Capital Cities/ABC Inc., the giant New York-based media company formed when Capital Cities Communications bought the American Broadcasting Co., has announced a tough new antidrug policy that includes sending drug-sniffing dogs into newspaper and television offices and eventually may lead to mandatory urine tests for all new workers.
The Kansas City Times and Star will be the first Capitol Cities-owned company to be subjected to the canine search, according to publisher James H. Hale, and angry reporters have already reacted heatedly by bringing in dog biscuits and realistic-looking plastic "doggy poop" and barking loudly in the newsroom.
Capital Cities/ABC executives in New York said the dog patrols may also be brought in to search ABC television offices. Capital Cities bought ABC last March for $3.5 billion.
ABC's new president, John B. Sias, formerly president of the Capital Cities Publishing Division, said the use of dogs, and the possible use of undercover investigations, is meant to enforce a longstanding companywide policy against the sale and use of illegal drugs on company property.
Sias said company executives decided to take the unusual step of bringing in dogs to search for illegal substances after three drug-related incidents occurred in the last three years.
He declined to give details of the incidents, but he said one grew out of an unrelated investigation that led to a discovery of drug sales on company property. "We didn't lightly come to this point," said Sias, who interspersed his remarks with humorous asides, such as, "Where should I send my Ken-L-Ration?"
Asked if any other media company had resorted to canine drug searches, Sias replied: "Are there any other media companies where they've had thrust in their face problems with illegal drugs?"
Sias and Hale said they hoped not to find any drugs when the Kansas City newsroom is swept.
Executives of Capital Cities and the Kansas City Star Co., which owns both the Times and Star newspapers, said they are discussing mandatory urine tests for all new workers. But Sias said "we're not at this time predisposed to that" because urine tests raise "a considerably more complex issue than monitoring for illicit substances by nonintrusive means."
More and more private companies, and even major league baseball, have adopted sweeping antidrug policies -- including mandatory urine tests -- as increased drug use is seen as a pressing national problem.
The drug policy at Capital Cities, with its vast communications holdings, would affect thousands of employes. In addition to television and radio stations, including WMAL here, Capital Cities also owns the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas and several smaller newspapers.
The Capital Cities drug policy also includes an in-house training film that will be shown to all employes, a training manual for supervisors, and various rehabilitation programs.
"It is part of a companywide drug program," Capital Cities Vice President Andrew Jackson said. "Its goal is to free the company of drugs."
But at the Kansas City newspapers, the first to be hit in the crackdown, some newsroom employes saw the canine searches as a betrayal of trust.
"I think embarrassment is the operative word," said one reporter, who asked not to be quoted by name. "What kind of fool would have drugs in his desk anyway? And what kind of fool would have drugs in his desk after being told they're bringing in dogs?"
A notice went up on the newsroom's bulletin board yester- day restating the longstanding antidrug policy and warning of the coming of the canines. Hale said the notice warned that "among other things, we are going to use trained dogs to patrol our offices at night."
When asked what "other things" might come next, Hale joked, "How about a strip search? We could strip everybody when they come in."