Washington Post Seems Kind of Enamored of Well-Organized Drug Ring

While reporting on the Main Line preppie drug bust, the paper appears to have never seen The Wire.

An important out-of-town newspaper has written an article about Philadelphia, and it’s not the New York Times! On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran an article on the Main Line preppie drug bust, complete with mugshots of the young suspects.

The story, “Philly preppies accused in ‘Main Line take over’ drug operation aimed at cornering supply to fancy schools,” is a solid story for the paper. Many of the Post’s readers must be familiar with the Philadelphia Main Line, and drug busts involving $35,000-a-year prep schools like the Haverford School allow the paper to print the doe-eyed mugshots in the paper. Schadenfreude for those who hate the rich; horror for upper-class readers. It’s sure to be a hit.

Anyway, the paper compared the teens to Mark Zuckerberg:

They called the operation the “Main Line take over project.” In terms of intricacy and ambition, it appears more suited for the business pages than the crime blotter. […] On Facebook, he and the accused sub-dealers’ play lacrosse, pose for family photos, hug cats, fence and wear lots of button-downs. In all, they look like everyday, if wealthy, teens and 20-somethings — perhaps characters out of “The Social Network,” the movie about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s birth.


But plenty of alleged “sophisticated” drug operations make the news. As people noted on Twitter, there was even a show set in nearby Baltimore about it! (That’s right: The 2000 miniseries The Corner, directed by Charles S. Dutton.)

Foreign affairs reporter Terrence McCoy’s article is fine. But it’s framed differently than most stories about drug busts. (A search of recent Washington Post archives for “drug bust” brought up a few straightforward drug busts as well as a heroin trend story accompanied by a SWAT raid video.) The article doesn’t make excuses for the alleged dealers, but it — unintentionally, I think — invites us to think of them as entrepreneurs. It invites us to think of this as a unique situation — when in reality rich kids have been selling drugs to other rich kids since capitalism was invented. Large numbers of people use drugs among all income levels, and we shouldn’t act shocked when rich people decide to sell them. Every drug dealer I’ve ever met has had normal social media pages.

It’s not like these accused dealers are particularly sympathetic. They didn’t need the money; they had other options. Moral panics over drugs are counter productive and marijuana is legal in Colorado — but these preppies allegedly sold to high schoolers. And in text messages released by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, one of the masterminds allegedly told a school dealer, “you have a thousand dollar bounty on your head.” The Daily News article on the bust, by Stephanie Farr and William Bender, takes a better tone — one consistent with the drug bust stories you usually see in the DN. It’s not surprised by drugs on the Main Line.

Articles that (however unintentionally) paint upper-class drug use and sales as rare reinforce the idea that drugs are only a poor people’s problem. The story is notable because we don’t often see busts like this involving rich prep school kids. There is a race and class disparity in the drug war, and articles about the Main Line preppie drug bust ought to at least note it.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.

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  • Anna

    Your last paragraph nails it. I grew up in South Jersey, which is in the midst of a heroin epidemic. I know these kids. I grew up with these kids. I’m next to them in the yearbook. White, well-educated, not always rich but financially stable… everyone blames Camden. It’s not Camden anymore. It’s everywhere and reinforcing it as a poor-people problem also minimizes the addictions of the kids that don’t fit that profile. The real tragedy is that it’s a growing up problem- happening in all of the schools, and it feels like no one is the wiser even as it stares us in the face.

  • Flo

    who cares. rich kids doing what rich kids do. who could possibly be surprised by this? it’s been going on there forever. so they got caught.

  • Donald Sterling

    Who is McQuade to call out how a pro from the WP writes his stories?
    The level of arrogance of this guy is increasing by the day.

    • http://myindigolives.wordpress.com/ Ellie Kesselman

      Actually, Terrence McCoy is hardly a pro. He only started work at WaPo in March 2014, fresh from the Peace Corps and a degree from Columbia University in journalism. Dan McQuade is NOT arrogant at all! Dan is correct to point out how odd the reporting was.

      Young Mr. McCoy is a foreign affairs reporter, but WaPo has him covering dinosaur discoveries, U.S. agriculture, Iraqi domestic violence and the Ukrainian separatists. Kind of a lot to ask, but it is the Jeff Bezos way.