From Peter McWilliams
No sooner had my earlier open letter to Americas media cleared the fax machines ("The New York Times Now Opposes the War on Drugs. And You?"), along comes a doozy of a column from A. E. Rosenthal. Here is my column about his column you are welcome to share with your readers or use as source material for your own story:
UnCivil War about the Drug War at the New York Times
In a dramatic editorial epiphany, the New York Times on Tuesday, June 9, 1998, published its new view that the War on Drugs has failed. More dramatically, on June 12, 1998, in a New York Times OpEd column, the man who ran the New York Times with an iron fist for 16 years, A. E. Rosenthal, accused the Times Editorial Board of being drug "legalizers" spreading "falsehood" and intent on "the multiplication of addiction, crime and destroyed souls."
It all began on Tuesday, June 9, 1998, with a Times editorial entitled Cheerleaders Against Drugs. Couched in criticism of the United Nations new 10-year-plan aimed at "a drug-free world," the editorial neatly dismantles the 84-year-old United States drug policy as well. After all, the "new" UN drug policy is merely ancient US drug policy after a crash-course at Berlitz.
When the Times observed that the "militarized war on drugs has torn apart societies and built up some of the world's most repressive armies;" that the "claims" made by those who follow the US/UN interdiction-first policy "get in the way of effective programs to reduce drug use;" and said a law-enforcement approach to drug use and addiction was "misdirected," "failed," "designed primarily to recycle unrealistic pledges and celebrate dubious programs," and is "unrealistic and harmful."
The one nod the Times made to the current drug policy was a paragraph, one sentence long, that began with patriotic Drug War media pabulum, but ends with a devastating fact that can no longer be denied by rational human beings. "While there is a place for crop substitution, law enforcement, interdiction and other programs to cut drug supply, these steps rarely deliver promised results."
In other words, the War on Drugs is lost.
On June 12, three days after the Times editorial ran, former New York Times Executive Editor A. E. Rosenthal, now a New York Times columnist, attacked the Times Editorial Board, branding it a "legalizer."
While Rosenthal never directly mentions the Times editorial, his repeated attacks on the ideas and language used in the editorial are unmistakable. The only way he could say he did not intend to attack the editorial is by not having read it. "I was so busy entertaining drug warrior heads of state on Tuesday," he might say, "I skipped reading the paper altogether."
I called Rosenthals office to find out. When I posed my query, I was told, "Mr. Rosenthal read Tuesdays editorial and said what he wanted to say in todays column."
Rosenthal, then, is intentionally calling the Times Editorial Board a drug "legalizer," the worst name Rosenthal could possibly fling, every bit as evil to Rosenthal as "communist" was during his heyday. Legalizers, according to Rosenthal, bring with them "the multiplication of addiction, crime and destroyed souls."
The Times Editorial Board is, in Rosenthals view, demoralizing those decent Americans who, deep in their hearts, really want to fight drugs. "[T]he legalization minority includes many intellectuals, academics, journalists and others with access to lecture rooms, print and TV. So consistently do they spread their falsehood that the drug war has failed that even some Americans who want to fight drugs believe there's no use trying."
Not only is the Times Editorial Board a "legalizer" in Rosenthals mind, but a covert legalizer at that. The Times editorial offered only one alternative for the failed War on Drugs when it mentioned "some interesting new ideas such as harm reduction, which focuses on programs like needle exchanges and methadone that cut the damage drugs do." To its eternal peril, the Times mentioned the H-word and the R-word--harm reduction--two words not to be breathed near a drug hawk: "Legalizers use camouflage phrases like harm reduction--permitting drug abuse without penalty, the first step toward de facto legalization."
In a rare and momentary forgiving mood, Rosenthal, Old Times Boy that he is, leaves a crack under the door for the Times Editorial Board to slither through. All the Times has to do to save itself from journalistic perdition is to say it was duped by those deceptive legalizers. Rosenthal claimed the legalizers had "convinced one or two convincible journalists that people opposed to the anti-drug effort had been banned from talking" at the U.N. And just who were those one or two convincible [read: gullible] journalists? Hint: the Times stated in its editorial, "The U.N. kept off the program virtually all the citizens groups and experts who wanted to speak." The Times Editorial Board, then, could wash its hands of the whole thing by, in Rosenthals phrase, "pointing fingers," saying it was all the fault of "one or two convincible journalists," and renew its pledge to fight this national crisis with "the rest of us."
After all, it worked during the McCarthy witchhunts.
If the Times Editorial Board refuses to name names and absolve itself from culpability, Rosenthal is ready to make a federal case out of it. "Surely it is time for the President to dissect America's legalizers and publicly point the finger at them," Rosenthal writes, practically begging for criticism of his paper by the White House. "If he is too delicate, or politically fearful, the rest of us will have to do the job of denying them acceptability or cover."
But thats not all. Rosenthal would also like to see the Times attacked by the federal $2 billion anti-drug advertising campaign Clinton pointed to with pride during his U.N. address. "Washington's big new anti-drug ad campaign will be useful, but not very," Rosenthal warned darkly, "unless it not only urges parents to talk to children, but parents to talk to other parents, about the legalizers, in or out of camouflage." Rosenthal, then, is demanding ads, paid for with tax dollars, to slam the New York Times. Et Tu, Rosenthal?
From a certain perspective, its all rather sad. Rosenthal somehow thinks hes still in charge. All it takes is a "memo from the top" to straighten out those Editorial Board rascals, just like the old days. Its reminiscent of William Randolph Hearsts last years. Hearst could get an opinion column printed in any Hearst publication he chose, but he couldnt influence even Hearst employees to respect it.
FULL TEXT OF NEW YORK TIMES JUNE 9 EDITORIAL AND ROSENTHALS JUNE 12 COLUMN FOLLOW:
Mr. Arlacchi's proposal, which is likely to be approved, would attempt to cut drug cultivation by bringing roads, schools and other development to drug areas. The notion sounds reasonable, and it is surely better to help farmers than to finance a militarized war on drugs, which has torn apart societies and built up some of the world's most repressive armies. But elements of Mr. Arlacchi's plan are unrealistic and harmful. Half the funding would supposedly come from drug-producing nations themselves, an unlikely prospect. Mr. Arlacchi would also make partners out of such abusive and unreliable governments as the Taliban in Afghanistan and the military in Myanmar.
While there is a place for crop substitution, law enforcement, interdiction and other programs to cut drug supply, these steps rarely deliver promised results.
Where crop substitution has been successful, drug cultivation has simply moved next door.
The conference has seen a welcome increase in talk about the duties of drug-consuming countries, but its proposals are still tilted toward attacking supply. Studies show that treatment programs are far more cost-effective than efforts overseas.
But it is politically safer to advocate fighting drugs abroad than treating addicts at home.
The U.N. kept off the program virtually all the citizens' groups and experts who wanted to speak. There is no discussion of some interesting new ideas such as harm reduction, which focuses on programs like needle exchanges and methadone that cut the damage drugs do. Like previous U.N. drug conferences, this one seems designed primarily to recycle unrealistic pledges and celebrate dubious programs.
June 12, 1998
ON MY MIND / A.M. ROSENTHAL
Pointing the Finger
The three-day meeting on fighting drugs was one of the more useful United Nations conferences in decades. It was well led by Pino Arlacchi, the Italian Mafia-buster, drew chiefs of state and narcotics specialists from every part of the world, and wound up with a plan to eliminate the growing of illegal heroin and cocaine in 10 years -- certainly difficult but certainly doable.
So, months before the opening Monday, a campaign to attack the conference was planned. It was worked out by Americans who devote their careers and foundation grants not to struggling against narcotics but legalizing them under one camouflage or another.
Before the first gavel, they were ready with advertisements writing off the conference, had rounded up American and European signatures denouncing the war against drugs as a failure, and had mobilized their network of web sites.
They convinced one or two convincible journalists that people opposed to the anti-drug effort had been banned from talking at meetings of specialists and organizations. That's strange, because at the very first forum I attended there were as many legalizers as drug fighters making statements and asking questions.
The propaganda was professionally crafted.
Hundreds of well-known people and wannabes signed an opening-day two-page advertisement in The Times. It had no proposals except for a "dialogue," which already has gone on a half-century.
The word "legalization" was not used.
Legalizers and their financial quartermasters know Americans are 87 percent against legalization. So now they use camouflage phrases like "harm reduction" -- permitting drug abuse without penalty, the first step toward de facto legalization.
One signer told me that she did indeed favor legalization but that in such campaigns you just don't use words that will upset the public.
I have more respect for her, somewhat, than for prominent ad-signers who deny drug legalization is the goal. And for signers who, God help us, do not even know the real goal, here's a statement by Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, now George Soros' chief narcotics specialist and field commander, in 1993 when he still spoke, unforked, about legalization:
"It's nice to think that in another 5 or 10 years . . . the right to possess and consume drugs may be as powerfully and as widely understood as the other rights of Americans are." Plain enough?
The conference is finished, legalizers are not. Hours after publication of this column, masses of denunciatory E-mail letters to the editor will arrive at The Times. Judging by the past, the web-site chiefs will announce gleefully that virtually all the letters The Times printed supported them, and how much that publicity would have cost if they had to pay for it. Anti-drug letters will arrive too late.
Now, I have a problem. Knowing that Americans are so against legalization and the multiplication of addiction, crime and destroyed souls it will create, I ask myself why I write about legalizers at all. They live by publicity, which can mean more millions from Mr. Soros and a few other backers.
But the legalization minority includes many intellectuals, academics, journalists and others with access to lecture rooms, print and TV. So consistently do they spread their falsehood that the drug war has failed that even some Americans who want to fight drugs believe there's no use trying. America still suffers agonizingly from illegal drugs, but as President Clinton told the U.N., overall U.S. drug use has dropped 49 percent since 1979, cocaine use has dropped 70 percent since 1985, crime usually related to drugs has decreased five years in a row.
Yet the anti-drug movement has never rallied to tell Americans about the legalizers, identities and techniques.
Washington and the U.N, including Mr. Arlacci, have even softened their language -- such as not using the phrase "drug war" anymore.
Washington's big new anti-drug ad campaign will be useful, but not very, unless it not only urges parents to talk to children, but parents to talk to other parents, about the legalizers, in or out of camouflage.
Surely it is time for the President to dissect America's legalizers and publicly point the finger at them. If he is too delicate, or politically fearful, the rest of us will have to do the job of denying them acceptability or cover; it's worth the space.