White House Tie to Anti-Drug TV Scripts Criticized

White House Tie to Anti-Drug TV Scripts Criticized
Posted by FoM on January 14, 2000 at 08:54:39 PT
By Brian Lowry, Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is under fire for a controversial strategy said to have financially rewarded television networks for incorporating anti-drug messages into such shows as "ER" and "Chicago Hope."   The unorthodox arrangement, detailed in the online news service Salon, has raised awkward questions about whether broadcasters changed story lines in an effort to spare themselves from allocating valuable air time to free public-service spots. 
Both network representatives and the drug-control policy office deny that the incentives played any direct role in influencing program content.   Donald Vereen, deputy director of the drug-control policy office, said the goal was to help and encourage networks to join in the anti-drug education effort, not to interfere with the creative process.   That kind of interference "has never been there between the creative community in Hollywood and the federal government," he said. "We aren't in a position to dictate anything."   The networks also issued denials, with NBC's executive vice president of broadcast standards, Rosalyn Weinman, saying 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."   Even if the direct influence of the relationship was minimal, as network and White House officials suggest, the story's timing represented a major embarrassment to the White House anti-drug office. Officials planned to release results today of a study that concludes television generally does a far better job than movies and music when it comes to responsible depictions of drug, tobacco and alcohol use--seemingly endorsing the value of the White House office's own work.   Broadcasters are required, under a 1997 law, to donate public service time commensurate with the amount bought by the White House office. However, networks can achieve credit toward those matching spots based on anti-drug messages within programs. That time could then be sold to advertisers, with each 30-second commercial in a top-rated show such as "ER" worth more than $500,000.   The drug-control office and some networks acknowledged that scripts were at times reviewed in advance. Moreover, networks claimed more than $20 million in credit, against their matching obligations, for programs carrying anti-drug themes, including NBC's redemption of over $1 million, according to Salon, for a drug-use plot on "ER."   Network representatives acknowledge scripts and videotapes were occasionally sent to the drug-control office but say the government in no way exercised veto power over their content.   Television industry officials point out that anti-drug efforts have been underway since long before the office initiated its push under the current White House drug czar, retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey.   Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman Meryl Marshall said anti-drug awareness has been elevated in TV circles since the mid-1980s, when First Lady Nancy Reagan made drugs a national issue. Grant Tinker, then the chairman of NBC, was instrumental in establishing strong guidelines at that time.   "The leadership that started then has pretty much stayed intact in regard to the drug issue," she said. "It's become socially unacceptable among creative people to present drugs in a glamorous way."   Various organizations, such as the nonprofit Entertainment Industries Council, have spent years seeking to inform TV producers about such matters, offering resources to help programs explore the subject. Similar efforts have involved issues ranging from wearing seat belts to racial tolerance.   Even so, such explanations did little to mollify media critics, who contend broadcasters abandoned their independence by making concessions to government aims in exchange for cash incentives.   Robert Corn-Revere, a former Federal Communications Commission chief counsel, told Salon the campaign is "pretty insidious. Government surreptitiously planting anti-drug messages using the power of the purse raises red flags. Why is there no disclosure to the American public?"   A White House spokesman defended the strategy, maintaining the goal was simply to facilitate getting positive messages across to children and teenagers. Some researchers have pointed out that the efficacy of public service advertisements is undermined when contradicted by the TV programs airing adjacent to them, a finding that the office has seized as a rationale for reaching out to the networks.   "When the message is embedded in [programming], it has a much more valuable 'oomph,' " Vereen said. "The message has to get deeper than a 30-second or a 60-second spot."   The office controls a $1-billion media budget, allocated over five years. About two-thirds of its expenditures go toward the purchase of advertising, with the rest earmarked to the media campaign.Friday, January 14, 2000 Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times Related Articles:White House Cut Anti-Drug Deal With TV - 1/14/2000 Magazine:Washington Script Doctors - 1/13/2000 Money, How the White House Secretly Hooked TV-1/13/2000 
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on January 15, 2000 at 07:46:14 PT
The FCC, the airwaves, and you
The Federal Communications Commission is the governing body in the US for how the electromagnetic spectrum that is used in communication is regulated.But the FCC's mandate to do that comes from the American people, not the ONDCP. As you so often hear commentators say, 'The airwaves belong to the people.' But needless to say, they are not treated that way. The portions of the electromagnetic spectrum used in broadcast television are 'auctioned' off to major companies, who then pay lip service to whatever 'party line' (like 'public service announcements') happens to be in vogue at the moment. The latest one is support for the WoSD.There is a definite problem here; has been one for decades. And it has taken this issue to bring it to light. It would be truly ironic if a massive restructuring of the FCC were to take place because of the government's insistence to propagandize abridged the very rights the FCC was supposedly protecting.Joeseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister who was the first to use television to spread his BS, must be smiling from Hell.
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Comment #1 posted by observer on January 14, 2000 at 09:20:22 PT
Nazis, Nixon and Clinton
> The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is under fire for a controversial strategy said to have financially rewarded television networks for incorporating anti-drug messages into such shows as "ER" and "Chicago Hope.`` Just as Nazi cinema reinforced anti-Jewish stereotypes, American movies and television reinforce false stereotypes about drug-users. In Germany, gratuitous anti-Semitic scenes were routine even in movies where the plot had nothing to do with that topic. Likewise, President Nixon bragged about convincing Hollywood producers to insert anti-drug user messages in dramas: "Appoximately 20 television programs throughout the country are going on this fall dealing with the drug problem one way or another. and dealing with it not in the way of a straight-out sermon but in terms of that subtle, far more effective, method of approach where a story is told and the individual -- and usually the young individual -- watching the program becomes interested in the story and, therefore, they get the message."115  Nixon met with forty-eight television producers, including representatives from programs such as "Dragnet," "Hawaii Five-O," "The Storefront Lawyers," "I Spy," "Zig Zag," "Felony Squad," "Silent Force," "The Name of the Game," "The FBI," "Dan August,""Dial Hot Line," and "Room 222." Nixon also gotanti-drug themes introduced into "The YoungLawyers," "Mod Squad," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," and"Mat Lincoln." "Dragnet" producer Jack Webbbegan working on a series dramatizing federaldrug squads.116The practice of inserting anti-drug usermessages into episodes of popular televisionprograms continued into the 1990s, with even"Startrek: The Next Generation" including ascene where a bewildered adolescent asked howanyone could be crazy enough to use drugs. Drugusers have long been a staple of police dramas.For years such programs have portrayed drugusers as violent, irresponsible criminaldeviants, in contrast to cool professionalpolice officers, whose investigative techniquesare inspired by devotion to civil liberties. ''(Richard L Miller, Drug Warriors and theirPrey, 1996, pgs.22-23)
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