ACLU Sharply Criticizes White House Drug War

July 11, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Congress for investigating the federal government’s insertion of propaganda into popular television sit-coms and dramas.

“The government not only acted unconstitutionally when it sought to alter the content of television programming,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It — together with the networks — violated the public’s trust by engaging in an unethical propaganda campaign.”

The propaganda scheme came under scrutiny by the House Government Reform Committee today.

The scheme was first reported by the online magazine Salon, which reported that for a period of about a year and a half the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy required networks to offer lucrative advertising time to the government at half-price, and then waived that requirement if the networks submitted scripts for government review.

According to news reports, the government paid five television networks a total of $25 million to allow it to incorporate drug themes into specific prime-time shows. Government officials and their contractors approved — and in some cases, altered — the shows’ scripts to better convey the government’s message. Officials at the drug czar’s office and at some of the networks involved have admitted participating in the scheme.

The ACLU said that it is no accident that drugs are the issue involved, as the government has consistently used its war on drugs to justify violating Americans’ civil liberties.

“Drug War legislation that passed the Senate contains a provision that authorizes the government to conduct secret searches without giving notice to the person being searched,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

“Time and time again the Drug War has been used to justify restricting Americans’ freedoms,” King said. “But at what cost? Deaths from drugs have more than doubled since 1979. Instead of providing access to drug treatment the government locks people up for lengthy mandatory prison sentences, tearing apart families and communities.”

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