Propaganda for Dollars 

  Propaganda for Dollars 

Posted by FoM on January 14, 2000 at 17:28:30 PT
By Daniel Forbes 
Source: Salon Magazine 

When the White House and the TV networks got together to put anti-drug messages in prime-time television, were they breaking the law? Has the federal government embarked on an illegal payola scam with the nation's television networks? And has the nation's drug czar blown smoke at Congress to escape ongoing congressional oversight?
A Salon exclusive published Thursday described a hidden government campaign to insert anti-drug messages into TV programs. The arrangement was concocted by the office of the nation's drug czar, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, and its ad buyer and was carried out by the six networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, the WB, Fox, and, this TV season, UPN.As disclosed Thursday, the scheme began in fiscal year 1998, when Congress appropriated nearly $200 million a year over five years for paid anti-drug advertising. But there was a catch: Congress said the networks had to give the government a two-for-one deal on the ads. Instead, the networks and government officials decided that anti-drug themes and stories in prime-time TV shows could take the place of the free ads. Ultimately, promulgating government-approved propaganda afforded the networks the opportunity to earn buckets of extra cash. The arrangement raises legal questions. Some observers think the government may have run afoul of the nation's anti-payola regulations. Payola entered public consciousness during the 1950s, when rock 'n' roll impresarios were convicted of bribery for paying DJs and radio stations to play specific records.The payola laws that followed require broadcasters to reveal any financial considerations, direct or indirect, that yield on-air exposure. Today, in the arrangement uncovered by Salon, the networks are earning millions in financial incentives from the government in exchange for inserting anti-drug plots in TV shows.Is the practice illegal? Perhaps.Clearly federal law requires that anyone financially influencing or contributing to programming content be revealed at the time of broadcast. That's why game-show credits include disclosures like, "Joe Game-Show Host's suits provided by Botany 500." The drug-policy office's financial incentives certainly could be construed as, to quote the law, "matter for which money, service or other valuable consideration is either directly or indirectly paid or promised to, or charged or accepted by such station ..."Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Media Access Project says there's a "rigid requirement" to disclose direct or indirect sponsorship. While he couldn't say for certain, Schwartzman believes "It's likely it's a violation." An FCC enforcement bureau official says, "I was not aware [of the ONDCP financial incentives]." He adds, "We haven't received any complaints yet. If we do receive a complaint, we'll proceed from there."Whether or not the deal is illegal, it's clear that it wasn't exactly what Congress had in mind when it authorized the drug-ad funding. And until recently, no one in Congress knew much about what the drug czar's office had been up to -- and many still don't.Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chair of the House subcommittee that appropriates funds for the drug office, says he had no idea until late last year that anti-drug shows were being used to free up half-priced ad time owed to the government. Alan Levitt, the official who runs the campaign for the drug-policy office, can name no members of Congress who knew of the arrangement prior to this fall, two years after the campaign's initiation.In the past, before both the House and the Senate, McCaffrey has referred to the deal only obliquely, making reference to "entertainment venues" or "pro bono programming." In March 1999, for example, he called the arrangement "an equal added dollar's worth of anti-drug public service, pro bono activity." Nowhere did he tell Congress that his office was horse-trading valuable advertising time for TV shows that promulgated the government's anti-drug messages.After Kolbe learned of the deal from this reporter, he summoned McCaffrey for explanation, and the snow job continued. McCaffrey appeared before Kolbe's appropriations subcommittee in October 1999. There McCaffrey made his most direct, if brief, statement yet: "We allow public affairs and programming to count as part of a network's public service contributions," he said. But even this was buried in a complex discussion of formulas, and he did not make it clear that the practice frees up millions of dollars in advertising time for the networks.Following the hearing, Kolbe declared himself "satisfied that it's legitimate." Nonetheless, he marvels at the unusual Hollywood-government pact: "I never thought of it before, and I'm still not sure that Congress intended it." About the writerDaniel Forbes is a New York freelancer who writes on social policy and the - Jan. 14, 2000 Copyright © 2000 All rights reserved. Salon Magazine Articles:Washington Script Doctors Money, How the White House Secretly Hooked TV 

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Comment #1 posted by Helen on July 30, 2001 at 06:31:17 PT
The Tempest
Mr. Hopper,Your article on the United States Government's use of high-tech spyware to secretly gather evidence against those it suspects of being bad was fascinating because I'm a naturally, and unnaturally paranoid type, and I could swear that my computer was tapped, and it was quite frightening, and I told my kids, and even showed them the weird stuff I'd found like the pictures of ugly people that my firewall program said I'd been communicating with, and I would never talk to guys that looked like death-row inmates, and I don't know anyone in Arkansas or Aruba and I don't speak any foreign languages, and never figured out how to use the fax program, but the records showed a lot of faxes in weird languages going out of my computer, and the infrared lines that you could only see with a digital camera because my printer stopped working so I tried to take pictures of those ugly guys and all the other scarey stuff, and my kids didn't believe it (and that's good because it was very scarey) and then I told some friends, and they didn't believe it either, and then my computer died and all my education reform, mineral mining, "Thomas.doc research got lost when I took it in for repair, and then it took me months before I got up the nerve to go back on-line, and longer before I resumed my favorite hobby of keeping tabs on the Government, and I'm still not as adventurous about that as I used to be, and all anyone ever says to me anymore is "You're crazy." I was 100% sure they were right, because why would our government terrorize someone for exercising their "Freedom of Information" when most of the information I gathered was about education reform, well they're always saying that parents don't get involved enough in their children's education, and well maybe I shouldn't have accused them of manipulating their little minds and of using psychological terror on them so they'd feel safe instead of violated, their every movement being surveilled, and maybe I shouldn't have accused them of trying to turn schools into government subsidized on-the-job training centers for private corporations, and for questioning the motives of Paul Allen, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bush, and others hot on the privatization of public education, and maybe I shouldn't, and maybe I shouldn't have pryed into the USGS site and downloaded all those pictures of foreign-owned mineral mines in the Third-World hotspots, and I probably shouldn't have accused the Wall Streeters of conniving to rip-off the little guy, and I shouldn't have written all those letters to the editors, but I wasn't committing any crimes, I was just exercising my Constitutional Right, and oh yeah, I probably shouldn't have suggested that it be time for us all to reread the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights and someone suggested that that kind of made me infamous, but like I said, I didn't think too much about anything I said because Freedom of Information and Freedom of Speech are our right and necessary for true Democracy, otherwise we end up with a dictorship, so after freaking over the paranoia after I started to get the strange feeling that there were people behind my monitor watching me, and that everything I wrote, even to myself, and all my internet activity was being monitored, and too, when my firewall kept crashing, and then when my fairly new, and fairly expensive computer died, and I had to get it fixed, and it's still not working right, but for awhile I thought I was special because of all the attention, but then sometimes I was sure I was insane, and then I read your article and now I think there's a slight chance that I'm OK, but I'll never be able to convince my children of that, but I'm going to try. So, Thanks, it was refreshing to know that they really do do those things and that it just wasn't that I was psycho because I'd rather have the Feds spying on me and scaring me to death than to sit around with nothing better to do than listen to the radio and wonder whose who and what's what and I do that so much that I actually started to think the DJ's were Federal plants. Once again, thank you for your informative article on high-tech spyware, which reminds me, you mentioned the Tempest program, well that was strange because right before all this stuff started, I ended up downloading a copy of the Tempest and how I got to that website is a mystery because I'd never read a word of Shakespear before, never wanted to, but I got the urge to look up the Tempest one day right before my computer died and I liked Caliban and Prospero, kind-of, and now I've read several of Shakespear's stories and I like them except Shakespear was kind-of morbid. Isn't that coincidental? I hear about Shakespears Tempest right before I had to revert to going to the library for all my researching needs, and I'm horrible at returning books on time and now the library turned me over to a collection agency and I wrecked two of the books, and you mention the Tempest Spy Program? It made my day until I read about radio stations and government sponsored somesuch thing, so now I don't want to listen to it anymore, so I'll go listen to Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison again. Have a great day.Helen A. HarrisKingston, WA 
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