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In the Doghouse: DISCUS Spring Break Road Trip for Journalists

May 13, 2014

Shots of Wild Turkey
Journalists received unlimited booze during a 5-day tour of American whiskey facilities, courtesy of the Department of Agriculture and DISCUS.

In an effort to promote American distilled spirits such as Tennessee whiskey under the guise of news, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) treated dozens of journalists last month to a 5-day liquor-sodden Spring Break lobby tour. Journalists were put up at historic hotels, fed fancy dinners, plied with endless shots of whiskey (along with water and vitamins to prolong the onset of pain...and keep them drinking), and given tours of various whiskey facilities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture paid the transportation costs for journalists from other countries to attend the booze cruise, ostensibly to expand the international market for American booze and ease trade agreements. Meanwhile, DISCUS just recruited a bevy of enthusiastic, loyal PR shills who went home after their free vacation able to extol the virtues of Tennessee whiskey and those who produce it.

What's the problem, you say? Consider this: While Uncle Sam paid for writers to get sloshed for 5 days and nights, alcohol-related harm costs U.S. federal, state and local governments $94 billion a year in crime, health care, lost productivity, and property damage. And, while DISCUS threw the whiskey party for journalists, it funneled even more lobbying dollars into the privatization campaign in Oregon, bringing the DISCUS total to $300,000. Along with grocery conglomerates Fred Meyer and Safeway, DISCUS is the leading contributor to Oregonians for Competition, the committee sponsoring the initiative that seeks to wipe out the state's monopoly on liquor and wine sales and reap the profits for themselves. Oregon's state monopoly on liquor sales represents one of the most effective evidence-based policies to prevent excessive consumption and alcohol-related harm. DISCUS spends millions each year (over $5 million in 2013) lobbying against evidence-based alcohol policies, including increased taxes, reduced access and outlet density, state monopolies on alcohol sales, and restrictions on alcohol advertising.

The Surgeon General should treat these journalists to a 5-day tour of hospital emergency rooms, chemotherapy wards, and alcohol rehab facilities, to experience the real legacy of DISCUS, its spirits producer members, and the public health problems they continue to deny.