This week (7/9) the Office of National Drug Control Policy, along with the Partnership for a Drug Free America, launched the most expensive and wide-ranging anti-drug media campaign ever targeted at America's youth and parents. The proposed five-year plan will cost taxpayers $1 billion and the government hopes that an additional $1 billion can be raised from private sources. According to media sources, the campaign will be the fifteenth-largest media buy in history, surpassing Nike, American Express and Sprint, among others.
Interestingly, American media outlets, many of which stand to reap large profits by selling time to the campaign, were nevertheless willing to air dissenting opinions in their coverage of the launch. From CNN's Crossfire and Talk Back Live to the national network news shows, drug policy reformers were well-represented. This level of coverage is a continuation of a trend which has been building for some time but which has become even more pronounced in the wake of high-profile protests during the recent United Nations' Special Session on Narcotics in June.
"As recently as two years ago, a launch like this would have been portrayed in the American media as a feel-good fest, with drug warriors, unopposed, preening for the cameras and telling America how much they are doing for their children" said DRCNet executive director David Borden. "The media's response to what would once have been seen as a non-controversial, if politically-motivated program indicates that the reform movement can no longer be brushed-off as a fringe group. The debate, once limited to one "side" advocating more prisons and the other "side" advocating many more prisons, is now very definitely seen by the media gatekeepers as being between the Prohibitionists and the reformers. And since people tend to become more inclined toward reform the more they learn about the issue, this constitutes a major, major step forward for the reform movement."
Reformers, including The Lindesmith Center's Ethan Nadelmann (http://www.lindesmith.org) and Mike Gray, author of the new book "Drug Crazy" (http://www.drugcrazy.com), spoke of the need to address more serious concerns, such as children's unabated access to drugs, as well as the need to support programs that have been proven to work in reducing teen drug use, such as after-school programs. Gray challenged drug czar Barry McCaffrey on the drug policy record of The Netherlands, pointing out that Dutch officials are upset enough at the U.S. government's mischaracterizations that they are considering filing a diplomatic protest.
Ty Trippet, a spokesman for The Lindesmith Center, told The Week Online, "think of what a billion dollars invested in after-school programs, invested directly in kids, could do in terms of connecting them with mentors and involving them in positive activities. That is real prevention. That is how we'll keep kids off drugs. This campaign is more about putting a do-something face on an accomplish-nothing drug war. And people, media included, are starting to get it."
Nightline featured a discussion of the ad campaign, including Brandweek Senior Editor David Kiley, who pointed out that there has been very little research or data gathered on the effectiveness of these types of ads (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/5-22.html#brandweek).
(Transcripts of yesterday's discussions on CNN Talkback Live and Crossfire are available on CNN's web site, at http://cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/9807/09/tl.00.html and http://cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/9807/09/cf.00.html. CNN's report on the ad campaign, with video audio samples, are at http://www.allpolitics.com/1998/07/09/clinton.drug/. As of this afternoon, Nightline had not yes posted a transcript of this report, but it will probably be there within a few days; check at http://www.abcnews.com/onair/nightline/.