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The partnership for a candor-free America.

The most famous anti-drug commercial in history--a frying egg and a somber warning, "This is your brain on drugs"--is badly in need of a sequel.

Our new spot opens with a wide-angle shot of a press conference featuring the president of ABC Television. Also in the picture are speakers from the partnership for a Drug-Free America, plus federal officials in charge of education, health, and drug policy.

"This is your nation's leadership on drugs," the announcer intones. "A more sanctimonious and hypocritical bunch you couldn't imagine."

With the help of computer graphics, the dignitaries slowly morph into upscale party-goers. Some are smoking cigarettes, others are sipping cocktails--and all have large checks spilling from their pockets.

"On March 4, 1997, these men and women gathered in Washington to launch yet another `anti-drug' campaign," the script continues. "But they continued to tiptoe around the most damaging drugs in our society. As a practical matter, they're flunkies for the multibillion-dollar interests behind cigarettes and alcohol."

You might think that such a public service ad would be unfair. But consider these facts:

* The U.S. government is providing half the funds for a new $350 million media campaign against drugs. But the advertising drive--which depends upon matching donations from media companies--will give short shrift to cigarettes and alcohol.

* In March 1997, the ABC television and radio networks were engaged in a "March Against Drugs" programming blitz with little to say about smoking and drinking.

* During the past ten years, the Partnership for a Drug Free America has produced $2 billion worth of ads. None of them said an ill word about tobacco or alcohol.

The Partnership depends upon free air time and print space. "By far, ABC has contributed more media time and space than any other company," the organization declares. "Our tremendous success over the past decade is a direct reflection of their belief in our cause."

Now, after joining itself at the hip with the Partnership and like minded federal officials, ABC News is in no position to let the chips fall where they may. "ABC's March Against Drugs"--which has enlisted such key shows as Good Morning America and World News Tonight--would more aptly be named "ABC's March Against Journalism."

In a letter to ABC, several drug policy groups blasted the Partnership: "By excluding any mention of alcohol and tobacco, the implicit message sent to kids and the general public is that legal drugs are not as harmful as illegal drugs." Yet, in the United States, "over 500,000 people die each year from alcohol and tobacco--35 times the number of deaths from all illegal drugs combined."

Mike Males, the sociologist who authored The Scapegoat Generation, points out that federal authorities concentrate on bad mouthing underage use of tobacco and alcohol--there by enhancing the image of smoking and drinking as "mature" activities. "Instead of teaming up with political and private drug war interests to scapegoat young people," Males comments, "ABC and other media would do a far greater public service to investigate at arm's length why the war on drugs is such a monumental failure."

Clearly, finger wagging techniques don't work. Extensive research--including the U.S. Education Department's recent evaluation of Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) programs--proves that "just say no" messages are not effective in reducing drug use among children and adolescents.

Because the Partnership for a Drug Free America has refused to utter a word against cigarettes or alcohol, the mainstream media have found it easier to downplay those major threats to public health. The current anti-drug effort by ABC is a case in point. When ABC faxed me a dozen pages about its special news reports with "anti drug themes," the only targets were marijuana, heroin, and "sniffing inhalants." The selective coverage will, no doubt, gratify the beer marketers and conglomerates with tobacco holdings that pour huge ad revenues into ABC's coffers.

Talk about addiction! From the network suites of ABC to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to officialdom in Washington, D.C., the movers and shakers are hobbled by dependency on this nation's legal drug sellers--the alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical firms which are all too happy to focus anti drug ire elsewhere.

Take a look around. This is your country. This is your country on drugs.

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist and coauthor (with Jeff Cohen) of Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News. His weekly column, "Media Beat," appears in newspapers across the country and on the Internet. To contact Solomon, call (510) 273-9002 or e-mail
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Title Annotation:hypocrisy of the anti-drug campaign
Author:Solomon, Norman
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:May 1, 1997
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