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Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2000/ 14 Shevat, 5760

Larry Elder

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Hollywood: Another casualty in the war on drugs -- TWO HUNDRED EIGHTY-SIX MILLION DOLLARS last year. This year, $1.6 billion goes from the United States to Colombia to fight the "war on drugs."

"Clinton spent more federal money in the war on drugs in his first four years than was spent during Reagan's and Bush's 12 years combined," said Dr. Thomas H. Haines, City University of New York medical school professor and chair of the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information.

Black activists complained about "DWB," "Driving While Black," the alleged practice of stopping motorists simply because of their race. But why so many police interactions and stops in the first place? Answer: the war on drugs.

And now the most recent bombshell. In 1997, Congress authorized the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to spend $1 billion to buy time for anti-drug public service announcements on the major networks. But the law forces networks to sell the government this time at half price, a practice understandably balked at by bottom-line-oriented Hollywood execs.

So the White House came up with a classically Clintonesque "third way." Here's the deal. The White House, having purchased network time, gives networks "credit" for that time. How does a network earn credit? By including an anti-drug message in the content of its programs.

The ONDCP determines whether it finds the script's "anti-drug message" strong enough to allow credit. Once granted credit, the networks can sell the ONDCP's previously purchased time to another advertiser at fair-market value. So far, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and WB netted over $20 million using these "anti-drug credits."

"The Drew Carey Show," "Seventh Heaven," "ER," "Beverly Hills 90210," and "Chicago Hope," all received credit, according to "" magazine, which spent six months investigating this practice.

The government did not tell the taxpayers about the arrangements, and the networks did not inform the writers and producers. The entire arrangement may violate anti-payola laws requiring disclosure of any financial or proprietary interest in content or programming.

President Clinton denies the White House exercised any control over scripts and did not participate in any altering of material. But, WB CEO Jamie Kellner conceded that his network altered scripts of "Smart Guy" and "The Wayans Brothers" as a result of suggestions by government personnel. "We submitted the scripts," said Kellner, "to get their input and make sure we were handling the stories in the most responsible way."

Congressman David Dreier, R-Calif., and Chairman of the House Rules Committee, condemned the practice. But why did Congress authorize such a law in the first place? Demanding that networks "sell" time at 50 percent off is a taking of property, a violation of the Fifth Amendment. The interference with programming content directly attacks the First Amendment. The ONDCP calls the program voluntary. Right. Pity the network executive who refuses to go along while other networks rake in millions of dollars, placing a non-participant at a competitive disadvantage.

Suppose the next occupant of the White House feels as strongly about pro-life as the White House does about anti-drugs? What about a Republican White House crusade against, say, affirmative action, or mandatory prayer in public schools? And why stop at only dramas and sitcoms? What about a financial reward for including anti-drug messages in news magazine shows or, for that matter, the nightly newscast?

Our born-again drug warrior, President Clinton, continues to amaze. He goes on MTV during the 1992 campaign and jokes about his inability to inhale marijuana. His vice-president admits experimenting with marijuana, as does his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. Several of Clinton's White House appointees failed security clearances because of drug use within one year of their appointments.

Marijuana remains a "Schedule I" drug, meaning no known medicinal value and highly addictive. As for "medicinal value," California passed Proposition 215 to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. But President Clinton, ignoring the wishes of California voters, threatened to prosecute any doctor who prescribed this drug. Medical literature overwhelmingly confirms the beneficial use of marijuana in treating glaucoma, and in minimizing the adverse reaction to chemotherapy. And "highly addictive"? Try taking away someone's cigarettes or his thrice-daily cup of coffee, versus the same guy's marijuana.

The black market in drugs creates an incentive for crime, and the "cost" of fighting the war includes a continual erosion of our civil liberties. The criminal justice system now uses more informants to obtain drug convictions, and authorizes more wiretaps to track down traffickers.

New Mexico governor Gary Johnson courageously calls for the legalization of drugs. But after his announcement, his popularity rating fell from 60 percent to 49 percent. Politicians do read polls. So, the war continues, largely because a compliant media keeps the American people ignorant about the war's true cost.

In the end, this public ignorance remains the White House's biggest ally.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate