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Journalism and the Drug War

An element often left out of the drug debate is the role the media plays in its coverage. You might not know this, but NBC is a subsidiary of General Electric and G.E. is one of America's largest military contractors. If you think NBC will run stories critical of the defense establishment, you live in dreamland. Since the military now has an expanding stake in the war on drugs, it is only logical to assume that the media will emphasize stories about the downside of drug use because the interconnection keeps the paychecks on time.

The legal pharmacopoeia -- that is to say the very potent prescription drugs like Prozac, Ritalin, Valium and the rest, all produced by pharmaceutical companies, and sold over the counter at exorbitant prices, is at least as abused as its illicit counterpart. But no media blitz attends this fact because pharmaceutical companies pay vast sums of money to advertise their products and their name in the media.

While the "Just Say No" administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush were escalating the war on illicit drugs, they were simultaneously pressuring countries in the Pacific Rim, countries like Thailand and Taiwan, to open their markets to American tobacco products-or else. Taiwan, for example, was a test market, particularly to see if young Chinese women, who traditionally were non-smokers, could be induced to taking up the habit. This tactic was also tried with great success in Japan, the result being that yes, young Asian women quickly succumbed to American marketing techniques. They became devotees of nicotine. But the big target was Mainland China where nearly 350,000,000 people are already smokers-more people smoke there than inhabit the U.S. And if tobacco companies can increase that number by appealing to women, then it will be worth trillions of dollars profit in the long term. It will, however, also kill up to seven million Asians per year within the next two decades. [Opium War Redux, The New Yorker, September 13, 1993].

"The weapon that the United States wields against Asian governments to force them to allow the import of American cigarettes is called a 301 action, after Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act. Although it has been used sparingly over the years, it is the sort of threat no foreign government can ignore, because it grants the President power to unilaterally slap retaliatory tariffs on another country's goods." Id. 1993.

The Reagan and Bush Administrations pursued the opening of Asian markets with great and unrelenting force, invoking 301 actions in Thailand, for example, raising the specter of one hundred percent duties on Thai exports to the U.S. In July of 1990 Vice President Dan Quayle told a group of North Carolina Republicans that "tobacco exports should be expanded aggressively, because Americans are smoking less:"

Just Say No?

Two things become glaringly apparent when one understands what has transpired in these negotiations, the first of which is that officials of the United States government are in league with the world's largest drug dealers and, to coin their own time-worn phrase, are really "merchants of death" in the literal sense. Forget the paltry thousands who die each year from drug overdoses. We are talking mega-death here, sponsored, encouraged and backed by U.S. muscle. Secondly, where was the media during these heavy-handed negotiations? Why weren't Ronald Reagan and George Bush taken to task for this blatant, cynical hypocrisy, for the fact that it totally destroys this country's reputation for its worldwide humanitarian and health-related projects? The reason is simple: it goes against Big Money and in this country whatever goes against the corporate need is drowned out by hype, misinformation or, more often the case, simple neglect by the media to cover the other side. The American media is a subsidiary of commercial interests and, increasingly, it is difficult to separate Big Business from Big Government. In the same way there has been a meltdown of the three branches of government; executive, legislative and judicial, there has been a merger of media, business and the government. This is no hypothetical equation, but rather an accomplished fact. Objective journalism is an impossibility given the enormous subservience the media must accord to its sponsors. Bias in the media is the rule-not the exception.

The media provided enormous build up for George Bush's "war on drugs" speech from the Oval Office in September of 1989. By that time some opinion polls revealed that 60% of the public saw drugs as the nation's number one problem. But just two months previously, only some 20% of the public thought this was the case. It simply depends on how many stories are released on a certain topic and how much they are supercharged by the media. [Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in the Media, Martin A. Lee & Norman Soloman, A Lyle Stuart Book, 1991]

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