Tony Newman at 510-208-7711
| At least six major US magazines have submitted articles to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) over the past year in an effort to win advertising credits, Salon Magazine reports.
In exchange for demonstrating that their content was “on message,” the magazines were awarded the credits, releasing them from obligations to run ads they owed the government The arrangement, potentially worth millions to the industry, is similar to the one between ONDCP and the television networks, which was exposed by Daniel Forbes in Salon in January.
The Lindesmith Center, a leading drug policy reform institute in New York, sharply criticized the arrangement, saying it undermines civil liberties and has a chilling effect on a free and public debate on drug policy and other controversial issues.
Glenn Backes, Director of the Program on Health at Lindesmith, said “Buying ad space is one thing, but I have never heard of the government buying reporters and editorial boards out-right before. And don’t tell me it didn’t influence content; journalists were hand-picked by ONDCP, and editors were given a content manual with hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentives for sticking with the program.”
“The first amendment may be the latest constitutional casualty of the war on drugs,” said Deborah Small, Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach at Lindesmith. “First came racial profiling, no-knock home invasions, and asset forfeiture. Now the government is buying the content of our news,” she said.
“There are a lot of opinions about drug policy in America, and we need to hear as many voices as we can. If the media know that there’s a serious financial incentive to say what ONDCP wants to hear, how can we expect to get a full debate?”
“On a host of issues,” Small added, “ONDCP’s positions are at odds with public health experts, the general public, or even other offices of the White House. Voters in eight states have approved medical marijuana, yet the government says no. Study after study says needle exchange saves lives without increasing drug use, and the drug czar closes his ears. Human rights advocates and foreign policy experts question $1.3 billions in aid to the Colombian army’s counternarcotics war, but the Clinton Administration is undeterred.”
“If magazine editors know there’s money in presenting a one-sided version of the story, what’s to prevent them from toeing the government’s line?” .