How Bush's Drug Czar Fooled the Media and the American People


Remember back in 2007 when Bush's drug czar John Walters announced that cocaine prices were spiking and proceeded to do a proud drug war victory dance in newspapers nationwide? It was the high-water mark of his tenure in terms of positive press for the national drug strategy he'd championed shamelessly since taking office in late 2001. If drug prices were increasing, his argument claimed, then our campaign to rid the nation of drugs must be on the right track and our arsenal of brutal drug war tactics was being vindicated for all to see.

John Walters
Well, it looks like the truth finally caught up with him. Ryan Grim has a fascinating piece at Reason laying out the plotline behind Walters's victory parade and it's really a remarkable window into the epic dishonesty that characterizes not only John Walters, but the foundations of the drug war itself.

I recommend reading Grim's account to understand how badly Walters manipulated the data to make his case, but what I find most troubling in all of this is the role of the press in enabling such a transparent and self-serving deception. This is the story of a man who had already jettisoned all credibility through an endless series of similarly dubious pronouncements. ONDCP's bogus theatrics were sufficiently notorious by this point that even the conservative Washington Times balked at the opportunity to break the story of the Bush Administration's self-proclaimed surprise victory in the war on drugs.

It was Donna Leinwand at USA Today who gave Walters a podium from which to deceive the American public about the success of his policies. Drug policy was – and remains – Leinwand's beat at USA Today, thus she could easily have included a counterpoint in her coverage from one of the many experts that would gladly take her call. Instead, she uncritically passed along the claims of a notoriously deceitful propagandist to the American public, igniting a firestorm of press coverage that fraudulently propped up the drug czar's political agenda.

If there's a lesson to be learned from all this, it seems not to have sunk in yet. Only a month ago, Leinwand was still promoting misleading claims about the success of the war on cocaine. It is, of course, perfectly appropriate to quote the leaders of the worldwide war on drugs as they endeavor desperately and predictably to highlight any and all miniscule data points that favor their fixations. But that should only be half the story. If you base an entire news report on something a drug war cheerleader told you, then your story won’t be true and the public that relies upon you for drug policy news will end up understanding less about the issue than if they'd never read your article to begin with.

Ironically, widespread disgust with John Walters and the entrenched drug warrior mentality he represented has likely helped set the stage for the present political climate in which the drug policy debate has finally gone mainstream. The case for reform is at long last embraced and amplified by the same media that once ignored it at every turn. Prominent journalists themselves are speaking out and saying things that used to be off-limits.

Still, all those who rejoice at the impending collapse of the great drug war juggernaut should not lose sight of the fact that only 2 years ago, a single man was able to freeze time with a simple lie.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Requiem for a Lightweight

Ever since John P. Walters threw a saddle onto his dinosaur and rode it back into neo-con, think-tank oblivion, I’ve marveled at this piece of work that once directed the ONDCP.

I once suspected Walters was modeling his communications strategy on Nazi propaganda.  But propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels would never make Walter’s fatal mistake of disseminating propaganda that was certain to be thoroughly debunked within a few months of its release.  False claims of victory were verboten.  So what gives?

Walters mingled deceit, fear mongering, and institutionalized racism into a toxic brew of industrialized persecution that bled this country of great quantities of irreplaceable human potential.  His plan, and that of his many predecessors, was to eliminate drugs by eliminating the people who use drugs.  Grandiose, to say the least.

His message to all the little American children was that no one but a crazy goddamn fool could possibly believe what the U.S. government says about illicit drugs.  That’s the message kids received, albeit not the message intended by the ONDCP and its minions.

He achieved all these things by ignoring the horrific consequences of ONDCP policies.  He knew drug policy was failing.  He didn’t care.  Instead of changing strategies, Walters went to USA Today (a newspaper that Seattle journalist, David Niewert, characterized as having the news content of a blob of mayonnaise), and he dumped some of his E. Coli onto its columns.

Heckuva job, Walters….

Giordano

Walters - fantasist or delusional?

Wasn't Walters the Drug Czar who insisted that pot had become so strong that it could be traded straight across "pound for pound for cocaine"?  I read things like that and have to wonder if the ONDCP isn't funded by DEA offices all over sending in a percentage of their evidence. They could hand it to the CIA for sale and pay off in a percentage of money or recreational herbs. after all, these laws don't apply to cops, right? And today more than ever, cops are immune to the laws they enforce. (Those would be the laws they use as an excuse to attack, beat down, murder, rob and otherwise abuse all those Godawful people who dare to indulge - without being cops, which of course cannot be tolerated.)  The hypocrisy, the greed, the stupidly, determinedly destructive laws, ad the DEA even ignoring the law entirely and busting doctors who dare follow the Medical Standard of Care and treat Chronic Pain Patients according to what the experts say and what the law permits. So of course the DEA and DoJ team up and totally ignore the law, to begin with, as well as twist and tangle it up so badly it's gibberish anyway. With over 800 innocent doctors railroaded into prison, two and half million people in prison, most of whom are "guilty" of "victimless" crimes (another obscenity) and too many are first-time pot "offenders" plus a free source of dope for every cop on the planet, what more could these braindead apes ask?

 

Ian

No More Lies

The drug war is like a dam that's holding back an intense new era of progressive, science-driven politics. The end of the drug war will begin a process that will fundamentally redefine the relationship between the American people and their government.

One of the many reforms I'd like to see in the coming decades is a law stating that when public officials speak, they are legally under oath. Our government works for us; lies from our employees will no longer be tolerated. Any official who knowingly makes false statements to the American public should be charged with perjury.

"when public officials speak, they are legally under oath"

Probably one of the best ideas to come down the pike since the Founders hammered out our Constitution. We should all get behind this idea, we need to figure out how to make it happen, and make it work for us (so many good ideas end up working for government and against the people once the politicians get done amending them to the tune of 1000 page bills)!

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Now there's a thought!

If all politicians were under oath when they spoke in public, we'd run out of 'em in a single election runup. Then maybe we could actually get a few things done that need doing.

 

Ian

Now there's a thought!

If all politicians were under oath when they spoke in public, we'd run out of 'em in a single election runup. Then maybe we could actually get a few things done that need doing.

 

Ian

Clinton's Drug Czar

Clinton's Drug Czar was no better. It has been a bipartisan effort. And how about Obama's Drug Czar? He says - like all the rest - that marijuana is not medicine.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <i> <blockquote> <p> <address> <pre> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <h6> <br> <b>

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School