The Partnership for a Candor-Free America

Article excerpt

The most famous anti-drug commercial in history--a frying egg and a somber warning, "This is your brain on drugs"--is badly in need of a sequel.

Our new spot opens with a wide-angle shot of a press conference featuring the president of ABC Television. Also in the picture are speakers from the partnership for a Drug-Free America, plus federal officials in charge of education, health, and drug policy.

"This is your nation's leadership on drugs," the announcer intones. "A more sanctimonious and hypocritical bunch you couldn't imagine."

With the help of computer graphics, the dignitaries slowly morph into upscale party-goers. Some are smoking cigarettes, others are sipping cocktails--and all have large checks spilling from their pockets.

"On March 4, 1997, these men and women gathered in Washington to launch yet another `anti-drug' campaign," the script continues. "But they continued to tiptoe around the most damaging drugs in our society. As a practical matter, they're flunkies for the multibillion-dollar interests behind cigarettes and alcohol."

You might think that such a public service ad would be unfair. But consider these facts:

* The U.S. government is providing half the funds for a new $350 million media campaign against drugs. But the advertising drive--which depends upon matching donations from media companies--will give short shrift to cigarettes and alcohol.

* In March 1997, the ABC television and radio networks were engaged in a "March Against Drugs" programming blitz with little to say about smoking and drinking.

* During the past ten years, the Partnership for a Drug Free America has produced $2 billion worth of ads. None of them said an ill word about tobacco or alcohol.

The Partnership depends upon free air time and print space. "By far, ABC has contributed more media time and space than any other company," the organization declares. "Our tremendous success over the past decade is a direct reflection of their belief in our cause."

Now, after joining itself at the hip with the Partnership and like minded federal officials, ABC News is in no position to let the chips fall where they may. "ABC's March Against Drugs"--which has enlisted such key shows as Good Morning America and World News Tonight--would more aptly be named "ABC's March Against Journalism."

In a letter to ABC, several drug policy groups blasted the Partnership: "By excluding any mention of alcohol and tobacco, the implicit message sent to kids and the general public is that legal drugs are not as harmful as illegal drugs. …