NBC Plugs Liquor Wholesalers Study on Teenage Internet Booze Sales

     NBC swallowed claims from a study that criticized online alcohol vendors, though very few teens actually buy liquor online. What’s more, Chief Consumer Correspondent Lea Thompson failed to include any critics who would argue the survey paid for by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) was biased in favor of its pro-regulation agenda.


   “According to a new survey to be released tomorrow” Thompson noted on the August 9 “Nightly News,” about “one in 10 teenagers have an underage friend who has ordered beer, wine, or liquor over the Internet, more than a third think they can easily do it, and more than half think they won’t get caught.”


     Yet Thompson left out that only 2 percent of teens confessed to ever ordering booze online, a number USA Today’s Donna Leinwand cited in her August 10 story.


     Added Leinwand, only “10% of the youths surveyed said they had browsed a website that sold alcohol” while “80% reported having browsed a sexually explicit site.”


     If the study is taken on its face value, then, only one-fifth of teens who frequent alcohol Web sites ever attempt to make an online purchase.


     Thompson’s story did not produce any survey data on how many teens have attempted buying from liquor stores either directly or by paying an of-age customer to conduct a straw purchase.


     In fact, while she mentioned that WSWA “members compete against online sales,” Thompson failed to tell viewers what business advantage the trade group might seek by promoting regulation of direct-to-customer sales.


     A review of the group’s Web site shows that WSWA doesn’t just compete with direct sales of alcohol, it actively defends the legal and regulatory scheme under which it profits by encouraging or mandating wholesaling over direct-to-consumer shipping.


     “To those who want to eliminate local controls over alcohol, we say: soaring profits should not come before sound public policy,” a statement on the WSWA Web site reads.


     The wholesalers were on the losing side of a 2005 case where the Supreme Court ruled that states could not craft laws that forbid consumers from buying wine direct from out-of-state wineries but allowing them for in-state wineries.


     In his May 17, 2005, story, The Washington Post’s Charles Lane quoted WSWA president Juanita Duggan worrying that Court decision could end up “opening the floodgates” of direct-to-consumer sales that bypass the wholesalers her trade group represents.


     In remarks to the WSWA convention in Las Vegas on April 5, 2006, Duggan reiterated her fears about deregulating the alcohol sales market, stressing the damage it could do to her industry’s bottom line.


     “Now is the time for our trade partners stand with us and advance the value of the regulated system and the role of the distributor in that system. It's dangerous to America, and to the industry, if destroyed,” Duggan added.


     “For 50 years the problem has been kids getting alcohol through liquor store,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Steve Simpson told the Business & Media Institute in a telephone interview. Simpson’s non-profit legal foundation has challenged laws banning direct-to-customer alcohol sales in court.


     “The primary problem” is the traditional under-age purchase at liquor stores, Simpson insisted, arguing that “it’s absurd to single out” online sales, particularly since it’s easier for teenagers to shop at liquor stores that don’t card or to find adults who will purchase booze for them.