Reporter faces backlash for teen drinking story

A recent series of expose reports by CBS News Washington, D.C., affiliate WUSA got such a strong reaction, it forced the reporter off the air and put her family at risk.

Andrea McCarren's Drinking Story Gains Media Attention

Andrea McCarren says she did that to deal with some of the fallout, but now she's back on-air to re-focus on the issue of underage drinking.

McCarren returned to her station's broadcast Wednesday night after a break for a series of hard-hitting reports about underage drinking.

McCarren said in one of those reports, "We watched and videotaped dozens of teenagers buying alcohol at Town Square Market in Northwest Washington without being asked for identification."

An underage teen in the report admitted she was just 18 years old and had been buying alcohol there for two years.

Immediately after the report aired, young people, upset McCarren had blown their cover flooded the station's Facebook page with angry messages.

"You're now the most hated woman in the D.C. metro area," one person wrote.

The comments only got nastier after McCarren fronted another report about a police raid on an underage party. That bust took a surprising turn when parents arrived at the scene and were upset with the police and McCarren -- but not their own children.

One woman asked, "Why are there cameras following these kids?"

A police officer replied, "Because they are with us, ma'am."

The parent responded, "I was told they were with the news."

After her own teenage children were targeted at school, bullied because of the reports, McCarren pulled herself off the air, letting colleague Derek McGinty take over two of her stories.

WUSA says 99 percent of the feedback it got about McCarren's reports was actually positive.

McCarren herself says underage age drinking is too big of a problem and she won't stop.

McCarren said she was "flabbergasted" by the reaction.

"At first I was frightened and then I became angry," McCarren said. "It felt like an orchestrated Facebook and Twitter campaign of hate. People put my home address on the internet. There were calls for revenge and retaliation against my family. I'm now in about my 27th year as a reporter and I have never seen anything like this. It seems like these suburban, affluent kids have simply never been told 'no.' They have an inflated sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to cell phones, computers, cars, and in this case, they appear to feel entitled to doing something illegal, which is drink underage of 21."

Erica Hill remarked, "One of the most surprising parts about that backlash from the outside is the reaction that you got from parents who were equally outraged as their teenagers were."

"One of the most memorable things, was at an underage drinking party that was busted by police, one of the parents showed up to collect his son and he said right in front of police, 'Why didn't you run?'"

McCarren said the parents were outraged because they didn't want the attention and that their children were not identified in the reports.

"We didn't identify them. We were very careful not to. We were on public streets. We could have legally shown their faces but as minors, we chose to protect them," she said. "It's also incredibly baffling to all of us how D.C.'s Liquor Control Board has taken no action.

"As a bit of background, I should tell you that two months before we confronted that liquor store owner that has been selling for years to minors as young as 14 in plain sight, we brought this to the attention of D.C. Police as well as the Control Board, yet they did nothing and continue not to (take) any action," McCarren said. "We just can't understand what is more pressing, what is more important than protecting the children of the district and surrounding areas."

As for the parents of these underage drinkers, she said there's a disturbing trend in Washington, D.C., of parents hosting drinking parties for their kids.

"Some feel it's safer to have them drink at home where they can collect the car keys, and as some have said, teach their children to drink responsibly," McCarren explained.

McCarren said the parents she's encountered at the busts with police have threatened to sue police and her news station.

"It all starts at home. I think that's why we want to get this message out," she said. "Personally, as a reporter...I felt like I could not cover one more carload of drunk kids wrapped around a tree and interview one more set of grieving parents without trying to do something with this extraordinary reach of the media to affect positive change. We will absolutely be staying on this story. What began as a week's worth of reports quickly extended to months and now there's no end in sight."

As for McCarren's children, she said the situation at school has improved. McCarren said before she went back on the air Wednesday night, she talked with her kids about the support she's received from viewers.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.