Jeff Winkler and Radley Balko have an article in Reason documenting the top ten Time “moral panic” covers. You know the type: your toothpaste is secretly killing you and the kids’ music is telling them to crush baby squirrels with hairdryers.
I was at the “obesity summit” Balko references in re the last cover, as pretty much the lone dissenting voice in an ocean of hysteria, and after I did my thing Time’s science editor said from the podium for the benefit of the audience “Paul, we may disagree with what you say, but we will defend to the death your right to say it.” (By “defend to the death” I think he meant “will invite you to conferences like this sometimes”).
I suspect that Reason could have gone much further: surely Time must have warned us that we’re all going to die of swine flu? Or was that bird flu?
Pretty much each and every one of these issues are classic examples of moral panic. And in each case, as Reason demonstrates, Time’s journalism was only too happy to buy into hysteria based on anecdote and hearsay and rarely upon anything akin to logic or sound research.
But who needs facts or common sense when it’s so much more entertaining to predict a new plague that will destroy everything that is sweet and good and true and wholesome about America?