Award-winning journalist Dan Forbes' recently published investigative piece revealing a conspiracy among state and national officials, publicly-funded anti-drug groups and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) to block drug reform initiatives is apparently raising hackles. Forbes, the journalist who broke the story of the drug czar's media manipulation campaign two years ago, came under a slash and burn attack for his most recent report from Ad Age columnist Richard Linnett in an article published Monday.
Linnett dismissed Forbes' findings, knocked down a couple of straw men, and along the way, repeated without verification a slur against Forbes out of the mouth of PDFA public relations chief Steve Dnistrian. "Clearly, Dan is smoking some of the wacky weed that he has a great affection for when he is sitting down writing these things," Linnett quoted Dnistrian as saying.
Viewed generously, such remarks could be seen as failed attempts at humor, but when they take place in the context of accusations of improper conduct by PDFA, they take on the tenor of character assassination and attacking the messenger. But Forbes is one messenger who isn't just going to roll over. Instead, he responded with a blistering counterattack published as an open letter on Wednesday on Alternet. "Dnistrian's McCarthyite attack demands either evidence that I produce my work under the influence of "wacky weed" (how precious, how positively fey), or an apology and a retraction from both the PDFA and Ad Age," wrote Forbes. "On what basis does Dnistrian make this accusation? More to the point, on what basis does a presumably responsible reporter give credence to the obviously absurd notion that Dnistrian has any idea whatsoever of my work habits? Just because a PR guy at an organization I write about makes an ad hominem attack, is that alone reason enough to print it? It's not incumbent on the reporter to offer me a chance to respond? Do his editors exercise no fact-checking authority? Do Ad Age's lawyers know this?" Forbes asked.
"All the PDFA has in its corner is smear and attempted character assassination. Dnistrian's slur just underscores the cheapness of its response," Forbes continued. "It's classic PR: attack the journalist personally, deflect attention, obfuscate."
Ad Age columnist Linnett had not returned DRCNet calls for comment at press time. PDFA PR flack Dnistrian had not returned DRCNet calls for comment at press time.
In his Ad Age article, Linnett wrote that there was no "smoking gun" in Forbes' report tying the Ohio governor, his wife, anti-drug officials in three states and Washington, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the PDFA into a conspiracy to subvert the democratic process in Ohio by attempting to squash an on-going "treatment not jail" initiative. But Forbes documented numerous examples of PDFA officials working hand in glove with Ohio officials to derail the initiative:
* Forbes described a strategy meeting last July in which Ohio first lady Hope Taft, an ardent anti-drug crusader, two Ohio cabinet members, and four high-ranking PDFA executives, among others, were hosted by a US Senate staffer. In a document uncovered through adroit use of the Freedom of Information Act, Forbes cites a letter about the meeting from PDFA director of operations Michael Townsend, who referred to the meeting as a "counter-legalization brainstorm session."
* In another document discussing that same meeting, Forbes found Hope Taft writing to her husband the governor about gathering "a group of people to see how some of the national groups like... PDFA, etc. can develop PSAs that highlight the best aspects of the current drug court system." Such PSAs, of course, would sway Ohio voters in favor of the status quo."
* And in yet another document from that meeting, a set of minutes generated by Hope Taft's chief of staff Marcie Seidel, Seidel wrote in boldface: "Partnership for Drug Free America is to present a couple page concept on how they can help." Seidel added: "PDFA can do educational PSAs starting now [July, 2001] about success stories of people who were required to get treatment. Ohio has enough treatment systems to do this type of campaign. They could start these educational PSAs before the political season begins." She added, "We have two media tracks: 1) the Partnership's educational, nonpolitical piece and 2) the political ads to get out the vote."
Both Forbes' original report and his open letter offer numerous further examples of PDFA involvement in a campaign to thwart the democratic process in Ohio.
Linnett wrote that Forbes' report was much ado about nothing because PDFA did not create any advertising to help Ohio officials fend off the initiative. Forbes agreed that that was the case, but arrived at a radically different conclusion from Linnett. "The PDFA's PR chief, Steve Dnistrian is correct when Linnett quotes him saying the PDFA did not actually create any advertising to influence state elections," Forbes responded. "My report makes that clear. But his statement does not address the fact that, in league with the Taft administration, the PDFA was up to its eyebrows in planning how to do so."
Forbes has caught the "apolitical" PDFA plotting to engage in some most political maneuvering to prevent the adoption of drug reforms in Ohio and elsewhere. PDFA doesn't like it. But all it can find to fight back is cheap shot character assassination. That's a clear sign of moral and intellectual bankruptcy. What is Linnett's excuse?
Visit http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=13365 to read Forbes' response to the PDFA and Ad Week in full. Visit http://www.ips-dc.org/projects/drugpolicy/ohio.htm to read the original report.