by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

When President Bush held up a bag of crack cocaine (purchased earlier across the street from the White House) during a prime-time television speech to announce his “War on Drugs” last September, it set the tone for the whole media campaign which is apparently based on deception and the creation of hysteria rather than fact.

As it turned out, the Drug Enforcement Agency set up the deal in a crass bit of PR showboating. Never mind that Lafayette Park never attracted drug dealers of any kind, never mind that the DEA’s hidden microphone didn’t work, never mind that the young drug dealer was lured there only with great difficulty by the drug agents. President Bush  got his prop and that was all that mattered. According to Propaganda Review, “A vast array of propaganda techniques and devices are being used to convince Americans that the ‘drug thing’ is the country’s number one problem – a problem that required extraordinary and even unconstitutional measures to solve.”

The media have cooperated with Bush by providing extensive, uncritical coverage of official speeches, press conferences, news leaks, sensationalized drug busts, and TV specials that exaggerate and distort the drug problem.

One of the most effective propaganda techniques, which taps deeply into the Ameri­can psyche, is the use of wartime symbols and jargon to justify extraordinary measures. And these propaganda techniques are apparently working. According to an ABC News/Washington Post Poll, more than 60% of Americans were willing to give up their own constitutional rights regarding illegal search and seizure to help “fight the Drug War:”

It may be understandable that the Bush and Reagan administrations were willing to wage this Propaganda War since it diverts attention from the budget deficit, AIDS, home­lessness, administration scandals and corruption, nuclear weapons, and other domestic and foreign policy problems. But one of the most disturbing questions is why would the media engage in such a misleading and dangerous propaganda campaign?

When Bush was questioned about the sleazy tactics in setting up the Lafayette Park drug deal, he got angry and asked whether the press was siding with “this drug guy.”

That is perhaps one of the scariest aspects of this propaganda campaign — dissenting voices are simply not permitted. Early last year, DEA agent Charles Stowell, during a KCBS interview, compared the publisher of a marijuana grower’s magazine to a child pornogra­pher. And when former Secretary of State George Schulz came out publicly for legalization, the White House said he “has been out West too long.”

This new McCarthyism has chilled public discourse on alternative solutions to the administration’s plans of prosecuting and imprisoning drug users. When was the last time you saw a TV special on legalizing drugs, or corruption in the DEA, or drug trafficking in the White House?

Last year, roughly one thousand times more people died from alcohol and tobacco use than from cocaine, heroin, crack, speed, and marijuana combined. Yet most Americans still consider illegal drugs to be the country’s number one problem.

While the War on Drugs may not be a success, the Propaganda War certainly is.


SOURCE: PROPAGANDA REVIEW Fort Mason, Building D San Francisco, CA 94123, DATE: Winter 1990



COMMENTS: Author Johan Carlisle raises the disturbing possibility of a society willing to give up its constitutional rights to fight a war it has been propagandized into believing is worthwhile. Carlisle charges that the media have gone along with the government in por­traying the drug wars unilaterally as a law enforcement problem. “There have been a few articles in the progressive weeklies which have challenged the party line,” Carlisle said. “The overwhelming consistency of the drug war story on T.V., in the magazines, and in the major daily newspapers reveals the McCarthyesque nature of trying to challenge the party line.” Carlisle suggests that “The general public would benefit a great deal from a national dialog on legalization of drugs — just one of the sides of this story overlooked by the media. Crime, public health, corruption in government and law enforcement, and the staggering social costs of incarcerating millions of casual drug users are but a few of the real costs for the public.”