We the Media -- Selling Vice
IntroductionThe tragedy and subsequent coverage of Princess Diana's death brought to a head the world's dismay over the cheapening and sensationalism of today's corporate dominated media. The following excerpt from the book, We the Media, are expressions of a growing movement for media democracy, and offers a hard look at media ownership in the global economy. We the Media grew out of the Media & Democracy Congress, an annual gathering of media workers and activists. The second Congress will be held in New York City, Oct. 16-19. For more information visit www.mediademocracy.org.Holding the CEOs Accountableby Makani ThembaTwo seemingly unrelated events brought home, for me, the importance of media literacy: the 1996 passing of controversial rap artist Tupac Shakur and the Republican National Convention. The convention was full of talk about individual and family responsibility. Shakur's passing was a tragic example of how naive that talk is.The truth is young people grow up in a world today that is dramatically new and different -- and dangerous. Much of what they learn is brought to them by corporate sponsors who care little for their interests beyond what they consume. They are constantly bombarded with exploitive and negative messages that undermine their self image -- messages designed using the brightest minds and the best technology money can buy.Ellen Goodman once wrote that the call for parental responsibility seems to increase with corporate irresponsibility. Nowhere is corporate irresponsibility quite as blatant as in youth marketing. It is transforming the lives of our children -- and mostly for the worse. The death of Shakur is a poignant example.The hip hop culture that Shakur helped shape was once a relatively sober, drug free culture. It was mainly marketing -- not family disintegration -- that made it synonymous with malt liquor and violence. And parents couldn't even monitor what was going on because the targeting was so narrow, so precise that few adults were exposed to it.It all started in the 1980s, when malt liquor companies aggressively pursued rap artists as spokespersons, sponsored concerts and events and developed special products for this new market of young African American and Latino males. Extra large, 40-ounce and even 72-ounce bottles of high potency brews exploded onto local inner city neighborhoods. These products were pushed by an aggressive media strategy that sought to link them with high-profile, controversial rap artists. Key to its success was its piggybacking on the record industry's use of criminal stereotypes to sell hip hop records.No tragedy appeared too awful to exploit. One ad, featuring the rap group Get Boys, included a light-hearted reference to the shooting of group member Bushwick Bill. Bushwick, while under the influence of alcohol, held the infant of his then-girlfriend out of a window in order to force her to shoot him in an alleged suicide attempt. He lost one eye in the shooting. The group's promotion company took pictures right after the incident and published his injured face on the group's album cover. A malt liquor company followed with ads featuring Bushwick in an eye patch rapping references to the incident.After decades of drinking and drugging less than their white cohorts, alcohol use among African American youth rose dramatically in the 1990s. The sad results: while the Tupac Shakurs and the many not-so-famous young people who are influenced by these promotions suffer and die, a few continue to get rich.So where do we lay most of the blame? O.K., kids shouldn't drink. Yes, parents should watch them better. But yes, corporations know who listens to rap artists like Snoop Doggy Dog and they should not enlist them to market alcohol to kids. It just doesn't make sense to put all of our efforts into restraining 15-year-olds from buying products that we give college-educated CEOs free reign to market. Call me crazy, but I expect a 40-something CEO to know better than a 15-year-old. I just do.As teachers, parents and practitioners who care, media literacy must be more than helping children and families take a discerning look at media. We need to work together to forge new partnerships -- new covenants -- that address corporate irresponsibility and government neglect.We must not only talk with kids and admonish them to stay on track, we must also hold those businesses accountable who prey on our young people. I have seen mail order ads for guns in magazines targeted to black teens. I have seen liquor store owners sell guns and malt liquor to youngsters, and when I ask them about it they tell me they are just trying to make a living. We cannot worship money so intensely that it doesn't matter who does what to our children in the name of making a living.All over the country, people are refusing to accept the status quo. They write letters every time they see offensive ads. They talk to their neighbors, faith institutions and co-workers to spread the word, And they even win. Ads have been removed and companies have been fined all thanks to their efforts.Together, we can move beyond education and let these companies know you cannot do that to my child, not to my brother's child, and to my community. We can draw the line.Makani Themba is co-director of the Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing community based approaches to policy development. Scary FactsMalt liquor companies have profited by targeting poor African Americans and Latinos. One marketing executive of G. Heileman Brewing Company estimated that African-Americans consumed 75 percent of Heileman's leading malt liquor, Colt 45. Drinking one 40-oz. bottle of St. Ides is equivalent to drinking a little more than five shots of whisky.A marketing brochure for Olde English 800 noted that the product is "brewed for relatively high alcohol content (important to the ethnic market!)."*Seagrams aired an ad for their whiskey in Texas in June 1996, breaking a voluntary television hard-liquor ban maintained since 1948. President Clinton asked Seagrams to withdraw the ads "for the simple reason it was the right thing to do." Clinton's request was ignored. Arthur Shapiro, Seagrams vice-president of marketing, said that the company's decision, "in no way reflects any departure from our principles as a responsible marketer." (Adbusters Winter 1996)*Seagram's announced plans to air its liquor ads on TV after 9 p.m., but in both New York and Los Angeles, the largest media markets in the country, 16 percent of the audience at that time, or more than two million people, are under 17. (Center on Alcohol Advertising)*A survey in a New Jersey Latino community found 145 billboards and store ads for liquor and beer, compared with seven in a nearby white neighborhood. (EXTRA!)*Alcohol abuse continues to be the No. 1 health problem in America, costing the nation more than $90 billion a year in expenses ranging from medical care to lost productivity, law enforcement and premature death. (Alcohol Health and Research World)*In 1990, more than 400,000 deaths were attributable to tobacco and more than 100,000 to alcohol, while 20,000 were attributable to illicit drug use. But in a random sample of network news time devoted to coverage on alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs from that year, 77 percent of the time was spent on illicit drugs, 14 percent on alcohol, and 10 percent on tobacco. (Berkeley Media Studies Group)*Alcohol is seldom included in local TV news stories, even though it is associated with half to two-thirds of all homicides, 20-30 percent of all suicides, and more than half of all incidents of domestic violence. (Berkeley Media Studies Group)Scary FactsMalt liquor companies have profited by targeting poor African Americans and Latinos. One marketing executive of G. Heileman Brewing Company estimated that African-Americans consumed 75 percent of Heileman's leading malt liquor, Colt 45. Drinking one 40-oz. bottle of St. Ides is equivalent to drinking a little more than five shots of whisky.A marketing brochure for Olde English 800 noted that the product is "brewed for relatively high alcohol content (important to the ethnic market!)."*Seagrams aired an ad for their whiskey in Texas in June 1996, breaking a voluntary television hard-liquor ban maintained since 1948. President Clinton asked Seagrams to withdraw the ads "for the simple reason it was the right thing to do." Clinton's request was ignored. Arthur Shapiro, Seagrams vice-president of marketing, said that the company's decision, "in no way reflects any departure from our principles as a responsible marketer." (Adbusters Winter 1996)*Seagram's announced plans to air its liquor ads on TV after 9 p.m., but in both New York and Los Angeles, the largest media markets in the country, 16 percent of the audience at that time, or more than two million people, are under 17. (Center on Alcohol Advertising)*A survey in a New Jersey Latino community found 145 billboards and store ads for liquor and beer, compared with seven in a nearby white neighborhood. (EXTRA!)*Alcohol abuse continues to be the No. 1 health problem in America, costing the nation more than $90 billion a year in expenses ranging from medical care to lost productivity, law enforcement and premature death. (Alcohol Health and Research World)*In 1990, more than 400,000 deaths were attributable to tobacco and more than 100,000 to alcohol, while 20,000 were attributable to illicit drug use. But in a random sample of network news time devoted to coverage on alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs from that year, 77 percent of the time was spent on illicit drugs, 14 percent on alcohol, and 10 percent on tobacco. (Berkeley Media Studies Group)*Alcohol is seldom included in local TV news stories, even though it is associated with half to two-thirds of all homicides, 20-30 percent of all suicides, and more than half of all incidents of domestic violence. (Berkeley Media Studies Group)We've Come A Long Way, Baby?by Stacey Edison Once upon a time, the cigarette was a symbol of women's growing power in a male dominated society. That was before the U.S. Surgeon General estimated that among women under the age of 65, smoking is responsible for 40 percent of all heart disease deaths, 55 percent of lethal strokes, and 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States. If you think photos of the Marlboro Man riding out on the prairie or a loving couple scaling the Rockies while they enjoy a good smoke seem an improbably tactic for attracting teenage girls to the joys of smoking, you're probably right. Tobacco companies have learned that those images are not the ones that grab young girls' attention. Consequently, cigarette advertisers have targeted the number one issue guaranteed to impact sensitive young girls -- weight gain. The American Medical Association found that even in 1928, cigarette companies were using slogans such as "Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet," to attract the women's market. They hired models to carry around Lucky Strikes and wear the package's signature color. This may seem like ancient history, but such tactics are still in evidence. The tobacco industry to this day tries to link smoking with the fashion world. The Journal of the American Medical Association noted that Kate Moss, queen of the waif world, was featured in an Esquire magazine with a packet of Marlboro Lights. Obvious examples of attempts to connect the fashion world and tobacco sales can be found inside any issue of young women's magazines such as Glamour, Cosmopolitan, or Mademoiselle. There will be an ad for cigarettes right next to an article on how to trim your waist for reach your ideal weight.Such campaigns also reinforce in men the tendency to see women who smoke as sexy and sensual. Maclean's did a report last March on a video agency called Premier Productions. This company (which is in the business of catering to people's fetishes) began producing videos of women smoking after the agency's owner discovered such a huge male interest on the Internet. Premier Productions, which usually markets videos filled with half-dressed women, found its biggest seller of the year was a fully clothed woman wearing bright red lipstick, taking deep drags of a cigarette as she read a book.Have you ever wondered why cigarettes were named Virginia Slims or Capri Superslims? It's not just a catchy name that refers to the size of the cigarette itself. Cigarette companies know that women are aware of the fact that nicotine is an appetite suppressant. What tobacco companies do not tell their customers is that once someone is addicted to nicotine, that person's metabolism will be altered. So, when someone quits smoking there's a good possibility of weight gain while the body tries to re-adjust to life off the drug. One thing women of today must learn from the independent women of our past is not to play victim to anyone. Not to the tobacco companies, advertising agencies, the entertainment media, or even their own addictions. Because one thing's certain, if women continue to smoke at the same increasing rates as they are today, they will continue to die at increasing rates as well.Stacey Eidson is a writer for Ace magazine. Scary Facts*Cigarette companies spend $6 billion annually on advertising and marketing campaigns to addict a new generation of customers. That's $16 million every day, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Meanwhile, cigarettes kill more than 400,000 Americans every year. That's more deaths than from AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, drugs and fires -- combined.*Hill & Knowlton helped set up a PR and lobbying organization, the Tobacco Institute, which grew by 1990 into what the Public Relations Journal described as one of the "most formidable public relations/lobbying machines in history," spending an estimated $20 million a year and employing 120 PR professionals to fight the combined forces of the Surgeon General of the United States, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.*An exhaustive study -- published in the Jan. 30, 1992 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine -- found "strong statistical evidence that cigarette advertising in magazines is associated with diminished coverage of the hazards of smoking. This is particularly true for magazines directed to women." As a result of the scarcity of independent journalism, "Americans substantially underestimate the dangers of smoking as compared with other risks to health."*Smoking rates for students in grades 9-12 increased from 27.5 percent in 1991 to 34.8 percent in 1995. Rates for African-American male students almost doubled during that time, going from 14.1 percent to 27.8 percent. (Centers for Disease Control)*Adolescents are more than twice as likely as adults to smoke the three most-advertised brands of cigarettes -- Marlboro, Camel and Newport. *One study showed that nearly one-third of three-year-olds matched Joe Camel with cigarettes and that by age six, children were as familiar with him as with the Mickey Mouse logo on the Disney Channel! The cartoon Camel catapulted Camel cigarettes from a brand smoked by less than 1 percent of US smokers under age 18 to a one-third share of the youth market -- and nearly one-half billion dollars in annual sales -- within three years. (INFACT)*Of the 3,000 children who begin smoking each day, 1,000 will eventually die of a tobacco-related death. (American Lung Association) Smoke Signals: An Interview with William NovelliWilliam Novelli's name should be well known to those in the PR business: He co-founded and was president of Porter/Novelli, one of the country 10 largest PR agencies. He retired in 1990, though it was short-lived. He was executive vice president of CARE, the world's largest private relief and development organization before becoming director the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, a national initiative to stop the sale and marketing of tobacco to children. The Center acts as an umbrella organization for dozens of national health, medical, civic and religious organizations. (Many of which contributed to the Center's $30 million start-up.)Q: What are the Center's goals?Our interest is changing the policy environment so that we can restrict the marketing of tobacco to kids and the access of tobacco to kids. If we can do those things, then those grass-roots programs, those parents, teachers and scout leaders who are working with their children will have a much greater chance for success.We are going to serve as a counterforce to the tobacco industry and its allies in terms of speaking out, in terms of being heard, in terms of setting the record straight, so they really don't have a monopoly on the media and the airwaves.Q: How do you expect to compete against the tobacco companies, who have much larger marketing budgets?Ah. that's where the great invention of PR comes in.Q: How about an example?On Jan. 2, the last day of the FDA comment period, the tobacco industry had a big press conference. So we set up our pop stand about 15 feet down the hall from them at the Marriott here in D.C., and we had our own press conference. We had dueling press conferences. We refuted everything they had to say. That's an example of how we intend to take our seat on center stage with them. We have very strong media interests in the issue. The media are always, as we know in this country, interested in both sides of an issue. We intend to take advantage of that. Too many times, what happens is that tobacco companies will refute some scientific thing. You'll have 99.9 percent of all scientists saying "X," and some scientists employed by the tobacco industry is saying "Y," and they get equal billing in the press. We're going to do something about that.Q: What might some of those tactics be?Well, I'm talking about good, old-fashioned media relations work -- providing really good background material to the media and good sources and resources to the media to make their work as balanced as it can be. If the media do objective and balanced reporting, we win.Q: Are you using kids as spokespeople?They could be kids who are popular in today's entertainment world. There are many different role models kids can relate to. There's something really terrific called the Smoke Free Class of 2000, a group of more than 2 million eighth-graders nationwide who are committed to graduating high school tobacco free in the year 2000. Some of them are media trained. They're very savvy kids. They've got home pages. Those kids are their own role models.Q: How do you expect the tobacco companies will react to your campaign?They're already at work trying to impugn our veracity. One tobacco state Congressman has written to the Secretary of the Treasury asking for an IRS investigation into our tax status. Another Congressman's staff is also snooping around. The tobacco industry has also taken this to the media. I got a call today from a broadcast reporter wanting to know where we get our money, and so on. It was clear where the source of this questioning came from. And this is all part of the game. The tobacco industry plays hardball. If we're going to be a counterforce, we have to be able to stand the heat. At the same time, we're going to be attacking them.Q: How do you view Philip Morris' recent disclosure that it is preparing a $10-$20 million magazine ad campaign to discourage youths from smoking?As I understand it, they're directing that magazine campaign toward adults, to tell adults that they don't want kids to smoke. It's really an attempt to refurbish their public relations image, which, of course, is almost laughable. They have a very substantial problem -- the hypocrisy of their position is very obvious. On the one hand, they say they don't want kids to smoke. On the other hand, if kids don't smoke, they won't have any business because 90 percent of their replacement smokers -- to replace the people who died or quit -- come from kids. Q: Why would anyone want to take on the tobacco industry?[Laughs] I guess Don Quixote lives.Contact: National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids at 1-800-284-KIDS or 202/296-5469; 1707 L Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036; Fax 202/296-5427.