable dollars,” he “can say this: Any organization Berman has vilified is probably worth giving money to.” Saletan ends by stating that “if they’re [other non-profits] pissing off Rick Berman, they must be doing something right.” Well, at least that’s not extremism. Nothing personal there. Just some nice, balanced reporting like any good mainstream news outlet. Present the facts and let the reader decide. Uh-huh.
Saletan conveniently ignores that even MADD found Candy Lightner left the organization she founded several years ago because of their growing extremism.
MADD also ranks poorly with another charitable giving guide. Charity Navigator gives MADD an overall rating of 1 of 4 stars, the lowest level rating reserved only for a charity that “fails to meet industry standards.”
These dismal ratings reveal a shift in MADD’s mission. In the words of its own founder Candy Lightner: MADD “has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”
No surprises there. Saletan’s screed is typical. He ignores what doesn’t fit his personal world view and rails against everything else. He also states that “ABI is waging PR wars” against MADD and others, while MADD’s own warlike propaganda campaign is not even acknowledged.
Curiously, ABI is pretty much the only alcohol trade group I know of that consistently fights back against MADD and the other anti-alcohol groups. Most try to get along as best they can, a fool’s errand IMHO. It didn’t work for Neville Chamberlain, and I don’t believe appeasement will work in this case, either. So, naturally, ABI has to be vilified. How dare they defend their livelihoods? How dare they defend themselves when attacked? We in the alcohol industry are pure evil, or so it seems every time I read one of these hatchet jobs. But somebody has to shout back. Somebody has to remind these people that the majority of alcohol drinkers do so responsibly and in moderation. Somebody has to point out that there are, in fact, at least two sides to every story. Too bad Slate decided only one side needed to be told.