Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Administration pays to secretly promote policy

Jerry Stratton, January 8, 2005

Jonah Goldberg, after a short entry in The Corner of the National Review Online, has net pundits asking “what would have happened if the Clinton administration had paid people to hawk their policy without saying that they were being funded?”

Well, we know what would have happened. It would have been a minor flap and then it would have disappeared so deeply that neither Jonah Goldberg nor anyone else remembered it. Probably just like the Armstrong Williams payoff will disappear.

Yes, it’s terrible when our government pays money to insert policy secretly into third-party media. But it’s hardly new. As it turns out, the Clinton administration did reward networks and magazines for secret promotion of their policy. They were just better at laundering the money.

During the Clinton administration, President Clinton made the drug war a high priority, ratcheting up the drug war to unprecedented levels. Part of the drug war involved (and probably still involves) government advertisements on television promoting the drug war.

The Clinton administration came up with a way of getting more insidious advertising: if drug war messages were placed into television shows as just another part of the script, the government would pay the network for the message as if it were an advertisement. The stronger the message, the more “advertising units” it counted as.

So, instead of poorly-made ads identified as from the government, viewers got drug war friendly content in their television shows with no indication that it was a paid advertisement. The networks were able to get tens of millions of dollars--that’s millions, not a few hundred thousand.

Six magazines--U.S. News & World Report, Sporting News, Family Circle, Seventeen, Parade, and USA Weekend--also created content in hopes of receiving drug money from the government.

There’s nothing new about this sort of payola. It is wrong and it should be stopped. But it needs to be stopped across the board.

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