Editorial: Paying for Propaganda 5/13/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!


http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/386/paying.shtml

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

David Borden's usual Thursday night editing session
One of the issues under discussion on Capitol Hill recently is that of government-financed propaganda. The Armstrong Williams episode, in which a media firm contracted by the federal government to make the Bush administration's case for its vision of education reform paid the conservative commentator a tidy sum to help, is fresh in the minds of Democrats, who are now fielding a proposal to require all government-purchased media content be labeled as such -- "paid for by the federal government."

Largely absent from that debate has been the much longer-running, and thoroughly bipartisan, program of government-sponsored anti-drug media campaigns. These include but are not limited to paid advertising buys – which are generally labeled as from the government, to be fair – but go far beyond that. Just as advocacy organizations pitch news media and supply content to them to garner exposure beyond what their advertising budgets could purchase, so does the government:

  • When a new "demon drug" hits the airwaves – meth, ecstasy, oxycontin – one can assume that police agencies' one-sided press releases played a role.
  • When a misleading news report of some newly-discovered harm from marijuana, for example, comes out, it was probably the public relations department at the National Institute on Drug Abuse that prompted it.
  • When a prosecutor stands in front of the TV cameras to brag about the latest takedown of a drug trafficker or a drug-prescribing doctor, that is government-financed public relations.
  • When federal anti-drug bureaucrats tour the country with representatives of the for-profit drug-testing industry, using intellectually suspect information to pitch school systems on buying their services (as we report this week), that is government-financed public relations.
Sometimes a drug's new prominence really is due to its popularity or dangers. Most scientists perform their research scrupulously, in drugs as in any other area. And many big drug busts are for real, abuse and misuse of enforcement powers notwithstanding.

But often the attention drawn to a drug is unrelated to its popularity or dangers. Often NIDA's spin-meisters don't show good faith to the meaning of a study, but instead promote their own angle which may have little relation to the actual findings. Big drug busts aren't always justified, the defendants sometimes are innocent, but prosecutors don't seem to have a problem denouncing their targets and tearing them to moral shreds before the world long before their guilt has been established.

When taxpayer resources are exploited by public officials with an agenda, freedom is undermined. US political leaders and others have rightfully criticized the Putin government's squelching of independent media in Russia, for example, as a step backward from that nation's young experiment in democracy. But the outright closure of private sector media outlets is only an extreme form of government control of political discourse. When officials use their power and budgets to manipulate attitudes and opinions, in ways going beyond their appropriate participation in public dialogue and debate, and when most media outlets allow them to do it, that also runs counter to the democratic spirit – no less so just because "drugs are bad" in some ways, though broad public acceptance of anti-drug campaigns means there is less criticism fielded of propaganda by the government in the drug arena.

Still, the record shows that even the sacred cow of anti-drug media can sometimes be taken on successfully. Five years ago, journalist Dan Forbes exposed a program in which the Office of National Drug Control Policy reviewed scripts and awarded credits toward commercial ad buys when networks incorporated anti-drug content in their TV shows. It was a scandal – members of Congress even invited Forbes to Washington to testify – and the practice was put to a stop. Clearly we have much further to go, but perhaps there is hope – democracy does still function, after a fashion, anyway, even for drug policy. People don't always recognize when the government is trying to manipulate them through the media, but they don't really like it when they do.

Perhaps a standard should be put in place that restricts the ability of government agencies to use the media to promote their agendas. For example, research funded by NIDA could be announced to the press by the researchers or the universities they work for, not by the NIDA press office. Perhaps police and prosecutors should be barred from holding press conferences when they have merely indicted a suspect but not won a conviction. It ought to be possible to craft standards of conduct for government officials communicating through the mass media in their official capacities, in a way that does not stifle discussion of important issues or infringe on constitutional protections for freedom of speech.

Any restrictions on speech should be carefully considered before being enacted or implemented, even restrictions such as these to be placed on the government. But what is clear is that the willingness of drug warriors to lie over and over to the public through mass media is shameful, and one way or another should be stopped – for the sake of better drug policy and for democracy – and, as drug warriors are fond of saying, for the children.

-- END --
Link to Drug War Facts
Please make a generous donation to support Drug War Chronicle in 2007!          

PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Issue #386 -- 5/13/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!

Editorial: Paying for Propaganda | Feature: Marijuana Remains Legal in Alaska | Feature: Major Russian Drug Reforms on Verge on Being Reversed | Feature: ONDCP Student Drug Testing Road Show Dogged by "Truth Squads" | Announcement: DRCNet/Perry Fund Event to Feature US Rep. Jim McDermott, June 1 in Seattle | Sentencing: House Passes Orwellian "Anti-Gang" Mandatory Minimums | Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Cocaine: Connecticut House Passes Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Disparities | Pain: Boston Congressman Wants Nationwide Ban on Oxycontin | Pain: ABC's Nightline Gives Sympathetic Look at Pain Treatment vs. Prohibition | Prisons: Sex Abuse of Federal Inmates by Guards "A Significant Problem," Justice Department Says | Initiatives: Denver Marijuana Initiative Submitted for Approval | Initiatives: Michigan Marijuana Initiative Effort Gets Underway | Middle East: Lawless Iraq Becoming Key Drug Corridor, INCB Says | Asia: Taiwan Considers Syringe Access to Reduce AIDS Spread | Caribbean: "Ganja Planter" Lament Tops the Charts in Trinidad & Tobago | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Listing: Outreach Coordinator, Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (DRCNet) | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
Chronicle archives
Subscribe now!
Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en Español Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em Português Latest News Drug Library Search
special friends links: SSDP - Flex Your Rights - IAL - Drug War Facts

StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20009 Phone (202) 293-8340 Fax (202) 293-8344 [email protected]