Drug Czar aims to infiltrate Hollywood

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted July 17, 2000

It turns out Drug Czar and retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey wasn't content with paying off TV networks to slip subliminal "anti-drug" messages into the scripts of 109 (and still counting) episodes of entertainment programs like "E.R." and "Beverly Hills, 90210" -- even going so far as to preview the episodes and "suggest changes."

No, after that Orwellian scheme was exposed by the online magazine Salon, back in January, came the April revelation that at least six major magazines and newspapers had also met the Drug Czar's "matching requirements" under 1997 legislation that requires media outlets to "match" every dollar spent by the government on anti-drug ads.

The networks were loathe to give up valuable commercial time for the stipulated free "public service announcement or similar anti-drug message," you see. So Gen. McCaffrey's office accommodatingly allowed the networks -- and the magazines and newspapers -- to meet their "matching" requirement by merely running articles or entertainment programs which slipped "accurate depictions of drug use issues" into their supposedly non-advertising content, with readers or viewers none the wiser.

Need we ask who got to define "accurate"?

Would the TV producers earn a "credit" if they ran a report on the way a federal judge in California caused the death of author Peter McWilliams last month by depriving him of the medical marijuana (now legal under California law) which controlled his nausea from chemotherapy drugs?

(McWilliams, who choked on his own vomit while taking a bath, was posthumously awarded the Champion of Liberty Award at the Libertarian Party's national convention in Anaheim July 2.)

Somehow I doubt that's the kind of "accuracy" the Drug Czar's office has in mind -- any more than it would take seriously a magazine or newspaper applying for "credit" for a story which pointed out that the drug ethyl alcohol, re-legalized on a campaign promise by President Franklin Roosevelt and his Democrats in 1933 (how's that for "sending a message to the kids"?) causes thousands of times more disease, violence, social pathology, and premature death in this country than all the "controlled substances" targeted by Gen. McCaffrey's War on Drugs, combined.

But now comes a further revelation, in July 12 editions of the Los Angeles Times, that the Drug Czar planned to disclose in congressional testimony last week a scheme to also "leverage popular movies" into featuring these approved anti-drug messages.

Why, even the theater owners themselves may now be able to belly up to the federal trough -- just as though they'd run a 60-second "anti-drug" spot before a movie -- merely by running previews for films which have the won the Drug Czar's "seal of approval." ("They can submit it to our contractors, after the movie is completed, for review for credit," McCaffrey spokesman Bob Weiner told the Times.)

It's an open secret that producers already approach commercial sponsors to subsidize film production costs by eliciting payments for "product placement" -- it's unlikely to be just a coincidence when Nicholas Cage takes a swig of Pepsi these days, or Demi Moore lights up a Marlboro.

But is this truly to be an open market? If he's so anxious to have drug issues discussed, will Gen. McCaffrey help the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws pony up a few hundred grand to influence production of a Hollywood film about millionaire recluse Donald Scott of Malibu, shot in his home after his wife screamed for help from the kitchen at the sight of plainclothes cops busting in the doors in hopes of finding marijuana -- after the eager officers gathered at the gate at dawn to review maps of the valuable property they were planning to annex if they found a single plant? (Scott died. No drugs were found. Parks police later let the Scott house burn down rather than allow fire engines to cross their land.)

Of course not. When Big Brother starts infiltrating our media to bribe the procurers into delivering propaganda messages, it's a one-way street.

The general evidently envisions our film and TV industries playing the same role as those familiar Army indoctrination films in which smiling actors in tailored uniforms crack bad jokes and instruct the trainees in everything from the proper method for brushing one's teeth to the importance of avoiding VD-infected prostitutes. Eventually, no programming will be allowed that doesn't in some way "advance the interests of the state," and the notion that our "free press" can or should deliver us a healthy public debate featuring a diversity of viewpoints will evoke nothing but the kind of cynical chuckles once heard in the Soviet Union.

Producers and publishers who sell out our heritage of a free and skeptical press for such paltry payoffs should be exposed. Then, the same Congress which was once wise enough to forbid the Voice of America from broadcasting government propaganda inside America, should similarly put this Drug Czar out of the domestic propaganda business.

Either that, or we can stop struggling to help our kids understand those dusty old, hard-to-read documents by guys like Jefferson and Madison in eighth grade Civics class. Instead, we'll just hand out copies of Orwell's "1984."

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers" is available at 1-800-244-2224.

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