Twenty or 30 years ago, novels and movies depicted journalists
as a hard-drinking bunch.
As a nondrinker myself, I wasn't caused any career problems by
my colleagues who drank, but I noted that overindulgence in liquor
caused a fair amount of misery, family breakups, professional
disaster, and, in a few cases, self-destruction.
Today, journalism is a much more sober profession. Journalists
are more likely to drink less alcohol, and often none at all.
In part that is a reflection of trends in society in general.
While there is still a great deal of experimentation with alcohol
at the high school and college level, many more-mature citizens
have become better educated about its effect on their health,
safety, and general well-being.
Why, then, is the liquor industry trying to turn the clock back?
For some months, marketers of distilled spirits have been
experimenting with a return of radio and television advertising of
their products after a long voluntary ban. In the case of radio
advertising, the ban dates back to 1936, and to 1948 in the case of
television. Now the marketers of vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and
other hard liquors have gone public with their plan to boost sales
through television advertising - in time for the Thanksgiving,
Christmas, and New Year's holiday season.
A responsible decision?
Already the distilled-spirits industry spends more than $230
million a year on advertising, most of it for print and outdoor
billboards. But the industry covets the audience in its early 20s
that is presently being wooed on television by the beer and wine
manufacturers with about $700 million a year in advertising.
The aim of the new advertising plan is to hook a new generation
on a product that clearly has an impact on the rate of drunk
driving incidents and other community problems. The
distilled-spirits industry responds with the argument that its
advertising will be "responsible."
A lot of critics don't buy that. Neither does President Clinton.
In his weekend radio address he blasted the plan for expanded
liquor advertising as "irresponsible." By introducing the ads, the
president said, the liquor industry will be "exposing our children
to such ads before they know how to handle alcohol or are legally
allowed to do so."
The major television networks are skittish about accepting the
new hard liquor ads. They understand, and fear, the reaction of
parents and organized antiliquor groups. …