ONDCPPDFA Accused Of Propaganda And Influence Peddling

Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000
Subject: ONDCPPDFA Accused Of Propaganda And Influence Peddling

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 154 January 15, 2000

ONDCP/PDFA Accused of Propaganda and Influence Peddling

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Together we ARE making a difference —

The tax-funded anti-drug propaganda campaign sponsored by the Office
of National Drug Control Policy and the Partnership for a Drug-Free
America is being closely scrutinized in the wake of a story first
published by the online journal Salon (see http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/01/13/drugs/index.html).

The story concerns ONDCP/PDFA efforts to place anti-drug messages not
only in TV advertisements, but into television programs themselves.
The networks were not only rewarded with ads (and ad money) for
working anti-drug messages into programming, the networks actually got
federal money without running ads (thus leaving the ad space open for
other paying advertisers) if the anti-drug messages were deemed
effective enough. Also, the narcs were allowed review and suggest
changes for scripts before the shows were actually produced.

Variations of the Salon story have been prominently featured
throughout major media organizations ever since the story broke. While
most of the stories (like the one from the Washington Post below)
focus on the questionable ethics of such an arrangement, the damage
from the propaganda is much worse. By allowing the drug warriors even
more access to spread their poisonous messages, the networks have
attempted to push the debate about drug policy away from reason.
Please write a letter to the Washington Post or any other major
newspaper to protest this latest attempt to escalate the drug war.

Thanks for your effort and support.


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


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Source: Washington Post (DC)
Contact: http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/edit/letters/letterform.htm

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Source: The New York Times
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Source: USA Today
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Source: Chicago Tribune
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Source: Wall Street Journal
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covered almost everywhere.


Pubdate: Fri, 14 Jan 2000
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Section: Front Page
Copyright: 2000 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Feedback: http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/edit/letters/letterform.htm
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Author: Howard Kurtz and Sharon Waxman Washington Post Staff Writers
Note: Waxman reported from Los Angeles.
See: The Salon article at:


Ad Credits Given For ‘Proper Message’

The White House, in quiet collaboration with the six major broadcast
television networks, has reviewed the scripts of such popular shows as
“ER,” “Chicago Hope” and “Beverly Hills, 90210” and made suggestions
on at least two dozen programs to help them convey an aggressively
anti-drug message.

In exchange for their cooperation, a White House official confirmed
yesterday, the networks were freed from obligations to provide $22
million in public-service advertising over the past two years,
allowing them to sell the lucrative time to corporate

Alan Levitt, who runs the program in the White House drug czar’s
office, said his office reviews television scripts “to see if they’re
on strategy or not” by portraying youth drug use in a negative light.
If so, the networks are given credits that enable them to sell more
air time to commercial advertisers rather than donating it for
anti-drug and other messages.

The arrangement, first reported by the online magazine Salon, drew
swift criticism. “If the public begins to believe that a message is
only being put forward because of financial remuneration, there’s
strong chance of undermining the value of all our messages,” said John
Wells, executive producer of “ER.”

Wells, who said he had been unaware of the cooperation with the White
House, said the effort “implies that the programs you’re watching can
be influenced by those kinds of financial incentives, and that’s
simply not the case.”

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the nonprofit Media Access
Project, said: “The idea of the government attempting to influence
public opinion covertly is reprehensible beyond words. It’s one thing
to appropriate money to buy ads, another thing to spend the money to
influence the public subliminally. And it’s monstrously selfish and
irresponsible on the part of the broadcasters.”

Some network executives said their companies submitted scripts for
review in advance, while others said the White House examined shows
after they aired. But all those interviewed yesterday said they never
allowed the government to dictate the programs’ content.

Robert Weiner, spokesman for the drug control office, said the
advertising credits are granted for a prime-time program “which is a
very positive statement and has the proper message on drugs and is
accurate. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’ve given us positive
programs. If you’ve got a good ‘ER,’ that’s certainly as important as
an ad.”

The unusual financial arrangement stems from a 1997 law in which
Congress approved $1 billion for anti-drug advertising over five
years; this year’s allotment is $185 million. Networks that agree to
participate are legally required to provide a dollar-for-dollar match
for each spot purchased by the government by carrying public-service
ads by nonprofit groups working with the White House Office of
National Drug Control Policy, or ONDCP.

After some networks balked, drug control officials worked out a
compromise. They said they would credit the networks for each
entertainment program with what they viewed as the proper message – up
to three 30-second spots per show – enabling network executives to
sell that time to corporate advertisers instead of using it for
public-service ads.

For example, Levitt praised as “wonderful” a 1998 episode of ABC’s
“Home Improvement” in which the parents (played by Tim Allen and
Patricia Richardson) confronted their oldest son about smoking
marijuana, despite their own past drug use, after discovering a bag of
pot in the back yard.

The White House has worked with more than 100 shows, which may feature
such themes as “parents in denial” or “peer refusal skills,” Levitt
said. He said the office’s experts reviewed scripts in advance in
perhaps 50 cases, and that in two dozen instances a network asked for
the administration’s input. The contacts are generally with sales
executives, not writers and producers, Levitt said, and each network
can receive credit for up to 15 percent of its commitment for
public-service ads.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House subcommittee that
oversees the White House drug office, said: “I’m not going to be
wringing my hands over the fact that we’re getting some positive
messages out.” He said that “the networks were willing to have some
consultations on scripts. … If they feel they’re being
strong-armed by ONDCP, they can walk away at any time.”

Several network executives confirmed the government’s financial
incentives but said they knew of no scripts that had been changed as a

Julie Hoover, an ABC vice president, said the network aired more
public-service announcements than was required and therefore did not
benefit from the advertising credits. Hoover said ABC has sent the
drug czar’s office tapes of shows with anti-drug messages – including
“The Practice,” “Home Improvement” and “Sports Night” – only after the
programs had already aired.

Rosalyn Weinman, NBC’s executive vice president of broadcast content
policy, said in a statement that the network “never ceded control to
the ONDCP or any department of the government. At no time did NBC
turn over scripts for approval from the ONDCP.” An NBC spokeswoman
explained that the network sent the White House scripts with
drug-related plots for review before being aired, “but we didn’t take
input from them, absolutely not.”

The spokeswoman would not confirm or deny Salon’s report that NBC
redeemed $1.4 million worth of ad time in exchange for several “ER”
episodes that dealt with drug abuse.

A CBS spokesman said the network had been able to recoup advertising
time for anti-drug plot lines on such hit shows as “Touched by an
Angel,” “Cosby” and “Chicago Hope.” But, he added, “the notion that a
Hollywood producer would change a script for the government is
ludicrous. … All the shows we’ve put on were going to go on
anyway. So I don’t know what the problem is.”

But producers at one CBS program, “Chicago Hope,” resuscitated a
script with a strong anti-drug theme because of a suggestion from a
television executive. John Tinker, executive producer of “Chicago
Hope,” said he reworked a script that had been put aside after getting
a call from Mark Stroman, then of 20th Century Fox Television,
co-owner of the show, who requested a drug-related script. That show,
broadcast last year, featured young partygoers who suffered a
drug-induced death, a rape, a car accident and a broken nose.

While he didn’t revise the plot because of the request, Tinker said,
“I do feel manipulated. It’s not so much this particular instance in
which we seem to have been unwittingly involved. … I would have
liked to be told. If the president wants us to talk about drugs –
could I be told? I’d like to be told.”

In one instance, White House officials said, CBS received advertising
credit for a “Cosby” episode in which Bill Cosby ended the show, in
character, by appealing to viewers to call a toll-free number for
information about drug abuse.

Fox spokesman Tom Tyrer said the network did not redeem advertising
credits for two shows – a “Beverly Hills, 90210” episode in which a
character descends into addiction and an “America’s Most Wanted”
segment in which White House drug policy direct Barry McCaffrey was
interviewed. Tyrer said the producers were aware of the government
program but that no scripts were changed.

WB said in a statement that the network redeemed advertising credits
after consulting with the White House on scripts for “Smart Guy” and
“Wayans Brothers,” but said it often talked to outside organizations
in preparing programs.

Other cooperating programs, the Salon article said, include “Promised
Land” on CBS; “The Drew Carey Show,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Boy
Meets World,” “Sports Night” and “General Hospital” on ABC; “Trinity”
and “Providence” on NBC; and WB’s “7th Heaven.”

“This has all been above-board,” said Weiner, the White House
spokesman. “We’re very proud of the accomplishments of the campaign.
… We plead guilty to using every lawful means to save America’s



To the Editor of the Washington Post:

I was glad to see some of the mischief caused by the federally-funded
anti-drug media campaign finally exposed (“WHITE HOUSE, NETWORKS CUT
ANTI-DRUG DEAL,” Jan. 14). Many have rightly questioned the ethics of
secret government payoffs to television networks that worked anti-drug
propaganda into programming. However, more basic questions need to be
asked about the media campaign’s relationship to other drug policy

Why, for example, does the Clinton administration want to shell out
more than $1.3 billion to the Colombian government to escalate the
civil war there? To fight illegal drugs, the administration tells us.
And why do we have to fight drugs? Because everyone knows that they
are inherently evil. And how do we know for ourselves? Because on TV,
only the bad people use and sell illegal drugs, and if any good people
get involved with drugs, terrible things happen to them.

The real goals of the anti-drug propaganda campaign have little to do
with keeping kids (or anyone else) away from drugs. The campaign is
designed to cause hysteria, and that hysteria is harnessed to justify
any number of evils, from scaling back civil liberties to turning the
prison system into a tightly packed gulag.

If those people who engineer the drug war didn’t constantly promote
fear and hate as the only proper responses to illegal drugs, maybe we
could look at the situation more realistically to find an approach
that doesn’t cause more harm than good.

Stephen Young

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Prepared by Stephen Young – http://home.att.net/~theyoungfamily Focus
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