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Lights, camera, government

7/16/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Antidrug education programs. Great idea. Antidrug PSAs: Ditto. Cracking down on drug smugglers. Better still. "Working with" filmmakers to insert antidrug messages into their movies? That's when the alarm bells should go off.

Why? Because the habit of trying to enlist the media for social control-even toward good ends-is a hard one to break and a bad precedent to set. The Clinton administration has already set it, of course, by paying broadcasters to substitute antidrug messages in entertainment programming for PSAs that would otherwise eat up potential ad inventory.

Not leaving bad enough alone, Barry McCaffrey, who heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy (or should that be the Office of National Media Control Policy) last week told a House Subcommittee that he was hoping to expand the administration's media-management efforts (he didn't put it that way, of course) to the movies.

That is a very bad idea. And, again, here's why. What if the next administration wants to discourage different kinds of behavior. What if __________ gets elected and decides that __________ is a threat to the republic (fill in somebody you don't like and something you favor). With the bribe-the-media model in place, the way has been cleared.

The ends of fighting the drug problem are laudable (just as are preserving "law and order," although that banner has cloaked some questionable policies in the past). The means of using the media as another instrument of administration policy are not, particularly given the government's seemingly insatiable appetite for control.

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