#243 Drug Warriors Admit Their Propaganda Fails

Date: Wed, 15 May 2002
Subject: # 243 Drug Warriors Admit Their Propaganda Fails

Drug Warriors Admit Their Propaganda Fails


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #243 Wed. May 15, 2002

Being a prohibitionist means you never turn your back on well-funded
projects, no matter how dismal the results. Drug Czar John Walters
this week acknowledged that the television advertising campaign
designed to push young viewers away from drugs has failed. Walters
makes his admission at a significant time, as the ad campaign will
soon be considered for refunding by the US Congress.

Quoted in a Wall Street Journal story, Walters is ready to fight for
the funds, despite poor outcomes. Even though his colleagues couldn’t
get it right after spending $929 million on the program, Walters says
that the ads can be improved. He also talks about more insidious plans
to lobby television script writers for more drug hysteria.

While the story addresses the ad program’s failure as measured by
survey, it overlooks many ethical questions raised by government
payments to media outlets. Despite some problems in the reporting of
the story, even the WSJ sees what’s going on: “In effect, Mr. Walters
is attempting to spin some otherwise gloomy news.”

Please write to the Wall Street Journal to ask if legislators are
going to throw away another $929 million for a program that threatens
the quality of information about drugs more than it threatens drug

Thanks for your effort and support.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do

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Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Contact: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com


Pubdate: Tue, 14 May 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Contact: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com
Website: http://www.wsj.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/487
Author: Vanessa O’connell
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02/n915/a09.ht


WASHINGTON — So much for those flashy TV ads intended to inspire
American kids to stay off drugs . The new U.S. drug czar, John P.
Walters, says the government’s antidrug advertising of recent years
has failed. Worse, he fears it even may have inspired some youngsters
to experiment with marijuana.

“This campaign isn’t reducing drug use,” said Mr. Walters, who became
head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy earlier this

Mr. Walters was openly critical of the ads even before taking office,
and argued that the advertising effort was in dire need of an
overhaul. Now, he said, he is armed with survey data that support his
suspicions that the campaign hasn’t worked.

The five-year-old antidrug program is unusual among public-health
advertising because it is funded largely by taxpayers — $929 million
so far — rather than nonprofit groups or public service spots that
media outlets run free of charge. Moreover, Congress enacted an
unusual law requiring TV networks, cable outlets, magazines and other
media to donate an equal amount of ad space for each ad purchase,
effectively doubling the impact of the government dollars.

The so-called National Youth Anti-Drug Media campaign includes more
than 212 TV commercials featuring such performers as the Dixie Chicks
and hip-hop singer Mary J. Blige, as well as actors posing as drug
users. The campaign, developed by some of the best-known agencies on
Madison Avenue, was considered a novel step in public health
advertising because it was aimed directly at kids. (The ads didn’t
include the famous “This is your brain on drugs ” commercials, a
campaign from a nonprofit group that no longer is being used.)

The antidrug effort is now up for reauthorization for an additional
five years. At a time when plenty of government programs are seeking
funding, Mr. Walters wants Congress to appropriate for next fiscal
year the same $180 million it gave to the campaign this year, though
he argues it will be managed more efficiently. He spent much of Monday
afternoon placing calls to U.S. lawmakers, national nonprofit
organizations and other players in the war on drugs to argue that
while the effort has failed to achieve its goals, it deserves
continued support.

(Snipped for space – to see the article in its entirety, go here:
http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02/n915/a09.ht )

Although traditional advertising has been the centerpiece of the
effort, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has been
experimenting with other means of getting its message across. For
example, the office has been bringing together TV script writers with
drug abuse experts in an effort to persuade the creators of TV shows
to show drug abuse as a problem that extends beyond poor inner-city

Starved for ad dollars amid an advertising recession now in its second
year, the media world initially hoped it could get paid by the
antidrug agency to promote its cause in shows. But the government so
far hasn’t paid for script development with taxpayer funds.

People familiar with the matter said that if the traditional
advertising continues to deliver disappointing results, the office
will abandon the program and Mr. Walters will begin to experiment with
other ways of reaching young people. He declined to be more specific,
adding, “We intend to be more rigorous in our testing.” Mr. Walters
also suggested he may target older teenagers rather than kids 12 and
13 years old.

According to data cited by the government agency, drug abuse by young
people remains stubbornly high. In an annual survey by the University
of Michigan released last December, 25% of high-school seniors said
they used illegal drugs in the prior month; more than half said they
experimented with illegal drugs at least once before graduation.



To the Editor of the Wall Street Journal:

After spending $929 million over four years, the Office of National Drug
Policy Control has finally determined that taxpayer-sponsored anti-drug ads
fail to impact levels of youth drug use (“New drug czar says ad campaign
aimed at children has flopped,” May 14). Is anybody really surprised? Even
less surprising is the reaction of drug czar John Walters: Lobby for
additional funds to keep the program going. As usual, measured failure in
drug control efforts is met with outstretched palms and promises that
things are going to get better, as long as the funding continues.

Somewhat surprising was the assertion made by the story’s author: “But the
government so far hasn’t paid for script development with taxpayer funds.”
That statement contradicts details reported only a couple years ago by many
media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal. The Journal story titled
“Subplot: Networks let White House vet scripts to press antidrug line”
(Jan. 14, 2000) states: “To broadcast various antidrug messages in
commercials and during shows, Mr. Weiner said the drug office will pay
networks nearly $200 million in the year that started Oct. 1.”

Did we pay or didn’t we? Those of us critical of the government’s
anti-drug media campaign have worried that dangling advertising
dollars in front of newspapers and TV stations will encourage the
media to spin information towards the government’s viewpoint. Did I
just see that happen?

Stephen Young

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From their website: “The Wall Street Journal’s 1,943,601 readers are
a highly intelligent, diverse and desirable audience for marketers.
They are today’s key decision makers in government, commerce and
industry….” So the Journal is a very good target for Letters to the

Our sample of the body of published letters shows that the average one
printed is about 210 words, with a range of from 116 words to 400
words. These published letters averaged 3.7 paragraphs with a range of
1 to 7 paragraphs. We notice that about half of published letters
included some title that reflected a possible expertise in the
subject, so if you have such a title as a reformer, author, whatever,
please include it. To review previous published letters please click
this link:


Maybe we will not have seven letters published in a special box as we
did back in June ’98 http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v98/n493/a02.html
– but with your help we can at least try!

Prepared by Stephen Young – www.maximizingharm.com
and Richard Lake
Focus Alert Specialists