Hollywood Whores for Washington (Anti-Drug TV) by Jim Redder

  All wars run on propaganda, and the "War on Drugs" is no exception. Much of the propaganda is obvious and heavy-handed, like the Partnership For A Drug Free America ad with actress Rachel Leigh Cook. The star of She's All That (and former Milk Bones model) is seen smashing up the kitchen with a frying pan to dramatize the dangers of heroin. But the most insidious propaganda is subtle, spoon fed to us when our guard is down. That was the case with over 100 network TV shows which aired during the past two years. As revealed by the on-line Salon magazine on January 13, the federal government essentially paid the networks $25 million for anti-drug messages woven into the scripts of such popular programs as ER, Beverly Hills 90210, Chicago Hope, The Drew Carey Show and 7th Heaven.

The arrangement was authorized by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as part of a five-year, $1 billion advertising campaign. Under the program, networks which accepted paid anti-drug ads from the government were suppose to run an equal number of free ads, a 2-for-1 deal that would double the size of the media buy to $2 million. But the networks balked at shelling out so much free ad time and the ONDCP compromised. It would waive the requirement for donated advertising if the networks included tough anti-drug messages in their regular programs. The networks were then free to sell the donated time which had been committed to the campaign.

The deal was cut under the direction of Barry McCaffery, commonly called the Drug Czar. As head of the ONDCP, McCaffery holds a cabinet-level position in the Clinton Administration. He is a retired U.S. Army General who rose to prominence during the War in Vietnam--a conflict characterized by a high level of government propaganda.

Five networks took advantage of the deal in 1998: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and WB. A sixth, UPN, jumped on board in 1999. Over the past two years, the six networks submitted scripts or tapes of 120 programs to the ONDCP for approval. The number of shows with anti-drug messages jumped dramatically, from 32 as of last March to 109 this winter, according to ONDCP. The agency approved "credits" for more than 100 of them, including some which were rewritten at the agency's direction. Other programs included Sports Night, The Practice, Providence, Cosby, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and four teen-oriented Saturday-morning live-action shows on NBC.

Media watchdog groups were shocked when the scheme was revealed. "This is the most craven thing I've heard of yet," Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm, told Salon. "To turn over content control to the federal government for a modest price is an outrageous abandonment of the First Amendment." Even the Oregonian, which never questions the "War on Drugs," editorialized against it. "To turn over content control--even a modest amount--to the government for a price is a deeply disturbing practice in a society that puts such a high premium on a free and independent media."

But such complaints are naive, at best. The truth is, the entertainment media has always provided propaganda services to the government. It has repeatedly embraced the government's official and unofficial wars, both foreign and domestic, creating villains to

̉Inserting political messages in entertainment  is far more effective than paid advertising.'

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