Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project reports an amusing e-mail exchange he recently had with NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin about the radio network's policy regarding the identification of sponsors. Mirken noted that an announcement during Morning Edition "refers to the underwriter as 'ONDCP,' followed by a short tag line about how parents should be involved in their kids' lives. The use of an acronym unfamiliar to most listeners, combined with the ultra-innocuous tag line, seems calculated to obscure the fact that the underwriter is in fact the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy."

Mirken continued:

Given ONDCP's involvement in promoting and maintaining controversial and unpopular policies such as the arrest and jailing of seriously ill people who use medical marijuana, it's not hard to see why they would choose to be semi-clandestine about their sponsorship. But NPR's stated mission, "to create a more informed public–one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures," surely requires a more honest and complete disclosure. Indeed, last November the FCC ruled that anti-drug commercials sponsored by ONDCP must carry the tag line, "sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

Dvorkin replied that NPR is not a commercial broadcaster and therefore is not bound by the FCC rule. He conceded that "your criticism of ONDCP as being inherently political…may be a valid one" but added that in this case it was offering an "entirely legitimate message of parental involvement in their children's lives," and "many news media accept their advertising." Anyway, he said, using the ONDCP's full name would take too much time.

In response, Mirken noted that NPR covers many drug-related controversies in which the ONDCP is intimately involved. He tried to elucidate the issue with an analogy:

NPR regularly covers the activities of the U.S. military and Department of Defense, occasionally abbreviated as DOD. If the defense department became an underwriter, do you really think it would be acceptable to run an underwriting announcement saying, "supported by DOD…"?

The answer, presumably, would depend on whether the Defense Department's message was "entirely legitimate" (who could object, for instance, to "Be all that you can be"?) and how long it took to say "Department of Defense." It is, after all, three words shorter than "Office of National Drug Control Policy."

NEXT: Monkey Business

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  1. They should’ve given it to Madden to read.

    “You don’t talk to your kids, then BAM! they’re sellin’ that turduckin for crack.”

  2. Our drug warriors are once again making complete asses of themselves:

    The thing is, I ride the metro every day and never saw the ad. But now I know who Change the Climate is, and what they’re trying to do. They will be seeing some more money coming their way..

  3. Somehow, I find messangers who spend their money to convince me to buy clothes and tasty snacks less ominous than vaguely named messengers (I know the Hamburglar when I see him, but who are Charles Stuart Mott and the ONDCP) who are trying to convince me that they are in the business of Good Works for The Benefit of All.

    It isn’t hard to figure out the Hamburglar’s agenda. Somehow things get murky when you go to NPR.

    I’ve always marveled that the left has the opposite opinion.

  4. Following up Jason Ligon’s, I’ll take the Hamburgler over Archer-Daniels-Midland any day.

  5. Jacob you are easily amused. Or else you were high when you wrote this, because I can’t figure out what this post is about.

    maybe I should smoke a fatty for lunch break and try again…

  6. I can’t figure out if trainwreck’s comment is sincere confusion or a bald attempt to portray the blog as the realm of pot-smoking libertines.

    Maybe I should put on an Oxford-style shirt, club tie, go to a $1,000-a-plate political fundraiser, and try again. . . .

  7. “…the study also furthered the cause of such draconian laws as the Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act, which notoriously allows the police to shut down clubs and bars and prosecute their owners if any patron is caught using the apparently deadly drug Ecstasy on their premises.”

    SinC: Actually, the language of the RAVE Act – renamed to the Anti-Drug Proliferation Act, so as not to be accused of targeting a specific group of citizens (read, ravers) – calls for the penalties to kick in if ANY DRUG USE/TRANSACTION whatsoever takes place on the premises, either with or without the owners’ knowledge.

    We just had a major hemp show get cancelled here in Tampa. The event was set for Dec 2 at a venue that has been open for 23 years in Tampa and has hosted countless such events over the past several years. The owners were contacted by the DEA and after discussion they took (their own quote here) ‘the cowardly way out’ and cancelled the event, so as not to expose their lifelong investment to government fine/forfeiture.

  8. Now steveinclearwater that is something worth posting about. Hemfests, reggae fests, are near and dear to my heart.

    Gino I really was confused. And really, I did smoke a big fat spliff during lunch. I know that smoking pot makes you paranoid, (when I drove home from my “lunch break,” it seemed like every police cruiser in town was on my traffic path) but it seems Jacob’s post was a sly attempt to suggest NPR policies are being bent to hide their ONDCP sponsorship? I dunno I still can’t figure it out.

    And BTW, what’s with the email requirement? I really don’t like the idea of spammers trolling boards like this and getting my address….

  9. It’s the language: “Office of National Drug Control Policy” sounds ominous. Better to shorten it to ONDCP so as not to obscure their message. The only worthwhile activism in which the ONDCP can engage is to remind their parents to stay involved in their kids’ lives, so whether it’s ONDCP or the whole name, at least this time they put the right message in there.

  10. This occurs on “for-profit” radio, too. Example: the recent spate of anti-Ecstasy and anti-pot spots running within AM fare such as sports programming. The tagline notes the sponsors as “the ONDCP and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America” and is often preceded by a slogan like “Parents: The Anti-Drug.”

  11. I think being all you can be is great, but I don’t think I want to be an Army of One. That job sound like crap.

  12. Well to some degree you have to concede that it is important for parents to keep their kids off of drugs, and important for there to be public messages to that extent. Drugs are something for adults to choose or decline, not children.

  13. Al Michaels actually had to do a live read of one of these anti-drug spots on the last game I watched (two days ago). Part of the usual tag-line reading for a spate of sponsors along with a logo on the screen.

    At the end of the 5 or 6 he had to read he said some thing to the effect of “That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever had to read on the air.”

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