Press Box

This Is Your Newspaper on Vacation

It’s late August, the conventions are over, the top newspaper editors have dispersed to their summer places, and the bitter bastards left in charge of America’s great dailies are retaliating by filling the available column inches with pieces hyping phony trends.

1) In today’s Wall Street Journal, an A-hed spots this emerging trend: Yellow mustard is back, and all the raspberry vinaigrette mocha wine mustards, so famously beloved by yuppies, are rotting on the shelves. Oh really? Reading the story carefully, you learn that the market share of French’s yellow mustard (“the king of yellow”) squirted up from 25 percent in 1995 to 29 percent as of last month. Four percentage points in five years constitutes a trend worthy of Page One? Meanwhile, the Journal reports, Grey Poupon fell from 18 percent to 15 percent during the same period. Statisticians will note that this is an even punier three percentage points change over five years.

And the Journal presents even more scintillating news about how American taste buds are trending toward yellow. Yellow mustard sales increased by 2.4 percent last year compared with 1.1 percent for the high-price spreads. Stop the presses!

2) Meanwhile, a Monday New York Times piece discovers that wealthy folks are once again Hoovering Andean snow all over the city. “Cocaine Re-emerges as Drug of Affluence,” the story maintains. Oh really? The only hard numbers in the article come from the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network, which noted an increase of 21 percent in cocaine-related emergencies in New York City between 1990 and 1998. Because the data don’t say anything about the socioeconomic status of the cocaine-crazed patients who visited ERs, it doesn’t prove the Times’ point. The other hard numbers in the story come from Daytop Village, New York City’s largest drug-rehab program: In 1990, 30 percent of Daytop Village patients were treated for powder cocaine vs. 45 percent in 1999. But, as the Times reports, the patients included both white- and blue-collar patients. So much for the thesis.

The rest of the article is padded with first-person accounts from filmmakers, writers, and brokers talking about their adventures in snow plowing. While it could be true that affluent New Yorkers are now doing more cocaine than Dijon mustard, the piece doesn’t come close to making the case.

3) Lastly, a story in today’s Washington Post about treating heroin addiction with buprenorphine offers the chart reproduced below. Headlined “Heroin Use on the Rise,” the chart actually shows that heroin use is on the decline. Now that’s a trend story I wouldn’t mind reading, even in late August.