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Free Speech Casualty in War on Drugs
By L. Douglas Malkan
Meddling with TV
FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, UPN and WB have all admitted they allowed the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to review over a hundred scripts for popular prime-time shows such as ER, Beverly Hills 90210, General Hospital and Chicago Hope in connection with a billion dollar program that began in 1997.
Under the 1997 deal, the government receives $1 billion worth of advertising spots from the networks for every $1 billion of anti-drug advertising they pay for - a "two for one" deal for the government.
But as part of the billion-dollar deal, the drug czar's office agreed to release the networks from the obligation to provide free commercial spots if the networks included anti-drug messages in the storylines of shows. The situation was first exposed by the online news website Salon.com.
At a House appropriations subcommittee, McCaffrey explained the credit system: "An on-strategy storyline that is the main plot of a half-hour show can be valued at three 30-second ads ... If there is an end tag with an 800 number for more information at the end of a half-hour show, it is valued at an additional 15-second ad. A main storyline in an hour-long prime-time show is valued at five 30-second ads, while such a story-line in a one-hour daytime show is valued at four 30-second ads."
McCaffrey' office admitted that it received some scripts for credit approval before shows aired and suggested changes, causing critics to claim the drug czar's office was editing the content of television. Salon.com identified two-dozen shows where single or multiple episodes containing anti-drug themes were assigned monetary value by the drug czar's office.
For example, to partially meet its "match" and thus recoup some of the ad time owed the government, Fox submitted a two-episode "Beverly Hills 90210" story involving a character's downward spiral into drug addiction. The episodes were valued at between $500,000 and $750,000, said one executive close to the deal. In another example, in return for several episodes with anti-drug subplots, "ER" redeemed $1.4 million worth of time for NBC. "The Practice" recouped $500,000 worth of time for ABC. In one government-endorsed plot on "Chicago Hope," the show featured a drug-induced death, rape, psychosis, a two-car wreck, a broken nose and a doctor's threat to skip life-saving surgery unless the patient agreed to a urine test - along with a canceled flight on the space shuttle. Other drug-czar-approved shows featured a career-devastating, pot-induced freakout ("The Wayans Bros."); drug tests at work ("The Drew Carey Show"); drug tests for a school basketball team (NBC's Saturday morning "Hang Time"); death behind the wheel due to alcohol and pot combined ("Sports Night"); kids caught with marijuana or alcohol pressed to name their supplier ("Cosby" and "Smart Guy"); and a young teen becoming an undercover police drug informant after a minister tells his parents he should ("7th Heaven"). At least one show, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," was rejected by the drug czar's office, Salon.com reported. "Drugs were an issue, but it wasn't on-strategy... Viewers wouldn't make the link to our message," said a source in the drug-policy office who read the script.
Since the story broke and was picked up in the national media, the drug czar's policy has come under fire from free speech activists, media executives and some politicians. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chairman of the House Commerce Committee's telecommunications panel, is planning hearings this spring on the policy and its guidelines. He said about the program, "We're not going to allow the federal government to become a censor."
In response to the criticism, the ONDCP advertising program has been slightly changed for now. "They've revised their policy to no longer look at scripts or do changes in programming for credit before a program is finished," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said last month. But ONDCP spokesman Bob Weiner said the office will continue to do "consulting work" for producers who request their assistance. And TV producers are well aware of the ONDCP's "on strategy" guidelines for credits, which are available in a thick binder from the White House.
Meddling with Books
If passed, bookstores, magazine sellers and newspapers could be held criminally liable by for having unacceptable content, and major Internet booksellers such as Amazon.com would be in violation of federal law. This provision would make some books, magazines and newspapers illegal.
"Drug law reformers, civil libertarians and the general public need to recognize that Sen. Hatch's bill is a blatant attack on Americans' right to free speech," said Keith Stroup, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Citizens must act soon to amend or kill this terrible federal legislation."
The bill has been forwarded to the US House of Representatives (called HR 2987 in the House), where on Jan. 27 it was sent to the Judiciary and Commerce committees for review. If passed by the House and Senate, it would become federal law.
It's recognition the ski resort would probably rather do without. Breckenridge Ski Resort's Peak 7 development concept has been named to the "1999 Sprawl of Shame" list compiled by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG).
The Sprawl of Shame was designed to recognize proposed developments that "experts say could have the most deleterious impacts on open space, traffic congestion, wildlife habitat, scenery and quality of life," according to the CoPIRG winter newsletter.
Woody Beardsley, who has studied the effects of sprawl in Colorado and Montana, chose the 10 proposed developments in Colorado for the Sprawl of Shame. Beardsley said he got the information about Breckenridge from Jeff Berman and Mark Detsky of Colorado Wild.
The Peak 7/Peak 8 development concept, proposed by Vail Resorts last March, calls for 285 acres to be developed into 850 units of residential and commercial developments. Concepts for the Peak 7 portion of the development, which is contingent upon a terrain expansion onto Peak 7, call for a 20,000-square-foot convention center, three-story residential buildings, an ice rink and commercial space. The concept also includes a gondola connecting Peak 7 to the free ski-area parking lots in town, which would be the site of a commercial development with a movie theater.
"The proposed development exemplifies the aggressive trend in resort management where expansion is being pushed by real estate speculation and not a need for more skiing. Besides having significant impacts to wetlands, wildlife and water quality, a number of existing Breckenridge businesses would be hurt as well," states the CoPIRG report.
Jim Felton, spokesman for Breckenridge Ski Resort, called the CoPIRG Sprawl of Shame "farcical." "The fact that they would name a project that is a concept plan as a contributing factor to sprawl shows how little homework they did," Felton said. Felton said that he thinks CoPIRG was just looking for big names to include in its sprawl roster to "aggrandize their effort." Felton attributes sprawl problems to a population growth spurt in the state and the booming nationwide economy, not the ski areas. "Ski areas are a great target for a lot of people who incorrectly prescribe some of the problems we're having in Colorado," he said. He suggested that if CoPIRG is trying to gain recognition as a watchdog agency, it should do more accurate research.
In response to the comment that the Peak 7 development would harm local businesses, Felton said that the retail and commercial business base in town has grown much faster in the last 10 years than resort ownership of retail businesses. But some local business owners are continuing to express concern about the proposed Peak 7/Peak 8 base-area developments. Ann Evans, owner of the Joy of Sox, fears the development would take dollars away from Main Street and "kick the bread and butter out of Breckenridge." "I'm not sure Vail is that great for us" she said.
Status of the New Breckenridge
Since the development concepts have not been officially submitted to the town, the public has not yet been invited to comment on the plans. But the Breckenridge Town Council and ski area representatives have had several discussions about the proposed developments. At this point, it appears the project is not being supported in its current form by the town council.
According to Councilman Sam Mamula, the council has sent Vail Resorts back to the drawing board a half-dozen times. The town refuses to negotiate on two main issues, according to Mamula. The council is demanding that there is no impact to Cucumber Gulch, a sensitive wetlands area, and they have also said they will not support transferring commercial density outside the town core. This is a key aspect of the ski resort's plan, since commercial space planned for the base areas would need to be transferred from resort-owned land in town. The council is also questioning whether the gondola will be a benefit for the town or simply for the resort. Felton said the ski resort is at the point of building the development concept, with input from the town council, "from the ground up." "We continue to be in negotiations with the town to address critical parking and transportation issues," he said. "We would like to formalize introducing elements of a plan to the town within the next three months."
Other Sprawl of Shamers
Breckenridge Ski Resort was the only ski area to make the list. Other
inductees in the Sprawl of Shame include:
CoPIRG is concerned not just with sprawl, but with the loss of farmland and lack of growth planning in many counties, according to the group's newsletter. They are also working to "expose developers who attempt to derail smart growth bills." You can visit their website at www.pirg.org/copirg.
Stacy Malkan contributed to this story.
Environmentalists were pleased by the turnout at the most recent Board of County Commissioners public meeting on the forest plan. In a reversal of previous meetings, in which ski resort employees by the dozens asked for support in their opposition to the forest plan, the public comment at the latest meeting swayed in the opposite direction.
Representatives of several environmental groups, such as Colorado Wild, the Colorado Mountain Club and the White River Conservation Coalition, along with many local citizens, spoke in favor of the Forest Service's preferred management plan, known as Alternative D. Alternative D would allow ski area expansions only within current permit boundaries.
About half of the two-and-a-half-hour Jan. 24 commissioners' meeting was devoted to comments on the ski area expansion issue, the most contentious in the controversial forest plan that will guide management of the White River National Forest for the next 10 to 15 years.
The meeting was the last in a series of public scoping meetings held in the county to gauge public opinion on the forest plan. The county commissioners will now write a position statement on the plan that will, to the greatest extent possible, represent "community consensus," says community development director Steve Hill.
Hill and the county planning staff have spent close to 600 hours working on the forest plan. "It's important that we develop a county position," Hill said, because the Forest Service is going to get "zillions of comments" and the county opinion will stand out among them as a representation of community opinion. The Forest Service has said it will pay close attention to the county's recommendations.
The Board of County Commissioners began drafting their position statement at a Jan. 31 worksession. The position should be ready for public review by about the third week in February, according to Hill. At that point, the public will be invited to comment on the draft position.
Hill said that the commissioners will use the Countywide Planning Commissions comments on the plan as a basis for the opinion, and will "consider all the various input" from the public to draft their version of comments. He said the commissioners will work toward a consensus opinion as much as possible, but he admitted that it will be difficult to find consensus on some issues - most notably the ski area expansion issue.
"We'll give it our best shot," Hill said. But he said there may be one or two issues on which the county doesn't take a strong position due to lack of community consensus. That would be a direction to the Forest Service to focus specifically on those issues when finalizing the management plan.
The time is right now. The day is today, the month of February, the year 2000 A.D. Unbeknownst to society, the governments of the world are secretly united and currently control most of every human being's thoughts and actions through simple chemicals.
These chemicals were first put into underarm deodorant many years ago, but now are put into virtually every mass produced item in any environment where large masses of people might come into contact with it. These chemicals go directly to the brain and stunt the natural thought processes of humans, making them believe they must work until they are 65 years old at jobs they don't care about, and that they must strive to make as much money as they can to buy tons of superfluous material possessions, and dream the exceedingly dull American Dream.
This is simply called the Control Program by the governments, a means to achieving their end. They, however, have really no idea what that end is. The following scene takes place deep underground, where the governments develop the chemicals and products and monitor the activities of the well-regulated machine (society) that they control.
A new government employee is starting work today. "So what can you make them do," he asks from behind the vat of bubbling chemicals. "Virtually anything we want to," replied his supervisor. "They haven't a clue as to how much we've messed with their heads or how controlled their lives are. Most of the time we just have them lead normal lives; albeit lives that are spent doing things they wouldn't normally do. I mean, did you ever wonder why so many people are doing the things they do? All we have to do is play around with the chemicals until we get it just right for each person, being that they are all made a little differently. We usually get everyone though. Some are a little tougher than others."
"I can't believe we let that movie The Matrix be made. Shouldn't we be scared that people might catch on to what is happening to them? The similarities between that movie and what we do is astonishing."
"People rarely take Hollywood seriously. Besides, machines took over in that silly movie. Who would ever let a machine think for itself? We are the almighty power, you and me. We have control and control is what it is all about, now isn't it? We don't have control over everyone out there, but we do have control of the masses, which is all it takes. Some people see the truth, but that's where we come in, you and me. It's our jobs to prevent that from happening. Just like someone once said, "'The truth is plain, but not seen.'"
"Who said that?"
"I don't know. We probably tried to slip him or her some extra doses before any other prophetic statements were made. Visionaries never last long enough to make any changes. We make darn sure of that."
The two workers continue adding the chemicals to the latest batch of shampoo bottles that rolled on a conveyor belt before them. A tiny bit of chemical was added to the contents of the shampoo bottles, barely noticeable even to the workers. This particular chemical was targeted at young men, with just the right chemical to promote thoughts of power and destruction and domination. There were chemicals for everything, every segment of the population. Little did the workers know, they were being controlled as well, although more indirectly. See, they were won over with money and drugs and sex and every other vice known to man and women. After years and years of keeping the segment of the population that knew about the Control Program breeding amongst each other, the type of lifestyle they led was ingrained into their subconscious. They didn't want to live their own lives. They were bred to be controlled.
"So what if one of them stopped using deoderant or washing their hair. Would they see things in a different light?" asked the new worker.
"It's not that simple. We don't just put the brain washing chemicals in deodorant or shampoo. Sometimes we slip it into McDonald's food or put doses into the air at Wal-Marts. We have our ways."
"What if one of them lived in the woods all by themselves, grew all their own food, never bought anything from the outside world, you know, removed themselves from society?"
"Well.... then they wouldn't be a problem to us any longer now would they? One person doesn't matter to us, it's the masses that we are concerned with."
"Hmmm. I sure do love my new job." The new worker smiled happily as he added the little bits of red chemical to the shampoo bottle. Had a sorta cool rhythm to it, he thought. Pour. Wait a second. Pour. Wait a second. Pour. Wait a second. Pour. Wait a Second. Soon, the worker thought of these two phrases and nothing else. His entire morning and afternoon passed like one expression. Pour. Wait a second.
"Well, see you tomorrow Bob. It was a quick first day."
"Yep. Same time. Same place. See you tomorrow, Jim." Jim made his way down the road to his apartment, opened the door, went to the fridge and grabbed a beer. He opened the top and plopped in front of the television. He thought of the night ahead and was pleased ... women and alcohol and plenty of both awaited him. Life was grand.
Next month...The Night with Her at the Bar