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November 2006
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Watchdogs or Lapdogs? Media Coverage of the War on Drugs (SSDP)

The mid-day plenary featured Bill Press (MSNBC), Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune) and was moderated by Ryan Grim (Capitol Leader and Slate.com).
Clarence Page: The #1 sin in journalism is being inaccurate. The #2 sin is being dull. He defends the fact that the press often treats drugs and the drug war as a funny thing on that basis.
Bill Press thinks reporters are afraid to talk about drugs, partly because they are afraid they’ll lose their jobs or reveal to much about their past. He talked about his own conversion…

I discovered I’m a conservative — I was opposed to big government programs that wasted a lot of taxpayer dollars and didn’t accomplish anything.

Clarence Page was interested in Kris Krane’s comment about the fact that the media reports on “drug-related” crime and not “prohibition-related” crime. I think he realized that there was a framing issue in the media. I get the impression that Page is not with us fully, but dipping his toes in the water. He wants a change, but isn’t sure how much, nor has he fully accommodated in his mind all the aspects of drug policy reform.
Bill Press called Bob Novak “The Prince of Darkness”
Bill Press (back to framing): Gingrich, during the Republican takeover, came up with lists of words to use to frame the issue. He mentioned some good words that we use:

  • Reform
  • Fiscal Responsibility
  • Decriminalization (as opposed to “legalization”)
  • State’s Rights

Both said that medical marijuana is the right approach to softening public opinion. So is the financial aid issue that SSDP has been pursuing. Both seemed to think that the incremental approach is the only way that it’ll work.
Reach out, inform, and educate the media. Don’t just complain about them. Make your case. Contact them. Meet with editorial boards. It’s easier if you’re a group, but it’s essential.
Ryan Grim gave props to Tom Angell of SSDP for his persistence in getting press releases out and keeping contact with the media. (Notes that it’s not just about the release, but the follow-up, and also getting some exclusivity.) Create personal interaction with the media.
Clarence Page: “If we’re going to have a Drug Czar who’s going to be dishonest, then there’s no point in having a Drug Czar.”

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