Skip the 1st Amendment, Just Give Em Their Profits

Skip the 1st Amendment, Just Give Em Their Profits
Posted by FoM on January 19, 2000 at 07:58:42 PT
By Robert Scheer
Source: Los Angeles Times
The admission that White House drug czar Barry McCaffery reviewed and influenced scripts written for prime-time television represents one of the boldest government peacetime intrusions into a free media in U.S. history. Shocking, but then again, the drug czar acts as if our basic freedoms may be sacrificed to win the drug war. 
   Most disturbing is that this secret arrangement was honored by all the television networks. Many executives, producers and writers were in on the scandal involving more than a hundred TV episodes, yet no one blew the whistle until the online magazine Salon reported this egregious violation of the spirit of the 1st Amendment last week.   While network executives are quick to invoke the 1st Amendment's guarantee of a free press if it comes to preserving their right to exploit the extremes of sex and violence for ratings' profits, they seem all too eager to surrender that protection if it enhances their bottom line.   That's the real issue in this scandal. The networks meekly submitted scripts for the drug czar's approval in order to be released from the obligation to run public interest advertisements at reduced rates, and instead be able to sell that time for greater profit. They sacrificed artistic integrity in order to garner what has been estimated at $20 million in increased advertising revenue.   In the midst of merger mania involving the broadcast industry, the drive to improve the bottom line becomes all-compelling, and the fact that no one from the writers and producers on "ER" or "The Cosby Show" up to the top network executives dared to publicly criticize this practice suggests that the corruption is widespread. Clearly these people have no respect for the rights of viewers to know when government propaganda has been mixed into programs they are watching.   More troubling is the failure of the network's news programs to uncover and report on this story. Or are they too blinded by their parent companies' grasp for profit?   As for the government, which is supposed to protect our freedoms, the official drug war propagandists blithely insist on their right to save us from ourselves. "I guess we plead guilty to using every lawful means of saving America's children," said Bob Weiner, a drug office spokesman. His defense is that his office only makes suggestions, and he proudly boasts that they do not engage in outright prior censorship, which is clearly unconstitutional.   But at the very least, if we are getting government propaganda mixed in with our entertainment or news programs, shouldn't it be clearly labeled as such? That's what newspapers call the difference between advertorial and news copy, and when they cross that line, they are severely criticized. But the insertion of the drug czar's propaganda into entertainment programming is a far more egregious violation of the spirit of a free press because it involves government, rather than private industry, manipulation of the media.   The protections of the 1st Amendment are directed at government--"Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press." This secret government manipulation of the media was paid for by Congress. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) defended provision of funds for this concealed official propaganda on the grounds that it is efficient, which deception often is. "Certainly some questions have been raised," he said. "But we want to get the message out to young people." Then do so honestly and say that this is a government-sponsored message. Don't sneak it into ordinary program content, which is the practice of totalitarian governments.   The drug warriors in the White House are obsessed with saving us from ourselves even at the expense of our most precious freedoms. They alone know the truth, and it will set us free. But as with an earlier campaign to prohibit alcohol sales, their war ends up being counterproductive and destroying our freedoms.   That is the dark side of the war on drugs: The hypocrisy and shallowness of its message equates all illegally used drugs but soft-pedals alcohol, which is a staple of television advertising. The war fills our jails with black youth for crack cocaine possession while going easy on suburban whites who prefer powdered cocaine. As a result, we have the largest jail population in the world filled with nonviolent prisoners who have hurt only themselves.   Will a television industry that seeks the approval of the drug czar in order to be rewarded with more advertising revenue tell this other side of the drug story? Will it report the truth about medical marijuana, which the government doesn't want you to hear? It hasn't done much of that. Now we know why.Robert Scheer Is a Contributing Editor to The TimesPublished: January 18, 2000Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times TV, Drugs & Civil Liberties - Ministers of Truth-1/18/200 Magazine Articles:White House Defends TV Drug-Ad Deal - 1/15/2000 Script Doctors - 1/13/2000 Money, How the White House Secretly Hooked TV-1/13/2000 
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Comment #2 posted by greenfox on January 19, 2000 at 19:57:23 PT
>> It's a war, what does this have to do with the truth?Nothing and everything. Remember, friend, the truth will set you free.....This is the best editorial I have seen in quite some time. And to boot, it came from a large-press such as the LA Times. Times are a changin'....
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Comment #1 posted by Mike on January 19, 2000 at 09:36:20 PT:
It's a war, what does this have to do with the truth?
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