When journalists get it wrong
Journalism is in trouble due to a lack of resources. Low circulation equals lower ad revenue equals fewer reporters equals less time for analysis equals unreliable reporting equals lower circulation. We see it daily in the hundreds of regional newspapers we cull for stories for this website.
However, when a major story gets so many facts wrong, someone needs to correct the record. Below is our submitted Letter to the Editor of the Long Island Press.
RE: Prom Parties Revive Social Host Law Debate. By Timothy Bolger on June 14th, 2012
Bolger’s article was excellent for raising awareness of the Social Host Law on Long Island. However, there are several factual errors, which can confuse the readers and should be corrected. As a journalist who has been researching, writing and speaking about the Social Host Law since 2005, I felt it was important to share the correct data. For more information about underage drinking laws in your area, visit SocialHostLaw.com or follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/SocialHostLaws. The top five errors are:
- The two counties’ Social Host Laws apply to people over the age of 18 who knowingly permit minors to drink on their property. The age range is not 18 and over as stated in the article; it’s ages 19 and up. The people who were 17 or 18 when arrested who were mentioned in this article were not charged with social hosting; rather they had to be charged for “furnishing” alcohol to minors or any of a list of other laws. The article frequently confuses the various prohibitions against hosting an underage drinking party. It’s not the author’s fault; he quotes Attorney Mark Freeley, a Woodbury-based personal injury attorney, who says he wishes to sue an 18-year-old Farmingville woman under the Social Host Law on behalf of his client who suffered an injury at an underage drinking party at the woman’s home. He can’t because the law doesn’t apply. That’s why she wasn’t charged under it.
- Long Island’s Social Host Laws are in addition to the state’s “furnishing” law – which means to literally provide, serve or purchase – alcohol for minors. Every state criminalizes furnishing teens with alcohol (with parental exceptions in most) and the penalties apply to any person of any age. Not every state considers being a Social Host a criminal act, or even a negligent one.
- When the article quoted Legis. William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), confessing he gave his then-20-year-old nephew, an Iraqi-war veteran, a beer, he was confessing to a charge of furnishing, not social hosting. If his nephew’s parents were present, and approved, he’s not liable. That is not the “wrinkle” in the law, as Bolger wrote. Rather, it’s the recognition that New York State doesn’t abrogate parental rights. Thirty-one states have exceptions to the furnishing law permitting parents to make decisions when and how they teach their own children about drinking.
- The article states “More than 100 Long Islanders have been arrested or ticketed for violating social host laws since Nassau and Suffolk counties passed those statutes in 2007.” That’s inaccurate for two reasons. The county statistics don’t account for the origins of those charged. They could be – and many probably were – seasonal renters or owners of second homes from other areas. Also, the total is under 100, as Bolger notes later when he says Suffolk has had 36 social host cases and Nassau has had 60 cases.. Officially, Suffolk County has charged 35 people between January 25, 2008 and September 30, 2011, the most recent statistics available when I interviewed them in May. Only nine of those were actual arrests; the other twenty-six were summons. Nassau County charged 59 people during the same time period. They didn’t break down the numbers by year or type. Neither county was able to say how many of those charges were dropped, pled out or successfully defeated in court.
- The article states, “A 22-year-old Plainview man was also arrested for serving minors at a party where 21-year-old Nelson Cole of Brooklyn was found at the bottom of a pool in July 2010.” The Plainview man wasn’t arrested under the Social Host Law for “serving” minors; serving is the same as furnishing. Perhaps he was charged with both furnishing and social hosting? Regardless, the death of a 21-year-old man at the home of a 22-year-old-man is unrelated to either law, since both the host and the victim were adults.
Underage Drinking and the Law