The New York Times took quite a whack at the White House drug policy adviser and the networks for cooperating on anti-drug efforts, saying in its lead editorial Tuesday that such arrangements could lead to "the possibility of censorship and state-sponsored propaganda."
But it turns out that the Times also has a cooperative relationship with the drug control office, and also received financial benefits in exchange for activities in conjunction with the White House.
"I knew absolutely nothing about this," Howell Raines, the Times editorial page editor, said yesterday. "If I had known, I would have mentioned it in the editorial."
The Times has plenty of company. The drug office says it is spending $11.3 million in the current 12-month period to advertise in 250 newspapers, and that $893,000 of that money is being spent on the Times, USA Today and The Washington Post. And White House officials say that in three cases--two of them involving the Times and The Post--newspapers were granted $200,000 in financial credits that reduced the amount of public service advertising they are required to provide under the program.
The six major broadcast networks have drawn criticism for allowing the drug office to review scripts and tapes of such popular shows as "ER" and "Beverly Hills, 90210," with the government in some cases making suggestions before the programs aired. But the arrangement with newspapers is different in one key respect: Both White House officials and newspaper executives say the administration deals only with advertising and does not examine news stories either before or after they are published.
"There was no involvement by editorial employees of the Times and no advance content reviews or vetting, which is the critical issue where the networks are involved," Raines said.
Still, there are monetary incentives to play ball. Under a 1997 law, once the drug office decides to advertise on a network or in a newspaper, the media outlet is required to donate a comparable amount of air time or space for public-service ads. In practice, say executives at Ogilvy, the drug office's advertising agency, newspapers fulfill their requirement by providing a 50 percent discount on the ads, which typically include two full-page displays and 12 smaller ads in the course of a year.
In the case of the Times, the paper produced 30,000 booklets under its Newspapers in Education program to guide New York area teachers on dealing with drug abuse questions. In most cases, these teacher guides included eight articles on drug use that had previously been published in the Times, and the paper plans a second round of booklets to be distributed nationally. Similar information was posted on a Times Web site dealing with education--all of which entitled the paper to financial credits under the federal program.
"We did meet with them and talk about the whole concept," a White House official said. "We looked at the piece after it was written, simply for accuracy."
Shona Seifert, an Ogilvy executive, said that "programs and activities that cascade anti-drug messages out to communities are welcomed and embraced."
Another White House official said $181,366 is budgeted for anti-drug advertising in The Post from last summer to next summer. "Based on the content, we decided we can charge this at a charity rate," said Post spokeswoman Linda Erdos. "It satisfied their financial budget."
White House officials say The Post was credited for $20,000 for running a banner ad on the washingtonpost.com Web site that linked users to an anti-drug site maintained by the drug control office. A washingtonpost.com spokeswoman, however, said the banner ad was provided at a discount rate because the drug policy adviser's office is a regular customer. White House officials say six other papers--the Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant and Arizona Republic--fulfilled part of their requirement through such Web advertising banners.
Ogilvy executives say they are spending another $9 million on anti-drug advertising in magazines, including Time, Newsweek, People, Reader's Digest, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle. They also say they have an arrangement with America Online to carry anti-drug messages.
After the controversy about cooperating with the networks erupted last week, Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy adviser, issued new guidelines under which the government will no longer review individual programs until after the episodes have been aired. ABC executives had said they were ending their cooperation because the administration was requiring them to provide the episodes in advance.