Inside the newsroom: Behind the decision not to run .05 DUI ad

 @dwilksnews for the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The advertisement was provocative.

Gov. Gary Herbert is pictured beside state Rep. Curt Webb and six other members of the Utah House of Representatives. Also pictured are four state senators, including Sens. Lyle Hillyard and Peter Knudsen.

"Too impaired to drive?" is the question posed above the photos.

The Deseret News chose not to run it, turning down the healthy advertising dollars that came with it. The lawmakers are public figures and each pictured voted for the bill signed by Gov. Herbert. It's certainly fair play to be critical of lawmakers who do something you disagree with.

In this case, however, the advertisement suggests they all could be impaired because they're over the age of 65. The ad states, "If Utah legislators believe drivers at .05 should go to jail, should those over 65 be arrested for DWO (Driving While Older)?"

That's offensive to all over age 65 who drive comfortably. Yet in this case — and the reason for our decision — we thought it was unfair to the lawmakers to appear under that headline claiming possible impairment; it could be misinterpreted by casual readers.

The advertisement was produced and paid for by the American Beverage Institute, which has run advertisements in the Deseret News before and has an ad running in Sunday's edition. One of its previous ads depicts a young couple getting pulled over after dinner while vacationing at a Utah ski resort.

Calling the ad "tongue-in-cheek" it states:

"Just wanted to thank you for passing the .05 BAC law. Arresting moderate social drinkers for having as little as one drink will certainly make us look more attractive to most tourists, businesses and skiers," the note reads.

It's signed, "Sincerely, Colorado."

There's no question the American Beverage Institute is having success gaining attention. When its advertisements run, news coverage usually follows. And in the case of the ads depicting the Utah Lawmakers, it drew strong response, including from one of the law's most ardent critics, Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis. He tweeted that he was "appalled and outraged" at the beverage institute ad.

This is the man who used Facebook Live to show how many drinks it would take to become impaired to put pressure on the governor not to sign the bill.

The good news through all of this is that public dialogue on the issue of drunken driving is crucial to solving the problem and saving lives. We want the public to be engaged in this issue.

The editorial position of the Deseret News, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is clear on this specific bill. We are in favor of it and supported its signing by Gov. Herbert. Our editorial appeared March 18 making the case that a .05 percent limit is well-supported.

We wrote:

"In Europe, many countries have legal limits stricter than .05 percent, despite a cultural acceptance of drinking that makes alcohol more prevalent than in many parts of the United States. Sweden and Norway have limits of .02 percent, and recent media reports show this has instilled a general feeling among the public that responsible drinkers do not sit behind the wheel no matter how little they have consumed. This hasn’t hurt consumption."

The issue with this bill is not about drinking, it's about changing the culture of drinking and driving.

We also believe in honest, authentic discussion of the issues. The American Beverage Institute's Sunday advertisement encourages Utahns to "Think Again" and claims that at .05 percent blood alcohol level, one is less impaired than driving while using a cellphone and driving while drowsy, among other things. It attacks the penalties for exceeding the .05 percent limit, which won't become law until Dec. 30, 2018.

Drinking, driving, texting, getting drowsy, all are part of the discussion to make everyone safer on the roadways. Whether it's news coverage, opinion pieces or advertising, we weigh what we publish with ethical standards of fairness and try to be consistent with those standards.

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