Insidious doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Following a six-month investigation, the online magazine Salon reported that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — a.k.a. the drug czar’s office — has been paying millions of taxpayer dollars to all six U.S. broadcast television networks in exchange for covertly inserting government-approved and government-written “drug war” propaganda in prime-time television programming.
Officials responsible for the program are far from ashamed. Donald Vereen, deputy director of the drug-control policy office, said, “When the message is embedded in (programming), it has a much more valuable ‘oomph.'” Even President Clinton expressed his support for the program.
In 1997, Congress approved a $1 billion anti-drug media campaign. The deal stipulated that broadcasters would give the government one free public service ad for every paid ad. In the spring of 1998, the drug czar’s office offered an alternative. The networks would provide copies of scripts with drug themes to Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey’s office for approval and even rewrites. The networks, in turn, would be given back some of the public service ad time, which they could use for other paid ads.
According to Salon’s report, the networks have made around $25 million on this deal so far. NBC even received more than $1 million for a single drug episode of “ER.”
This scheme fits with Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ tactics. Goebbels once said, “It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion.”
“This is the most craven thing I’ve heard of yet,” Alan Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm, told Salon. “The idea of the government attempting to influence public opinion covertly is reprehensible beyond words,” Schwartzman added to the Washington Post. “It’s one thing to appropriate money to buy ads, another thing to spend money to influence the public subliminally.”
Views on the righteousness of the “drug war” aside, this callous disregard for the First Amendment and conniving, backroom dealing is inexcusable. The government has no business dictating what does or does not go on the air. Those responsible for the program should be replaced, and the duty to the people and to the Constitution should not be forgotten by their successors.