TV takes prohibitionist payola

Television is an electronically administered drug with negative side effects. Researchers find that chronic television users often have brainwave patterns resembling those of people who are asleep, sedated, mentally ill, or hypnotized. Television has been causally linked to violence, sexism, racism, and decreased cognitive abilities, especially in children. It is also the main device used by global corporations to spread mindless consumerism.
Thanks to an Internet magazine named Salon, we now find out that American television programming is a tool of General Barry McCaffrey and his White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

According to Salon reports, verified by ONDCP and major television networks, the US government colluded with networks to insert anti-drug messages into television programs, including top-rated shows like ER, Chicago Hope, Beverly Hills 90210, the Drew Carey Show, and Seventh Heaven.

The propaganda effort is based on a 1997 law passed by Congress that allocated $200 million per year of taxpayers’ money to pay media outlets to run anti-drug advertising. The law required media outlets to provide free anti-drug public service announcements equal to the amount of advertising time paid for by the government. In March, 1999, McCaffrey referred to this as “an equal added dollar’s worth of entertainment venues and pro bono programming.” Basically, the government got the better of the media in what amounted to a two-for-one deal.

But television networks and their ad agencies weren’t fond of giving away valuable ad time, and so they asked ONDCP if they could insert anti-drug themes into fictional shows instead of running free public service announcements. They could then sell to paid advertisers the time that would have gone to free public service ads.

According to published reports, networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, UPN, WB and Fox earned as much as $40 million using the scheme. But network executives now admit that the arrangement bothered executives, screenwriters, producers and program creators, primarily because ONDCP began to have influence over the content of shows.

In order to get a TV show’s anti-drug message to count toward its pro bono anti-drug matching commitment, ABC execs admitted, they had to send tapes of shows to ONDCP for approval. ABC officials became uneasy when Alan Levitt, director of the government’s anti-drug media campaign, began demanding to see scripts of shows before the shows were even aired.

ABC President Pat Fili-Krushel said ABC decided to begin running free ads to cover its matching obligations, fearing that government officials were pressuring producers to adjust story lines to obtain government approval. Other television network insiders also confirmed that government officials and networks negotiated script changes.

Salon reported that producers of the WB network show “Smart Guy,” were convinced by government agents to change a script that showed two kids using drugs at a party. The kids were originally depicted as cool and popular, but after ONDCP intervened, the script was rewritten to portray the kids as stupid losers.

Kayne Lanahan, a senior exec with Fox, admitted that government screeners “looked at each episode and how prevalent the story line was. We’d occasionally show them scripts in development, and the final script, and then send a tape if the show airs.”

Predictably, Levitt denied that government officials or representatives tried to change scripts, and said that ABC must have misunderstood his intentions and his explanations about the government’s review process. CBS, NBC, and Fox claimed that the government program had no effect on the independence and creativity of their programming, but one network executive added that, “Every network has a different relationship with ONDCP.”

Propaganda payola

The government and its television propaganda conspirators went to a lot of trouble to concoct and maintain the scheme, which is viewed as a possible violation of “payola” laws enacted in the US several decades ago after music industry execs were caught paying radio disc jockeys to play specific records.

The conspirators, without approval from congressional representatives who crafted the advertising legislation, created a numerical formula that assigned financial value to a program’s anti-drug message. Thirty-minute shows with “approved” anti-drug messages were given three “units” of value; each unit equaled the cost of a 30-second ad on that show. Hour shows were valued at five units. Shows with bigger audiences got more units than less-popular shows. Seeking to benefit from this formula, Fox ran a two-part 90210 depicting an addict’s downfall. The ONDCP gave credits for the two shows, valued at $750,000 each.

Salon reported several other shows that earned megabucks for their anti-drug themes: The Practice netted half a million dollars; ER earned NBC $1.4 million; Home Improvement garnered $525,000; Sports Night earned approximately $450,000. Other shows influenced by the drug czar’s office: Cosby, Sabrina the Teen Witch, General Hospital, Boy Meets World, Promised Land, Providence, and Trinity.

Salon discovered that an inferior script for Chicago Hope was produced solely because it had anti-drug themes. The episode featured ludicrous depictions of people attending a rave; the ravers endured insanity, death, rape, car accidents, and broken bones as a result of ingesting rave drugs. The show even contained a sequence in which a surgeon threatened to let a patient die unless the patient underwent an incriminating urine test!

Salon reported other shows influenced by ONDCP: a wild pot-induced freakout on the Wayans Brothers show; blanket drug tests at work and for a high school basketball team and a car accident caused by alcohol and marijuana on Sports Night; kids caught with marijuana and forced to nark out their suppliers on both Cosby and Smart Guy; and a teenager becoming an undercover nark after a religious fanatic tells his parents to force the kid to become one, on the show 7th Heaven.

Ironically, the deputy director of the ONDCP, Donald Vereen, admitted recently that illicit drugs are almost never presented in a positive light on network television anyway. Alcohol is featured on TV programming in 71% of the networks’ 42 top-rated dramas and comedies, oftentimes portrayed as a harmless social lubricant, but illicit drugs are hardly ever mentioned. If they are mentioned, they are portrayed as demonic substances that automatically lead users to hell. ONDCP also admitted that because of the payola scheme, the number of shows with anti-drug themes has tripled in the last two years.

Covert operations

Along with the Orwellian aspect of government agents supervising script development for commercial television, the payola scandal also reveals McCaffrey’s typical propensity for being dishonest and for running covert, anti-democratic operations.

McCaffrey and other ONDCP staff have repeatedly been asked about the media ads arrangement, and have given incomplete, false and misleading answers to the press and members of Congress. Worse yet, ONDCP and network execs now admit that most television personnel below management level never knew about the payola scheme.

“TV producers knew nothing about the money transactions involved,” commented Levitt. “In almost every instance I’m aware of, the creative people coming to us have no understanding of the pro bono match. They have no idea.”

Levitt also admitted Congress wasn’t told about the ad deals until nearly two years after they had been implemented.

It’s very likely that General McCaffrey helped break Federal Communications Law requiring broadcasters to reveal any financial considerations, direct or indirect, that influence on-air programming. Has McCaffrey apologized for the scheme? Of course not! Clinton’s White House spokesperson Joe Lockhart said, “General McCaffrey has been very innovative about getting anti-drug messages out and he is going to continue to do so. He’s an aggressive guy, and he gets the job done.”

McCaffrey’s office says the ad scheme will continue, but steps will be taken to ensure that it doesn’t have the appearance of censorship or creative control.

Federal Communication Commission (FCC) officials are said to be very upset about the ONDCP’s actions, and are waiting for somebody, anybody, to make a formal complaint so they can begin investigating McCaffrey.

Another important fact: ONDCP also entered into a payola arrangement with Internet service provider America On Line (AOL), and with Marvel Comics Group, which produces Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk comics, among others.

Sources say the ONDCP helped AOL design and set up its anti-drug Internet sites, and provided “creative guidance” to comic book writers.

You can fight back by “just saying no” to mainstream television networks that accepted anti-drug money, and to AOL and Marvel Comics. Boycott these greedy corporate drug war whores!