No, the White
House anti-drug ads don't work, the latest, stealth report
from the federal government indicates. Commissioned by the Office
of National Drug Control Policy and conducted under the auspices
of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it states: "There
is no evidence yet consistent with a desirable effect of the [Media]
Campaign on youth." Though this semi-annual report builds
on the poor results documented previously, the taxpayer-funded
ads - despite their demonstrated inability to keep kids from drugs
- do serve any number of purposes. One new use for the campaign
made its debut during the year's high-profile advertising showcase,
Sunday's Super Bowl.
As Joseph R. Giganti, Director of Media
and Government Relations at the American Life League stated after
reviewing the new anti-marijuana ad - entitled "Pregnancy"
- on ONDCP's website, "Without question, there is a very
strong but subtle pro-life statement presented in this commercial."
Saying that "abortion on demand"
thrives on the notion that actions lack consequences, Giganti
added, "This ad reinforces the consequences." Still
commenting on the ad, he said, you can't "just slice and
dice a baby and everything'll be good."
As to the ad's outcome of a young teenager
having her baby, Mary Jane Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer
of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "They coded the message
to make it seem this was this woman's only option." According
to Gallagher, "Such speaking down to viewers - that keeping
the child is the only alternative - I'm not used to that from
the government in a democracy."
Alerted to the ad, Nellie Gray, President
of the March for Life Fund and organizer of the annual anti-Roe
v. Wade demonstrations in Washington, said: "A government
agency properly uses this scene of a pregnant mother's drug abuse
and grandparents' youth to help viewers understand that there
is no justification for anyone intentionally killing a preborn
baby." As to any possible ill effects on the baby from the
mother's "drug abuse," Gray added that her group has
a "no exceptions, no compromise" policy on abortion.
I've reported on the Clinton White House
granting the networks some $22 million in ad time they owed it
in exchange for inserting government-approved
(and even government
scripted), anti-drug plots in TV shows. More than one source
worried that if the government got away with that, there'd be
scant reason to limit its social engineering to drugs. Someday,
some administration gripped by a perceived responsibility to instruct
people how to live might soon train its sights on reproductive
rights, or so these First Amendment advocates thought. Fearing
that anti-abortion themes might conceivably start cropping up
in sitcoms and dramas, no one worried they'd be flaunted in the
Well, the Clinton Federal Communications
Commission eventually ruled the government couldn't pay for messages
embedded in TV shows without alerting viewers to that fact. Such
notice robbing those messages of much of both their ability to
influence viewers and their appeal to government social marketers,
the Bush administration commendably scrapped that part of its
However, it took only about a year of his
running the national ad campaign for Bush Drug Czar John Walters
to launch his first attack on abortion in the guise (or so said
the two anti-abortion activists quoted above) of his increasingly
The woman holding the pregnancy test strip
in the ONDCP Super Bowl ad is certainly young and curvy enough
that, in a cute little bit of misdirection, viewers no doubt assumed
the test was for her, especially since her daughter is off-camera.
But we soon learn the parents of the girl who looks about 14 and
got pregnant via the demon weed, are - pay attention now, America
- soon to be, "the youngest grandparents in town." Ramming
the point home, the ad tells us, "There will be an addition
to their family soon." As for the also young, but balding
grandfather-to-be, he probably doesn't look nearly as frayed by
life as he soon will.
That's because, in the ad's self-contained
world, options apparently aren't available to this family. "Youngest
grandparents" - that's the only outcome that's indicated.
And, as mom embraces her, the ad ends with the young girl's face
registering fear and what looks like acquiescence as we're informed:
"Smoking marijuana impairs your judgment - it's more harmful
than we all thought."
For many, of course, having the baby would
indeed be their choice. But - for now, anyway - there are other
choices, not that viewers would glean that from a government ad
that seeks to model 'correct' behavior. Gallagher, of NARAL Pro-Choice
America, asserted that, "The government's message didn't
portray the legal options available to this young woman under
Roe v. Wade: to keep the child, to put the child up for adoption,
or to seek a safe and legal abortion."
Katherine Minarik, Director of Campus Programs
for the Feminist Majority Foundation, said that government commercials
should try to paint a picture of reality. "And if in that
picture you eliminate the concept of reproductive freedom, then
you're doing an enormous disservice to not only the health, but
the lives of young people."
Saying that her legal team will ponder action
regarding the ad's public funding (the total ONDCP Super Bowl
ad buy exceeded $4 million), Gallagher said, "We can't let
this effort go unchecked - that they take these social policies
that run counter to the majority of Americans' views and push
them down our throats."
Ken Diem, Chairman of the New York State
Right to Life Party, countered that government advertising, "should
be promoting abstinence and respect for your body, which involves
no drugs and no promiscuity." Saying that the ad meshes well
with his party's concerns, Diem said, "The government should
promote an abstinence program hand-in-hand with the anti-drug
message." In fact, he'd like to see it part of any Bush administration
faith-based initiative. As to any criticism of the government's
involvement in the abortion issue, Diem said, "Poppycock.
The government has been involved with a woman's right to choose
since day one. Only when the government stands up to respect the
sanctity of life do they cry foul."
Minarik agreed with Gallagher that the ad
makes it appear the young woman has but one option. "But
teenagers still have choices after an unintended pregnancy. And
we as a society can never let them believe they have no choice.
This is just another example of a broader policy of eliminating
access to needed information on reproductive health," she
Everything old is new again. Harry Anslinger,
Walters' ideological and official progenitor both, could have
warned the ad's father to lock his daughter away from those fiends
hopped up on that reefer stuff. This a new century, not Anslinger's
1930s, the young wanton was apparently a willing participant,
wacked as she was herself on pot. How else to explain a teenage
girl falling prey to a boy's pressure? (Simple decency requires
shrinking from the notion of such a young girl's lasciviousness
unmediated by marijuana.)
Giganti said the point that sex has its
consequences is driven home by the girl's "fearful"
expression as the ad ends. There's no "easy solution"
to this family's dilemma, he said. "It's realistic that the
parents are concerned." He applauded that they're not being
"complicit in the murder of their own grandchild." By
being "loving, concerned and comforting," the parents
are "taking a bad situation and making the best of it."
Gallagher, however, felt the ad was wildly
unrealistic: "It indicates this will be easy for the family
to tackle. It's absurd."
Giganti doubted that Walters intentionally
sat down with his creative team and in the context of a hard-hitting
ad for teens, reached for a message on abortion. Acknowledging
the ads' "subtext," Giganti said, "I don't know
if it's intentional. I believe not." He added, "I don't
think it was set up to reflect a pro-life view. Though in a perfect
world that might be what happens."
The ad was created gratis by McCann-Erickson
Worldwide Advertising and filtered through the Partnership for
a Drug-Free America for subsequent approval and purchase of airtime
by ONDCP. Both the partnership (which, to its credit, has refused
to get involved with the White House drugs = terrorism ads) and
ONDCP declined comment. McCann-Erickson refused to make its creative
team available for an interview; spokeswoman Susan Irwin would
say only that McCann-Erickson was "responsible for the idea."
Irwin elaborated no further, so it would seem, therefore, that
the get-pregnant, have-the-child (though you're a child yourself)
message originated on Madison Avenue.
Since McCann-Erickson won't say that Smith
or Jones on its staff cooked up the idea -- and what prompted
their thinking -- what remains clear is that the White House approved
the ad. And it paid for its inclusion in the year's most-watched
show amidst all the other high-profile ads that debuted on Sunday.
This came less than a week after President
Bush addressed by phone hookup a massive anti-choice protest in
Washington seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. Voicing his hope to
ban a type of late-term abortion he termed "partial-birth"
abortion, Bush spoke on the 30th Anniversary of the Supreme Court
decision. He told the crowd that a "self-evident truth calls
us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting
to be born." Not wanting to risk a photograph of himself
at the rally for later use by pro-choice advocates (and yes, he
was out of town, but the anniversary occurs on the same date every
year), Bush continued Ronald Reagan's weaselly tradition of addressing
the annual protest only by telephone.
Lest you un-American eggheads who don't
watch television and don't let your kids watch consider yourselves
immune to the ads, consider this from an ONDCP press release:
"[T]he Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse
backgrounds wherever they live, learn, work, play and practice
"Play" I knew about, having seen
a White House ad emblazoned on the backboard at my local glass-strewn,
schoolyard basketball court, the bent, naked rims without a net.
(Never mind the social science proving that spending on decent
athletic facilities, along with the after-school programs to use
them, go further than any TV ads to keep kids from abusing drugs.)
But I haven't detected the White House's heavy hand in my quirky
little church yet. Given the administration's evident willingness
to breach the church-state divide, perhaps it's only a matter
Daniel Forbes' (firstname.lastname@example.org)
report on state and federal malfeasance to defeat treatment-not-prison
ballot initiatives was
published by the Institute
for Policy Studies. His disclosure of the Clinton Administration's
secret multimillion-dollar rewards to the networks led to his
testimony before both the Senate and the House. Forbes' drug-policy
work is archived