|WOL: The real story
seems to be buried deep in your article. You've got McCaffrey and
others (government and private sector drug warriors) plotting in meetings
to undercut the medical marijuana movement. You've obtained these
meeting minutes that document the drug warriors' concern about the medical
marijuana movement spreading.
Forbes: This is a complicated
story -- you have to read it through to the end, and then you say "ah-ha."
It works through the accretion of detail. The story builds brick
by brick until you reach the inescapable conclusion. You see quotes
from James Copple, who was running the Community Anti-drug Coalition of
America at the time, saying things like, "We'll work with California and
Arizona to undo and stop the spread of legalization to the other 48 states...
Need to go state by state. $ to do media." And you have Mike
Townsend from the Partnership for a Drug-free America saying the effort
would require "$175 million. Get fdl $." And so on. When
you add those things up, you arrive at a real indication that one important
motivation for the media campaign was precisely to derail the medical marijuana
WOL: Did these activities,
these meetings, cross the line from merely sleazy to outright illegality?
Forbes: There are two
possible violations of the law here. The first relates to the wording
of the enabling legislation for the new taxpayer-supported side of the
media campaign. That legislation, which was passed in October 1997,
said ONDCP must submit its strategy for approval by both the House and
the Senate and include "guidelines to ensure and certify that none of the
funds will be used for partisan political purposes." The premise
of my story is that a main, if not the sole motivation of the campaign
was the attempt to curtail medical marijuana initiatives and derail similar
elections in other states.
WOL: Does the fact
that the language refers to "partisan" political purposes provide an out
for the drug czar?
Forbes: I don't see
any particular reason why it should solely refer to Democrats versus Republicans.
If you have two sides, it's a partisan issue. The public face of
the paid media campaign ignores medical marijuana -- it is not explicitly
addressed in the advertising -- but it does set a climate inimical to the
use of illegal drugs under any circumstances.
WOL: You said there
was a second area of possible violations of the law?
Forbes: On the other
illegality issue, Thomas Haines of the Partnership for Responsible Drug
Information (http://www.prdi.org/), who is certainly a knowledgeable source
in my book, made the point that "the use of government resources to politic
on controversial issues is clearly against ethics, as well as the law stating
that federal employees cannot take public positions for or against legislation
under consideration." That is something some of those high-priced
drug reform lawyers might want to look at.
WOL: What kind of response
have you had to this story?
Forbes: I have to say
it's been disappointing, and key to that was probably that the Associated
Press hadn't deemed it worthy of their attention. Salon contacted
a bunch of reporters, and so did I. The thing you have to understand
is that the story is not a smoking pistol. I didn't obtain a smoking
pistol, but a very warm gun. It's a complicated story, you have to
read it through to the end, and then you say "ah-ha." But there's
no "gotcha," no easy hook for a reporter to hang his hat on. But
it'll be on DRCNet, and they drive the national media, right? And
I'll be interviewed by Dick Cowan tonight on the Marijuana News (http://www.marijuananews.com).
WOL: You testified
before the House Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Criminal
Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources back on July 12 as the representatives
reviewed McCaffrey's media campaign. What was that like?
Forbes: Although I
did some additional reporting on this story after my testimony, I gave
a pretty good summary of the story in open testimony before the committee.
In fact, it was in the process of seeking to generate some new material
for this testimony to make it worthwhile for them to listen to me that
I discovered this new material. One thing I can speculate on is the
fact that McCaffrey testified before me, and then it was announced that
he would be available for questions afterward. While I was discussing
this matter, most reporters went and talked to him instead.
WOL: What are you up
Forbes: I need to approach
editors on three stories I have in the pipeline. These are more analytical-type
magazine pieces, not necessarily scoops. Still, I want to encourage your
readers to keep me in mind if they run across any interesting tidbits.
My e-mail address is [email protected]
WOL: What kind of results
to your think your work has achieved?
Forbes: First, I want
to say that I've been really lucky, and luck plays a role in all of this.
The story was originally intended for a trade magazine, but with them it
was death by a thousand cuts, and they would only have published an eviscerated
version. The New Yorker was interested, but their long lead-time
had me worried I would get scooped. Fortunately, Salon picked it
up before that happened.
I will say that I was able
to shine a light on a program of covert propaganda and I think that is
something the public needs to be aware of. This sort of story is
like catnip for any reporter; how could you not pursue a story like that?
More specifically, the stories did change federal policy, or, as the Washington
Post put it, the ONDCP had to say, "We didn't look at scripts in advance
and we won't do it anymore." On the other hand, this is still ongoing,
at least as of last spring. The TV networks are still receiving hundreds
of thousands of dollars worth of financial credits that they can exercise
if they choose.
WOL: Anything else
you want to add?
Forbes: Well, I've
been smeared and the ONDCP has attempted -- unsuccessfully -- to trash
my work, but that only fueled my investigative fires. There is also
one key point on the movies angle. On the day the story broke, Eric
Lichtblau of the Los Angeles Times interviewed ONDCP spokesman Bob Weiner
before ONDCP got their stories straight. Weiner told him that studios
could indeed submit finished movies for credits the same way TV studios
do. I don't know if that will actually happen, but that was the official
statement from the ONDCP. It hasn't received the attention it deserves.