First Lady Nancy Reagan yesterday blamed the entertainment and advertising media for glamorizing drug use in numerous subtle ways that reinforce the notion among youths that drugs are acceptable. In a last-minute change, shortly before she addressed the Advertising Council, she deleted references criticizing the "news media."
"It was never her intention to talk about the news media because she was referring to popular entertainment media," Sheila Tate, Mrs. Reagan's press secretary, said later yesterday.
"She didn't see the final version of the speech until this morning" and when she saw it she wanted to make the change, Tate said. The speech Mrs. Reagan received had been written "largely" by a presidential speech writer, according to Tate.
The original text had been distributed to the press but embargoed for release, as is often customary, until 1:40 p.m., but Tate said it had been withdrawn before Mrs. Reagan left the White House for the State Department, where the Advertising Council was meeting for lunch.
The president has leveled charges at the news media for focusing on individuals affected by the economy. This week, White House director of communications David Gergen charged that a CBS special report entitled "People Like Us" hit "below the belt."
What Mrs. Reagan did tell the 200 Advertising Council members was that reinforcement of drug acceptability "is everywhere"--on television, in movies and in songs. She asked them to help communicate to their colleagues the harm she sees being inflicted on young people.
"We've all seen the TV shows where the punch line is about getting high or getting good stuff," she said. "To those writers and comedians, let me say--it's not funny any more. Children are being destroyed and lives are being ruined, and that's not something to laugh about."
She cited--though not by name--the movie "9 to 5" and described a scene where three working women, played by Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, get high on pot.
"It may seem like a harmless comedy, but doesn't it say something deeper?" she said. "And in many dramas, the lead no sooner enters the room than he or she is at the bar pouring a drink."
The music industry also bears some responsibility for how drugs are represented, she said.
"The lyrics of modern songs--quite a few modern songs--shout at kids to get high and get stoned," she said. "And the drug paraphernalia shops cater to kids as surely as candy stores once did."
In her visits around the country to drug prevention programs for elementary-school children and in her discussions with young people, she said she is asked "more and more often" why drugs are glamorized.
The original text had read: "I'm afraid I don't have the answer. However, the fact must be faced that all too often, the media--and here I'm talking about those in entertainment, advertising and news--present the idea, perhaps unconsciously, that drugs are acceptable." But in delivering the speech, she dropped the reference to those in the news media.
At another point in her original text, Mrs. Reagan was to have said she wondered if the "news media know what perceptions kids are picking up from some of their stories, especially the stories about the therapeutic effects of a chemical found in pot."
When she spoke, however, she changed that by saying: "I wonder if anyone stops to think . . ."
She said she heard one speaker at a recent drug conference in Atlanta tell about a fifth grader who believed that "if you smoke pot you won't get cancer or have to wear glasses. Now how do you suppose a fifth grader gets ideas like these?"
Mrs. Reagan said television specials on drug abuse cannot counter the endless stream of messages in regular programming that say "drugs are okay; drugs are cool."
"Just in the past week or so I've seen some programs on drug abuse and I'm very grateful, but they don't negate what I've said before," she said.
Patricia Carbine of Ms. magazine, who presided at the luncheon, later told Mrs. Reagan that the Advertising Council is considering action on drug abuse.
"It is very clearly the sense of the directors that we should consider proceeding with a campaign in the year ahead," said Carbine.
The Advertising Council is an association of corporate and independent advertising agencies, publishers, broadcasters and others involved with commercial advertising. Its public service campaigns have included Smokey the Bear and the United Negro College Fund. Last year, it distributed television and radio commercials on the Foster Grandparents Program, which the federal agency ACTION organized with Mrs. Reagan.