Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jun 2002
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Media Institute
Author: Daniel Forbes
Note: Daniel Forbes  writes on social policy. His 
recently published Institute for Policy Studies report is at:
Related: The amendment's website
Bookmarks: (Forbes, Daniel) (Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies)


Advertising Age columnist Richard Linnett's article (6/10/02) on my 
recently published work demands a response. He wrote of my months-long 
study published by the Washington think tank, the Institute for Policy 
Studies. It discusses the covert campaign - pursued by public employees 
while on the clock - embarked on by the administration of Gov. Bob Taft 
(R-OH) to defeat a treatment rather than incarceration initiative likely to 
appear on the ballot in Ohio this November. It's modeled on a similar 
ballot measure, Proposition 36, that passed overwhelmingly in California in 
2000. Among other topics, the report discusses the supposedly apolitical 
Partnership for a Drug-Free America's cooperation with the Taft 
administration effort. Its URL:

The PDFA's PR chief, Steve Dnistrian is correct when Linnett quotes him 
saying the PDFA did not actually create any advertising to influence state 
elections. My report makes that clear. But his statement does not address 
the fact that, in league with the Taft administration, the PDFA was up to 
its eyebrows in planning how to do so.

First though, a certain slur demands to be addressed. Though never raising 
the topic with me, Linnett blithely quotes Dnistrian: "Clearly, Dan is 
smoking some of the wacky weed that he has a great affection for when he is 
sitting down writing these things."

Dnistrian's McCarthyite attack demands either evidence that I produce my 
work under the influence of "wacky weed" (how precious, how positively 
fey), or an apology and a retraction from both the PDFA and Ad Age. On what 
basis does Dnistrian make this accusation? More to the point, on what basis 
does a presumably responsible reporter give credence to the obviously 
absurd notion that Dnistrian has any idea whatsoever of my work habits? 
Just because a PR guy at an organization I write about makes an ad hominem 
attack, is that alone reason enough to print it? It's not incumbent on the 
reporter to offer me a chance to respond? Do his editors exercise no 
fact-checking authority? Do Ad Age's lawyers know this?

All the PDFA has in its corner is smear and attempted character 
assassination. Dnistrian's slur just underscores the cheapness of its 
response. It's classic PR: attack the journalist personally, deflect 
attention, obfuscate.

Let me state that a tightly focused, approximately 22,000 word monograph is 
the product of hard work and indignation at taxpayer-funded subversion of 
democracy in this country. No more, no less.

Of course, Linnett cites my work in High Times. But he neglects to mention 
Rolling Stone, Salon, The Village Voice or Alternet. That said, my HT's 
articles meet the same standards that have been recognized with awards from 
a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Columbia 
Graduate School of Journalism/Online News Association. My work has also 
engendered congressional hearings on the White House anti-drug media 
campaign; I testified before both the Senate and the House.

Linnett writes there's "not a whiff of a smoking gun in the [ISP] report 
other than some publicly available transcripts of meetings between the 
alleged conspirators ... " That's plain silly, since the entire report is 
based on FOI-ed documents from the offices of Gov. Bob Taft, the First Lady 
and his cabinet officials. Oddly enough, Linnett adds that no one returned 
my calls. Actually, I quote extensively from an interview with Taft cabinet 
member Domingo Herraiz, who runs Ohio's criminal justice department.

Linnett points out correctly that there is no ad campaign -- I never said 
there was one. My report focused, in part, on the PDFA's overt, manifest 
willingness to insert itself into a state election in Ohio.

The PDFA's intent is indicated by the fact it sent its four top executives 
to a meeting last July to formulate plans to defeat the proposed treatment 
initiative. Ohio's first lady and two Taft cabinet members participated in 
this strategy session, which was held in the U.S. Capitol building itself 
and hosted by a senior U.S. Senate staffer. Employing the canard that the 
treatment initiative is de facto decriminalization, in a letter on PDFA 
letterhead confirming the four executives' attendance, the PDFA's Director 
of Operations, Michael Y. Townsend, termed it a "counter-legalization 
brainstorm session." Only nuts-and-bolts planning would justify sending 
four top men rather than one or two; the four traveled to Washington in 
July to discuss strategy and tactics, not generic politics.

Along with getting a simple fact like the date of my original Salon series 
wrong, Linnett misquotes me to the effect that the PDFA hasn't returned my 
phone calls in five years. Well, five years ago I was happily unaware of 
the PDFA's machinations; they've been ducking interviews only since my 
original Salon stories broke some two years ago. As I wrote in the ISP 
report: "With all the evidence scattered in black and white throughout the 
Taft administration's plans that the PDFA was willing to meddle in Ohio's 
election, it declined speaking to a reporter who has studied the documents. 
Rather, in a transparent ploy, the PDFA declared it would speak only to my 
editor, who - having blissfully not spent months delving into this miasma 
- -- would be less likely to identify any ... inoperative statements."

As a matter of fact, when I made my several requests to the PDFA for 
comment, I didn't even have an editor. I typically embark on these long 
investigations on spec since I feel they make a contribution to discussion 
of public policy. I figure if I nail it, they'll find a home somewhere, and 
I often attempt placing them only on completion.

Permit some choice excerpts from my IPS report proving the supposedly 
apolitical PDFA's full involvement in the Taft scheme, material that 
Linnett was directed to but chose to totally ignore.

Discussing last July's Capitol building strategy session, Hope Taft wrote 
her husband and his chief of staff about gathering "a group of people to 
see how some of the national groups like ... PDFA, etc. can develop PSAs 
that highlight the best aspects of the current drug court system." Such 
PSAs, of course, would sway Ohio voters in favor of the status quo. 
[Emphasis added.]

Marcie Seidel, Hope Taft's chief of staff, generated a set of minutes from 
this D.C. session. In boldface, she wrote: "Partnership for Drug Free 
America is to present a couple page concept on how they can help." Seidel 
added: "PDFA can do educational PSAs starting now [July, 2001] about 
success stories of people who were required to get treatment. Ohio has 
enough treatment systems to do this type of campaign. They could start 
these educational PSAs before the political season begins." Seidel also 
wrote: "We have two media tracks: 1) the Partnership's educational, 
nonpolitical piece and 2) the political ads to get out the vote."

Yet, given their genesis and intent, calling the first set of ads 
nonpolitical is absurd; indeed, so-called PSAs lend themselves to any 
number of political applications.

In a summary of the D.C. session written by its host, U.S. Senate staffer 
William Olson (and sent to Hope Taft), Olson referred to participants' 
debate over competing proposals: whether to offer "a counter-initiative 
that tried to take the wind out of the legalization proposal; or ... a more 
straightforward effort to kill the initiative." Olson wrote that "the PDFA 
participants strongly favored" the ameliorative counter-initiatve, but that 
a more strident participant [Betty Sembler, the wife of the chair of the 
Republican National Committee's finance committee from 1997 to 2000] did 
not. This indicates the PDFA was involved with fundamental, 
fork-in-the-road planning.

Taft cabinet member Domingo Herraiz's Office of Criminal Justice Services 
generated a four-page, single-spaced document entitled "Potential Ohio 
Strategies for a Proactive Approach to Prop 36." A total of 17 strategies 
fell under the heading, "Public Relations/Media," including, "Develop 
Public Service Announcement -- before the actual campaign begins in order 
to promote what is being done and the benefit of treatment -- partner with 
the Partnership for a Drug-Free America."

In a formal interview, Herraiz told me, "I had the intent to talk to the 
Partnership to identify what to do in Ohio." He also told me, "The PDFA was 
slated to produce ads on the benefits of treatment. There's nothing illegal 
regarding their 501(c)3 [tax] status." Asked whether such ads on treatment 
rather than prevention would be a significant departure from the PDFA's 
almost single-minded focus on prevention, Herraiz said they're "talking of 
branching out to treatment and drug courts."

That is certainly news to this and other observers I quote in the ISP report.

Herraiz told me about "discussions with the PDFA on how to market the 
message of treatment." But he added that any such ads would not be 
"political." He said, "If the Partnership had generic PSAs [on treatment] 
we would encourage that they run in Ohio." Notice that "if": apparently 
Herraiz has never seen any PDFA ads on treatment either, and he's worked in 
the field a long time. The Taft administration, he said, would "write a 
letter of support to local TV stations encouraging using such ads."

Last summer, Herraiz wrote an anti-initiative strategy bible entitled, the 
"Playbook." It contains a few more PDFA smoking guns. Under its dual 
headings of "Information Campaign" and "Message Marketing," we find Task 
Number 2: "Develop Public Service Announcement." The two steps to achieving 
that goal are: "Contact and confirm meeting with Partnership for a 
Drug-Free America" and "Meet to discuss creation of a PSA promoting Ohio 
Drug Reform message." This last referring to the Taft counter-initiative 
effort, the indicated resources are the PDFA, the governor's office and two 
Taft cabinet departments.

An additional Playbook Task, slated for February, 2002, is "Develop PSA, 
with run time concentration only days before election." The corresponding 
resource is listed as the PDFA. Now, an ad buy concentrated "only days" 
before an election has an irreducibly political intent. The Playbook, the 
administration's formal plan of action, underscores the administration's 
understanding, following their meeting, of the PDFA's political involvement.

But then the PDFA has had a covert political intent for years. As disclosed 
in Salon (7/27/00) in, Fighting "Cheech & Chong" Medicine -- the phrase is 
Clinton Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's -- the initial five-year, White House 
media campaign was engendered at a meeting McCaffrey convened in Washington 
nine days after medical marijuana initiatives passed in Arizona and 
California in 1996. Minutes of the meeting reveal that some forty officials 
and private sector executives met to discuss the need for taxpayer-funded 
messages to thwart any potential medical marijuana initiatives in the other 
48 states and perhaps even roll back the two that had just passed. They 
included two policy advisors from the Clinton White House, the head of the 
DEA, representatives of the FBI, Departments of Justice, Health and Human 
Services, Treasury and Education, along with state law enforcement 
personnel. One private participant was quoted in the meeting's minutes as 
saying, "We'll work with Arizona and California to undo it and stop the 
spread of legalization to [the] other 48 states."

PDFA executive vice-president Michael Townsend attended both McCaffrey's 
1996 strategy session and Olson's meeting in Washington last July. He was 
quoted as telling McCaffrey's meeting, " 'National Partnership [PDFA] 
concerned about what they can do about spending $ to influence 
legislation.' " In the notes' clipped parlance, Townsend was also quoted as 
saying that "the effort required '$175 million. Try to get fedl [sic] $.' " 
Not coincidentally, $175 million was the budget the media campaign's 
backers, among them, PDFA chairman James E. Burke, first proposed to 
Congress. (Congress later boosted the figure, not least by demanding a 
half-priced, two-for-one deal from the media.)

As I wrote in Salon: "PDFA president [in 1996] Richard Bonnette laid out 
the challenge to the group. 'We lost Round I - no coordinated communication 
strategy. Didn't have media,' the notes quote Bonnette telling his 
colleagues. One participant not clearly identified in the notes asked the 
gathering, 'Who will pay for national sound bites? Campaign will require 
serious media and serious $.' "
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake