inJusticebusters received the following through e-mail April 15, 2000. Although it highlights the tactics of the U.S. government, we believe it is relevant to our readers because, as we all know, Canada slavishly follows U.S. policy, especially regarding drugs. All artists, writers and, indeed, users of the Internet should be concerned. The pressure to tell lies is huge. The truth is that drugs are a major social problem. The truth also is that "Just Say No" is a stupid and ineffective slogan, whether applied to sex, drugs or anything else.
"They've used McCarthy-ite guilt by association of the worst sort. They've got this big taxpayer funded machine and I've got my pen and notebook."
Is the government out to get a reporter who exposed media collusion in anti-drug policy?
Gary Webb's Dark Alliance reports - Cocaine pipeline financed rebels - Evidence points to CIA knowing of high-volume drug network
A freelance reporter shines an unwanted spotlight on financial aspects of a government propaganda campaign which reek of questionable practices and media manipulation. In response, the government agency in charge faxes letters to the editors of the publication that printed his story, and to at least one columnist at another publication and potential market for the freelancer, questioning his credibility, ethics and political positions.
A scenario from a dictatorship or from a communist country? No, it's happening right here and now in the U.S.A. The President's Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, or the drug czar's office) is going after the messenger who exposed its policy of paying media organizations to write or air stories favorable to its political strategy
The story began when the online magazine Salon ran freelancer Dan Forbes' expose of a deal between the drug czar's office and the TV networks on Jan. 13. Because President Clinton's billion-dollar anti-drug media campaign was paying for spots that Reagan and Bush had gotten for free, the administration needed a justification for essentially creating a jobs program for media workers.
They came up with the idea that for every ad the government paid for, the networks would have to air a similarly valued public-service announcement for free. Or, and most insidiously, to avoid this onerous financial requirement, the media could donate politically-correct "anti-drug" programs "in kind."
The government, in essence, was paying the media to present its drug policy position; and if the networks and magazines didn't go along, they'd have to give up valuable ad space or time if they wanted government money.
"The media are not getting paid to air certain programs," said ONDCP press secretary Bob Weiner, defending the campaign. "Congress mandated a match - that we buy at regular prices but that we negotiate for matching donations from the media.
If we did not do that, we would not be following the law. Forbes is incredibly inaccurate. This is not a political issue - it's a save the children issue."
The drug czar's office was clearly not happy to have Forbes air the details of this arrangement, and for the story to be picked up and front-paged by The New York Times and given major coverage by most news organizations. They were so unhappy that just before Salon ran the most recent part of the investigation, ONDCP assistant director for strategic planning, Robert Housman, sent a letter to Salon's top editors claiming that Forbes was biased.
"It is clear that Dan Forbes ...is more than just a disinterested reporter in search of a story," Housman wrote in the letter, faxed on stationery with The Executive Office of the President and a prominent picture of the White House at the top. "Mr. Forbes has been a regular contributor to the Media Awareness Project's Website, an organization that essentially advocates for the legalization of drugs," the letter went on to claim.
But anyone who looks at the Media Awareness Project's (MAP) 35,000-plus online clipping collection can see that the majority of articles posted there support the government's position. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey is a larger "contributor" than Forbes if you count the number of articles written by him that are posted (McCaffrey: 28; Forbes: 7). MAP does not pay anyone to contribute: it simply reprints or links to any drug-policy related story it can find, with hopes of stimulating debate about alternate drug policies. And, why should a reporter who supports legalization be any more biased than one who supports the government anyway?
(Forbes, by the way, has not made his position public.)
Housman didn't stop at sending his letter to Forbes' bosses at Salon - he also sent it Mark Jurkowitz, media columnist for The Boston Globe and possibly to other media editors and potential markets for Forbes' work. Neither Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post nor Alex Kuczynski of The New York Times received the letter, however, but both were aware that Forbes was under attack.
David Talbot, Salon's editor-in-chief, told Jurkowitz that "whatever biases Dan Forbes has about U.S. drug policy... I think the biases were not the driving factor in the stories he did for us... What's really going on here is the White House is coming close to launching a preemptive strike on the reputation of a journalist."
Housman further attacked Forbes on the Pacifica radio program Democracy Now on April 4, saying that he was "sloppy," that his work was "half truth, half made up," "littered with factual errors," and "willfully blind to the facts." However, the only "mistakes" Housman could document were in a headline (which wasn't written by Forbes) and in a quote (which was accurate but which told a different story than another ONDCP source did). ONDCP had no substantive arguments to back its accusations of bias, errors or sloppiness.
"They've tried to divide me from my institutional support, which as a freelancer, I don't have much of to begin with," said Forbes. "They've used McCarthy-ite guilt by association of the worst sort. They've got this big taxpayer funded machine and I've got my pen and notebook."
Forbes is not the only journalist to run afoul of ONDCP, either. Michael Massing is author of "The Fix: Under Nixon, America Had An Effective Drug Policy: We Should Restore It" and winner of the MacArthur 'genius' award for his coverage of drug issues.
He told NewsWatch he was "berated," on the phone by Housman, a conversation Massing called "unprofessional." Massing was also publicly "denounced" at a criminology conference by ONDCP press secretary Bob Weiner, he says. "It was during a session of the conference and I was in the audience. Weiner said, 'We're looking for people who are helpful, not like Michael Massing."
Professor Thomas Patterson, Acting Director of the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, says that in a democracy, the government is within its rights to attack a journalist who it believes is attacking its policies and practices. "In a free society, they can make any claim they want and get it out into the open and see where the facts come down. Probably, when you add up the costs and benefits, whatever benefit they get by tarnishing this guy's reputation is offset by the costs of looking stupid and heavy-handed."
He adds, "I do have problems with the (tactics used in the anti-drug media campaign) but I have even larger problems with the media.
Think what they'd do if a Congressman took $200,000 in order to vote a particular way. How can they justify taking the money?"
Newshawk: anonymous Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 Source: NewsWatch (US Web) Copyright: 2000 www.NewsWatch.org Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Address: 2100 L Street NW, Suite 300 Washington DC 20037 Fax: 202-872-4014 / Author: Maia Szalavitz. Note: Author Maia Szalavitz is a contributing editor to NewsWatch
Bookmark: MAP's link to the ONDCP Media Campaign