There was a decent amount of news recently about the Office of National Drug Control Policy's use of taxpayer money to endorse anti-drug messages in television shows and magazines. Salon's Daniel Forbes did an excellent job of describing the collusion between the ONDCP, network TV executives and magazine editors. To summarize Salon's numerous articles, magazine editors, required to give the ONDCP one free advertisement for every paid advertisement, were allowed to substitute anti-drug articles which in some cases were highly guided by ONDCP decisions. Network TV executives, under a similar one-for-one deal, also submitted episodes with anti-drug messages for credit, and in some cases even worked with governmental officials to make the moral lesson more explicit. The article "Washington script doctors" on the spin-doctoring of a WB's "Smart Guy" episode is undoubtably the egregious case, but it is frightening to see how White House officials paid the producers to make the show they wanted.

The whole experience has me looking double at every TV show and movie now. I was kicking it at a friend's house recently with the TV on in the background. Batman Beyond (think Batman set in 2050 or so) came on, and I would have ignored it except for the interesting anti-government rantings of a bomb-carrying terrorist called Mad Stan the Anarchist. The guy was a classic nutjob in someways, but his ranting was highly articulate for a cartoon show. He spoke against the corruption and unchangeable nature of City Hall. It's nothing I haven't heard and sympathized with before, though his decision to fix the problem with explosives isn't something I hear often or agree with. Overall though, he was portrayed as an anti-social buffoon whose major complaints were minor issues.

The ONDCP's payola jumped into my mind however. If the government is willing to pay for anti-drug articles and TV episodes, would it also be willing to pay for negative portayals of those disillusioned with the government? It's not like I have any real belief of such, or any proof, but it's a possibility. Considering the relatively minor furor over the ONDCP scandal, I could definitely see such a thing happening in the future. Depending on which political party was in office at the time, I could also see the money being paid out for a different message, perhaps showing environmentalists or Food not Bombs workers as crazed psychos.

I may be running that fine line between insight and paranoia here, but strangely enough, when I looked up the name of the Batman Beyond episode I found another episode which the writer had denounced as a heavy-handed moralistic episode against drugs. I wonder how much money the network got for that one? I wonder how long until these tactics go from the anything goes War on Some Drugs to other issues? It didn't take civil forfeiture long to go from drugs to welfare cheats and prostitution - once you've destroyed the right under any circumstance it's gone.

Watch your TV and read your magazines with a wary eye - Big Mother's out there.

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