Drug Czar Super Bowl Ad Features Anti-Abortion Subtext

No, the White House anti-drug ads don't work, the latest, stealth report from the federal government indicates. Commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and conducted under the auspices of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it states: "There is no evidence yet consistent with a desirable effect of the [Media] Campaign on youth." Though this semi-annual report builds on the poor results documented previously, the taxpayer-funded ads - despite their demonstrated inability to keep kids from drugs - do serve any number of purposes. One new use for the campaign made its debut during the year's high-profile advertising showcase, Sunday's Super Bowl.

As Joseph R. Giganti, Director of Media and Government Relations at the American Life League stated after reviewing the new anti-marijuana ad - entitled "Pregnancy" - on ONDCP's website, "Without question, there is a very strong but subtle pro-life statement presented in this commercial."

Saying that "abortion on demand" thrives on the notion that actions lack consequences, Giganti added, "This ad reinforces the consequences." Still commenting on the ad, he said, you can't "just slice and dice a baby and everything'll be good."

As to the ad's outcome of a young teenager having her baby, Mary Jane Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "They coded the message to make it seem this was this woman's only option." According to Gallagher, "Such speaking down to viewers - that keeping the child is the only alternative - I'm not used to that from the government in a democracy."

Alerted to the ad, Nellie Gray, President of the March for Life Fund and organizer of the annual anti-Roe v. Wade demonstrations in Washington, said: "A government agency properly uses this scene of a pregnant mother's drug abuse and grandparents' youth to help viewers understand that there is no justification for anyone intentionally killing a preborn baby." As to any possible ill effects on the baby from the mother's "drug abuse," Gray added that her group has a "no exceptions, no compromise" policy on abortion.

I've reported on the Clinton White House granting the networks some $22 million in ad time they owed it in exchange for inserting government-approved (and even government scripted), anti-drug plots in TV shows. More than one source worried that if the government got away with that, there'd be scant reason to limit its social engineering to drugs. Someday, some administration gripped by a perceived responsibility to instruct people how to live might soon train its sights on reproductive rights, or so these First Amendment advocates thought. Fearing that anti-abortion themes might conceivably start cropping up in sitcoms and dramas, no one worried they'd be flaunted in the ads themselves.

Well, the Clinton Federal Communications Commission eventually ruled the government couldn't pay for messages embedded in TV shows without alerting viewers to that fact. Such notice robbing those messages of much of both their ability to influence viewers and their appeal to government social marketers, the Bush administration commendably scrapped that part of its anti-drug campaign.

However, it took only about a year of his running the national ad campaign for Bush Drug Czar John Walters to launch his first attack on abortion in the guise (or so said the two anti-abortion activists quoted above) of his increasingly outrageous ads.

The woman holding the pregnancy test strip in the ONDCP Super Bowl ad is certainly young and curvy enough that, in a cute little bit of misdirection, viewers no doubt assumed the test was for her, especially since her daughter is off-camera. But we soon learn the parents of the girl who looks about 14 and got pregnant via the demon weed, are - pay attention now, America - soon to be, "the youngest grandparents in town." Ramming the point home, the ad tells us, "There will be an addition to their family soon." As for the also young, but balding grandfather-to-be, he probably doesn't look nearly as frayed by life as he soon will.

That's because, in the ad's self-contained world, options apparently aren't available to this family. "Youngest grandparents" - that's the only outcome that's indicated. And, as mom embraces her, the ad ends with the young girl's face registering fear and what looks like acquiescence as we're informed: "Smoking marijuana impairs your judgment - it's more harmful than we all thought."

For many, of course, having the baby would indeed be their choice. But - for now, anyway - there are other choices, not that viewers would glean that from a government ad that seeks to model 'correct' behavior. Gallagher, of NARAL Pro-Choice America, asserted that, "The government's message didn't portray the legal options available to this young woman under Roe v. Wade: to keep the child, to put the child up for adoption, or to seek a safe and legal abortion."

Katherine Minarik, Director of Campus Programs for the Feminist Majority Foundation, said that government commercials should try to paint a picture of reality. "And if in that picture you eliminate the concept of reproductive freedom, then you're doing an enormous disservice to not only the health, but the lives of young people."

Saying that her legal team will ponder action regarding the ad's public funding (the total ONDCP Super Bowl ad buy exceeded $4 million), Gallagher said, "We can't let this effort go unchecked - that they take these social policies that run counter to the majority of Americans' views and push them down our throats."

Ken Diem, Chairman of the New York State Right to Life Party, countered that government advertising, "should be promoting abstinence and respect for your body, which involves no drugs and no promiscuity." Saying that the ad meshes well with his party's concerns, Diem said, "The government should promote an abstinence program hand-in-hand with the anti-drug message." In fact, he'd like to see it part of any Bush administration faith-based initiative. As to any criticism of the government's involvement in the abortion issue, Diem said, "Poppycock. The government has been involved with a woman's right to choose since day one. Only when the government stands up to respect the sanctity of life do they cry foul."

Minarik agreed with Gallagher that the ad makes it appear the young woman has but one option. "But teenagers still have choices after an unintended pregnancy. And we as a society can never let them believe they have no choice. This is just another example of a broader policy of eliminating access to needed information on reproductive health," she said.

Everything old is new again. Harry Anslinger, Walters' ideological and official progenitor both, could have warned the ad's father to lock his daughter away from those fiends hopped up on that reefer stuff. This a new century, not Anslinger's 1930s, the young wanton was apparently a willing participant, wacked as she was herself on pot. How else to explain a teenage girl falling prey to a boy's pressure? (Simple decency requires shrinking from the notion of such a young girl's lasciviousness unmediated by marijuana.)

Giganti said the point that sex has its consequences is driven home by the girl's "fearful" expression as the ad ends. There's no "easy solution" to this family's dilemma, he said. "It's realistic that the parents are concerned." He applauded that they're not being "complicit in the murder of their own grandchild." By being "loving, concerned and comforting," the parents are "taking a bad situation and making the best of it."

Gallagher, however, felt the ad was wildly unrealistic: "It indicates this will be easy for the family to tackle. It's absurd."

Giganti doubted that Walters intentionally sat down with his creative team and in the context of a hard-hitting ad for teens, reached for a message on abortion. Acknowledging the ads' "subtext," Giganti said, "I don't know if it's intentional. I believe not." He added, "I don't think it was set up to reflect a pro-life view. Though in a perfect world that might be what happens."

The ad was created gratis by McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising and filtered through the Partnership for a Drug-Free America for subsequent approval and purchase of airtime by ONDCP. Both the partnership (which, to its credit, has refused to get involved with the White House drugs = terrorism ads) and ONDCP declined comment. McCann-Erickson refused to make its creative team available for an interview; spokeswoman Susan Irwin would say only that McCann-Erickson was "responsible for the idea." Irwin elaborated no further, so it would seem, therefore, that the get-pregnant, have-the-child (though you're a child yourself) message originated on Madison Avenue.

Since McCann-Erickson won't say that Smith or Jones on its staff cooked up the idea -- and what prompted their thinking -- what remains clear is that the White House approved the ad. And it paid for its inclusion in the year's most-watched show amidst all the other high-profile ads that debuted on Sunday.

This came less than a week after President Bush addressed by phone hookup a massive anti-choice protest in Washington seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. Voicing his hope to ban a type of late-term abortion he termed "partial-birth" abortion, Bush spoke on the 30th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. He told the crowd that a "self-evident truth calls us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born." Not wanting to risk a photograph of himself at the rally for later use by pro-choice advocates (and yes, he was out of town, but the anniversary occurs on the same date every year), Bush continued Ronald Reagan's weaselly tradition of addressing the annual protest only by telephone.

Lest you un-American eggheads who don't watch television and don't let your kids watch consider yourselves immune to the ads, consider this from an ONDCP press release: "[T]he Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds wherever they live, learn, work, play and practice their faith."

"Play" I knew about, having seen a White House ad emblazoned on the backboard at my local glass-strewn, schoolyard basketball court, the bent, naked rims without a net. (Never mind the social science proving that spending on decent athletic facilities, along with the after-school programs to use them, go further than any TV ads to keep kids from abusing drugs.) But I haven't detected the White House's heavy hand in my quirky little church yet. Given the administration's evident willingness to breach the church-state divide, perhaps it's only a matter of time.

Daniel Forbes' report on state and federal malfeasance to defeat treatment-not-prison ballot initiatives was published by the Institute for Policy Studies. His disclosure of the Clinton Administration's secret multimillion-dollar rewards to the networks led to his testimony before both the Senate and the House. Forbes' drug-policy work is archived at: www.mapinc.org.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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