Stop the Secret Propagandizing for War on Drugs

Stop the Secret Propagandizing for War on Drugs
Posted by FoM on January 24, 2000 at 09:22:41 PT
You can't quibble with the goal of White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey's effort to influence network TV programing: He wants to cut down on illegal drug use by depicting it, in prime-time TV shows, as uncool.But what he has done amounts to using the media as a tool for secret propagandizing, however benign his intent. The White House should have known better, and so should the networks.
In response to criticism, the antidrug office has eliminated the most obviously offensive feature of the scheme-advance review of TV scripts by the White House. But that doesn't change its nature. The right solution is to revise it in ways that take a more scrupulous approach to fighting illegal drugs.Under a 1997 federal law, Washington was authorized to buy TV spots for antidrug ads, beyond those that networks may air free as a public service-providing the networks sold the time for half price. Other media were offered a similar deal. The TV networks weren't much interested, so the White House added a twist: Put antidrug themes into the story lines of TV shows instead, and the White House would give back some of the air time it bought, so the networks could resell it to commercial advertisers. The deal so far has brought the networks about $25 million.There's enough emphasis on sex and violence on TV that any positive influences normally would be welcome. But if Washington starts secretly paying to have messages about drugs inserted in TV shows, what precedent has it set? What other tricks will it come up with to promote what it thinks good for you-or good for an incumbent president? And the TV networks, which normally fuss loudly if they detect anyone trying to tamper with their creative control of programing, seem happily to have compromised their integrity when the bucks were big enough.TV can play a role in the war on drugs, but Washington should go at it directly and honestly. It should use its bully pulpit to persuade networks voluntarily to use their influence constructively; after all, it costs no more to include an antidrug message in a plot than not to. And government should pay full freight to air its paid commercials, like everyone else.Published: January 24, 2000NewsDay.comRelated Articles:Feds in the TV Studio - 1/23/2000 Too Easily Acquiescing to Government Intrusion-1/23/2000, TV and Propaganda - 1/15/2000 
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