|WOL: What do you make
of Gen. McCaffrey's latest foray into the entertainment business?
Farrell: He sought
a way to make an effective end run around the censorship issue and still
put money into films that convey his message. This is an example
of the heavy hand of the government intruding into an area of social policy
and seems close to government manipulation of public attitudes. That
is a very dangerous area.
WOL: Some industry
figures have been quoted as saying that Hollywood is such a money-driven
town that the industry would find the drug czar's financial blandishments
irresistible. What do you think?
Farrell: Oh, yes.
This is a business of whores to a significant degree, and it will perk
up the ears of all of those people who are money-driven. The effect
could be relatively benign if the movie already carried an anti-drug message,
but if writers or directors are skewing their work so its fits within certain
guidelines to get that money, then that would be very disturbing.
WOL: Hollywood has
taken a lot of flack over portrayals of sex and violence, and now Gen.
McCaffrey is implicitly pressuring the industry to portray drugs in a certain
fashion. What sort of responsibility does the industry have toward
audiences or society at large?
Farrell: We all need
to aware of needs of society and the vulnerability of the audience to whom
we're speaking. I think Hollywood has a big responsibility in terms
of portraying life realistically and appropriately. Like life itself,
sometimes these messages are life-affirming, but sometimes they are not.
That's not my business. In real life there is sex, there is violence,
there is indulgence in behaviors that some find reprehensible. And
although I'm not personally a fan of entertainment that promotes or is
irresponsible in promoting wanton sex, or violence, or overindulgence,
we cannot allow ourselves to be bludgeoned into censorship. There's
a tendency toward self-censorship already, especially when artists go into
an area they fear will spark controversy or a hostile response. That
is a terrible insult to the artistic process.
WOL: So, what should
or could the film community do in terms of drugs as a social issue?
Farrell: In terms of
drugs and drug policy, there are things my community can do that would
be much more beneficial to the community at large than adapting our messages
to fit some outside guidelines. We could realistically show the impact
of drug use, we could show the positive, pro-social effects of drug education
and rehabilitation -- all of those things we wish the government were promoting
instead of filling our prisons.
WOL: Is there anything
you like about McCaffrey's proposal?
Farrell: I'm pleased
that he's being as overt as he is, because then people are forewarned and
thus forearmed. There are already so many of what we used to call
"hidden persuaders" that it is frightening to think the government is getting
involved. As if they would be any better for us than the others,
the private interests.
WOL: Let's turn to
the subject of Juan Raul Garza. In your capacity as chair of Death
Penalty Focus you've been deeply involved in his case and in the broader
issues surrounding the death penalty. What is your reaction to President
Clinton's decision to put Garza's execution on hold?
Farrell: I was part
of a campaign to inform the president about our feelings on this issue
and to help him understand that killing Raul Garza would in many respects
run counter to the interests of the nation. I am pleased we were
able to convince the president to postpone the execution and start a review
of the whole federal death penalty process.
WOL: Opponents of Garza's
execution have pointed to several problems with how the decision to seek
the death penalty in his case was made. The OAS, for instance, has
intervened, claiming prosecutors violated international covenants when,
in the trial's penalty phase, they asked the jury to consider murders for
which Garza was never tried, let alone convicted. What is your reaction
to this argument?
Farrell: It was outrageous
conduct. Using murders where he wasn't tried or convicted was an
extraordinary act on the part of the prosecution, probably unprecedented
and definitely unethical.
WOL: Garza's attorney
has indicated that he will raise issues of racial and geographic disparity
in the administration of the federal death penalty. What about such
Farrell: The preponderance
of minorities on death row, the institutional racism and corruption on
the part of ambitious prosecutors, and even the chance of human error,
all are increasingly disturbing to many people. To allow a man of
Hispanic origin to be the first executed without taking a serious look
at the history of death penalty prosecutions at the federal level would
be indiscreet, if not downright criminal.
WOL: What is it that
drives politicians to so rabidly support the death penalty?
Farrell: Not unlike
the drug war, the death penalty is a political tool that has nothing to
do with justice and is not good social policy. Both are the result
of ambitious politicians looking to push emotional buttons that can ensure
their political power. They're certainly more interested in that
than in solving social problems and ensuring the public safety.
WOL: The death penalty
issue has achieved a high profile this year with Gov. Ryan's moratorium
in Illinois and the focus on Gov. Bush's record in Texas, among other things.
Is there reason to think the tide is beginning to turn?
President Clinton's action in calling for a hold on Garza's execution while
Justice completes its review of racial and geographic disparities and establishes
guidelines for clemency petitions was a defensive action, as well as being
an appropriate action. The increasing prominence of the whole death
penalty issue is a sign that in this country we are seeing a willingness
to rethink our positions. At long last, because of organizations
like yours and ours with our continued insistence on good, solid information
to counter the official line, we are now finding traction with people who
might otherwise not know any better. This is a hopeful sign, indeed.
People are asking for straight talk from their politicians and requiring
them to justify the outrageous statements they make in support of their