WASHINGTON, D.C. – The New York Times, in a page one article today entitled “Disturbing Finding on Young Drinkers Proves to be Wrong,” reports that former Carter Administration HEW Secretary Joseph Califano and his group the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA) now admit that they distorted data to make unsupportable claims that underage drinking represented 25% of alcohol consumption. Califano and CASA released the now discredited report to great fanfare in network interviews on Tuesday making outrageous claims about the level of underage alcohol based on 1998 data produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency. Meanwhile, the Distilled Spirits Council challenged the CASA conclusion immediately calling their consumption estimate “a flawed interpretation of the data and a massive error in fact.” Late yesterday SAMHSA, the federal agency that does the 25,500 person national household survey, issued its own release saying the CASA study was wrong by a factor of over 100%, noting that actual underage consumption was 11.4%. The Times noted that by late yesterday the major networks and wire services were correcting their stories and reporting that CASA was admitting it botched the report. “As a result of the fundamental flaw in its methodology, CASA’s conclusions are absolutely false and they used the major networks to disseminate this bogus study,” DSC senior vice president Frank Coleman said. “This is dangerous to the very kids we are trying to help because it could lead them to believe their peers are drinking more and thus to emulate them.” This is not the first time that CASA has abused the facts in search of a sensational result, Coleman noted. Former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala sharply criticized CASA in 1994 for a similar “seriously flawed” study. “We decry any under-21 alcohol consumption,” Coleman stated. “In fact, since 1980 the trend shows that underage drinking has declined significantly. “The Distilled Spirits industry has led the fight against underage drinking, spending over $120 million in the last ten years through the Century Council on real programs to help stop underage drinking,” Coleman concluded.