Reed Irvine - Editor
  January B, 1986  


  • Muffling Marijuana Alert
  • "Mannhandling" the Media
  • Experts: The Media Make Them
  • Ignoring the Best Evidence
  • Have the Media Changed?
  • Why the Media Pushed Pot
  •  What You Can Do
  • Notes
  • This article is by David Martin, former senior analyst for the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, who directed or participated in four Senate hearings and two House hearings that dealt with the dangers of marijuana. He is a member of AIM's board.

    Stephen S. Rosenfeld, deputy editor of the editorial page of The Washington Post, concluded a signed column published in The Post on December 20, 1985 with this observation: "Drugs are the worst thing in the world, and they're real." Rosenfeld was lining up with the experts who have come to recognize that the United States is now caught up in the most pervasive polydrug epidemic in history--an epidemic which reaches down into the ranks of the grade school children and which is estimated to be costing in excess of 1100 billion a year.

    An inspection of many hundreds of articles touching on drugs and their use which have appeared in the press over the past two decades leads inescapably to the conclusion that our media, particularly Big Media, have played a major role in fanning the flames of this dreadful epidemic which has brought death, misery and ruin to untold numbers of our fellow citizens. Journalists like to think of them- selves as promoters of the public flood and protectors against products which threaten to seriously harm individuals and society. In the case of drugs, many in the media have not only failed to warn of the known danger, but they have even encouraged drug use by presenting it as chic and benign.

    Marijuana is the "gateway" drug which opened the doors to widespread drug abuse in the 1980s. It was relatively cheap and readily accessible even to children still in public schools. Its use was condoned and even promoted by a misinformation campaign which proclaimed it to be harmless and covered up evidence to the contrary. When stories were written about the harmful effects of marijuana, they were frequently spiked. When the evidence was mentioned in a news story or commentary, it was usually "balanced" with references to the chimed therapeutic value of marijuana in treating a variety of ills, or to research that appeared to contradict the adverse findings.

    Academics who defended marijuana, such as the Harvard psychiatrists who wrote copiously and eloquently in its favor, had easy access to the media. Those who warned of its dangers were derided or ignored.

    Muffling Marijuana Alert

    Even though there has been a recent change on the part of some in the media, as Stephen Rosenfeld's column indicates, the treatment of an important anti-marijuana book published last year shows that the media are still not eager to tell the public the truth about this drug. Marijuana Alert by Peggy Mann was one of the most important books published in 1985. It brings together the latest scientific evidence that proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that marijuana is dangerous to human health. It is a book that should be required reading in high schools and colleges; a book that parents should give their teenage children.

    Miss Mann quotes Dr. Forest Tennant, former chief of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse of the U.S. Army in Western Europe, who pointed out that young soldiers who had regularly smoked hashish for a year or two suffered greater lung damage than men who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years. Harold Voth of the Menninger School of Psychiatry is quoted as saying that it takes years of heavy drinking to produce the psychological impairment that marijuana can induce in months. Dr. Robert Heath, chair- man of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University is reported to have found permanent brain damage in monkeys who smoked the equivalent of three marijuana joints a day. The director of the nation's largest drug rehabilitation center, Dr. Richard Rosenthal of Phoenix House in New York City, paints a gloomy picture. He is quoted as saying, "We can look forward to a growing population of immature, underqualified adults, many of whom will be unable to live without economic, social and/or clinical support. We will have in time an unmanageable number of emotionally, socially and intellectually handicapped citizens."

    Dr. Robert L. Dupont, a psychiatrist who once took the view that marijuana was benign but who has become one of the most respected figures in the war on drug abuse, paid this tribute to Peggy Mann and Marijuana Alert: "Peggy Mann has done more to alert the American people to the dangers of the marijuana epidemic than any other person, more than any foundation or "think tank," more even than any state or federal agency.... Now, in her eminently readable, definitive book, she tells the startling, largely unknown story behind this hazardous plague."

    Dr. Dupont was referring to the fact that prior to publishing her latest book Miss Mann had written articles on the danger of marijuana that had bucked the tide flowing through so much of the media. Credit is due also to Reader's Digest, which published Miss Mann's articles and which sold 6.5 million reprints.

    Despite Peggy Mann's solid reputation as writer on this important subject, despite the praise of experts such as Dr. Dupont, and despite the fact that her book carried an enthusiastic foreword by Nancy Reagan, it has been almost completely ignored by our media. It has received exactly one review--by a minor newspaper in Maine. In contrast, From Chocolate to Morphine, a drug "tolerant" book by Harvard psychiatrist Andrew Well, which was published a year and half earlier, was reviewed widely and became an instant best seller.

    "Mannhandling" the Media

    Perhaps one reason the media gave Peggy Mann's book the blackout treatment is that it is very critical of the role the media have played in spreading the drug epidemic. For example, Miss Mann tells of a high-level briefing on drug abuse held at the White House on June 24, 1982 and presided over by President began. Vice President Bush, Nancy Reagan, presidential counselor Edwin Menso III, the heads of 18 federal agencies, and other VIP's were there. The press was also present in strength.

    President Reagan, addressing himself to the press and the dignitaries, said: "Drugs already reach deeply into our social structure. so we must mobilize all our forces to stop the flow into this country, to let kids know the truth, to erase the false glamour that surrounds them, and to brand drugs such as marijuana exactly for what they are--dangerous. and particularly to school-age youth."

    The president also outlined the new federal strategy: a massive coordinated effort of a type that had never before been attempted. Miss Mann says that at this point the wife of one of the VIPs overheard a reporter remark. "I'll be glad when he stops the BS and I can get out and smoke a joint."

    The president introduced Dr, Carlton Turner, a leading export on marijuana who had been named director of the new anti-drug program. Dr. Turner spoke about the dangers of marijuana, but the reporters seemed more interested in anti-smuggling initiatives. That night, not a single television network news program reported this event. Nor did The New York Times mention it the next day. The Washington Post gave it a four-column headline on an inside page, but few other papers carried the story even though they were provided with coverage by both the AP and UPI. Anti-drug activists in various parts of the country told Peggy Mann that no one in their areas had heard about this White House briefing.

    Was this lack of coverage a slip up? Miss Mann points out that a few weeks later there was even less media response when Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a stern warning about the growing use of marijuana among the young and the dangers this posed. He said that marijuana use now began in the junior high schools and that more high school seniors smoked marijuana than cigarettes. He detailed the biological and psychological hazards of marijuana use.

    In view of the heavy media coverage of the Surgeon general's 1957 warning of the hazards of cigarette smoking, one might have thought that his report on the danger of marijuana issued on August 12, 1982 would have received comparable attention. Not so. The New York Times gave it two column inches on page 45. A White House spokesman said even that was more than any of the other dailies that he had seen.

    Experts: The Media Make Them

    The view that marijuana was a harmless drug and that its use should be decriminalized won currency in the 1970. As the media helped spread the opinions of ostensible scientific experts, many of them Harvard professors, who defended marijuana use. The most notorious of these was Timothy Leery, whose view on drug use were considered far out by most of the academic community---except on the issue of marijuana. After Leery, perhaps the best- publicized member of the Harvard phalanx is Lester Grinspoon. His 1972 book, Marijuana Reconsidered, was given a front page review in The New York Time, Sunday book review section, which billed it, "The Best Dope on Pot So Far." The book became a best seller.

    Others in this group include Dr. Andrew Well, whose recent book, From Chocolate to Morphine, also garnered many rave reviews, as pointed out above. Then there is Dr. Norman Zinberg who serves on the advisory board of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and is frequently quoted by the main media. He is a favorite interviewee of High Times, the pro-drug magazine. Zinberg's most recent book, Drug, Set and Setting: The Basis for Controlled Intoxicant Use, was favorably reviewed by several publications, including Psychology Today and the Library Journal. The New York Times reviewed it, but the reviewer had reservations about Zinberg's failure to discuss the odds against avoiding addiction after starting to use a drug like heroin. Choice, a publication specializing in reviews, recommended Zinbers's book for "community college through graduate school levels."

    Contrast the treatment of these "experts" with that given Dr. Gabriel Nahas's pioneering work, Marijuana - Deceptive Weed, which appeared in 1978, shortly after Grinspoon's Marijuana Reconsidered.

    Nahas, a professor at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, had spent 25 years in laboratory work as a physiologist and pharmacology's. He had devoted four years to an intensive study of marijuana, both in the laboratory and in the field. He brought together both the laboratory and sociological-historical evidence that demonstrated the great danger to man and society posed by marijuana. The evidence presented by Nahas was not what the media wanted to hear. The New York Times, which had run a rave review of Grin- spoon's pro-marijuana book, ignored Nahas entirely, as did other publications and the TV talk shows. Sixteen of Dr. Nahas's colleagues at the College of Physicians and Surgeons protested this blackout in a joint letter to The New York Times. They didn't even receive an acknowledgement of their letter, much less the review of Dr. Nehas's book that they had requested. This was not too surprising. The New York Times had editorially made up its mind that the scientific evidence was what Grinspoon said it was, not what Dr. Nahas reported. On February 20, 1972, it had published an editorial calling for decriminalization of marijuana, saying that the failure of legislatures to base legal sanctions on the best medical evidence available could only undermine respect for law.

    Ignoring the Best Evidence

    The New York Times and others in the media demonstrated their ability to ignore the best medical evidence available on the effects of marijuana. They were eagerly reporting the pro-decriminalization position of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972. Art Linkletter was quoted in The Times as saying there was hysteria about marijuana. A study that claimed to show that smoking three or four marijuana cigarettes a day produced few mental or physical ill effects made The Times, as did a study that suggested that marijuana use might help glaucoma sufferers. The Times was pushing a decriminalization bandwagon, reporting the demands of NORML and recording each politician's leap to set aboard, from Senator George McGovern to Congressman Ed Koch. But when the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in September 1972, invited Dr. Olaf Braenden, the distinguished director of the UN Narcotics Laboratory in Geneva to testify on the new scientific evidence that demonstrated marijuana to be a very dangerous drug, The Times and other media were not interested. The Times and The Washington Post each devoted about three-column inches to Dr. Braenden's testimony.

    In 1974, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. James O. Eastland, launched a much more ambitious operation to try to put the facts about marijuana to the American public. It was felt that Dr. Braenden had been ignored be- cause he was a solitary figure. It was felt that it would be possible to impress the journalists with the seriousness of the problem if they could be shown that Dr. Braenden's fears were shared by a wide array of scientists from various countries who had done research on marijuana.

    The subcommittee invited 21 scientists of the first rank from seven different countries to testify. They included Dr. Julius Axelrod, Nobel laureate and chief of the pharmacology section of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. W.D.M. Paton, head of the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford University and arguably the most prestigious name in pharmacology in the Free World, Dr. Nils Bejerot of the Karolinska Institute of Sweden and author of a highly acclaimed book on drug use that had been translated into many languages, and Dr. Gabriel Nahas.

    The testimony of these experts showed that the evidence accumulated by scientific researchers on marijuana had turned dramatically against this drug. Prof. Paton said it would be correct to say that there were very few scientists doing research on marijuana who feel that it is not seriously harmful. He said, "Now, practically none of them are willing to let cannabis go free." The published hearing, with appendices, ran 425 pages. Dr. Robert I. Dupont, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), who had been an articulate spokesman for decriminalization of marijuana, was very impressed with the hearing record, and within a year's time he was warning of the dangers of marijuana. By 1978, he had publicly repudiated decriminalization.

    Unfortunately, the media, and especially Big Media, paid little attention to the scientific evidence present- ed at these hearings. The New York Times and The Washington Post virtually ignored them. Here and there, editors ran stories based on what they got from the AP and UPI wires. A few conservative columnists--John Chamberlain, Roscoe Drummond, James J. Kilpatrick, to name three--wrote columns about the testimony of the scientists. But the hearings did not achieve the impact on public opinion that was expected and that they deserved. Peggy Mann has made the point that had the press reported amply on the rather sensational findings presented at these hearings, the use of marijuana and hashish might not have achieved the epidemic proportions that were reached in the late 1970s.

    The indifference of the media to the scientific evidence was again demonstrated in the summer of 1975. Dr. Gabriel Nahas convened an international symposium on marijuana in Helsinki, Finland. It was organized under the aegis of the International Conference on Pharmacology. The New York Times covered the conference through a stringer based in Sweden. I flew back to Stockholm with this reporter, and he told me that he had been very impressed with some of the presentations. I have no doubt that he filed a story about them, but not a word about the conference found its way into The New York Times.

    The following year, in April 1970, the conference proceedings were published in a 500-page volume entitled Marijuana: Chemistry, Biochemistry and Cellular Effects. Dr. Nahas and Dr. W.D.M. Paton, the co- editor of the volume, held a press conference in New York City. To the disappointment of those who want- ed to alert the public to the dangers of marijuana, only one reporter showed up. Dr. Paton and Dr. Nahas summed up the findings for the benefit of this one reporter, Brian Sullivan of the AP. He filed a good story. Not a single major paper ran it.

    Have the Media Changed?

    Here and there, there have been some highly laud- able actions by some of the media with respect to marijuana. Today, the attitude of the media, taken as a whole, would have to be characterized as contradictory, unpredictable, even schizophrenic. In part, this is so because within a single media establishment there may be several departments or individual editors and reporters that have sharply conflicting views on marijuana and drug use in general. The book review sections have tended to be the most impervious to the evidence that marijuana is harmful, as is shown by their refusal to review Dr. Nahas's book in 1973 and Peggy Mann's Marijuana Alert in 1985.

    The national news desk of The Washington Post spiked the important stories that came out of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearings in May 1974, but four years later the editor of The Post's Sunday Outlook section showed himself to be much more openminded. He featured a major two-part article by Peggy Mann based on an international conference on marijuana held in France in 1978.

    A major media breakthrough came that same year when NBC aired "Reading, Writing and Reefer," a one-hour documentary that dealt with the use of marijuana by school children. in 1982, the Gannett group produced and distributed two one-hour documentaries on drugs titled "Epidemic." The same year WQED-TV in Pittsburgh produced a nine-part series on drug and alcohol abuse by young people. This was condensed to a two-part documentary that was shown on public television stations throughout the country in November 1983. However, such pro- grams on television have been the exception. They have not offset promotion of marijuana use on pro- grams such as "Saturday Night Live," which have made it appear both harmless and chic.

    Why the Media Pushed Pot

    One explanation for the reluctance of the media to tell the truth about marijuana is the personal involvement of many journalists with drugs. There is abundant evidence that many journalists have been users of marijuana and harder drugs.

    Reporters who covered the 1973 McGovern presidential campaign have said that the air in the press plane was often redolent with marijuana smoke. A journalist who covered Cambodia in the early 1970s says that reporters there regularly smoked marijuana and that some frequented an opium den in Phnom Penh. Sydney Schanbers, who covered Cambodia for The New York Times, in writing about the escape of Dith Pran, his former assistant, from Cambodia casually mentioned breaking off from his work to smoke a joint.

    In 1978, when White House drug adviser, Peter Bourne resigned amidst charges that he had written an illegal prescription for quaaludes and had been observed snorting cocaine at a NORML party, stories of drug use in the White House press corps were rife. Pat Oster of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that some of the reporters covering the White House said they would feel hypocritical in "putting the heat on White House staffers for activities they themselves condone or engage in." New Times magazine charged that members of the press corps "served on many occasions as de facto dealers for White House heavies." One journalist, James Wooten of The New York Times, wrote that he had smoked pot with White House staffers. Mr. Wooten was soon separated from The Times. He is now an ABC News correspondent.

    A few months ago an ABC News staffer was fired when it was found that she had dispatched an ABC messenger to Cable News Network's New York office to pick up a large box which turned out to be full of marijuana. She was the girl friend of ABC's "20/20" correspondent, Geraldo Rivera.

    In June 1984, Robert Woodward of The Washington Post said on TV that he had heard there were some 40 regular users of cocaine on The Posts staff. Asked what was being done about this, Post chairman Katharine Graham refused to order an investigation and expressed regret that Woodward had brought it up. "I don't think it's relevant," she said. The Post has never revealed the identities of its two employees who were at the 1978 NORML party where Peter Bourne was observed using cocaine.

    What You Can Do

    Order a copy of Marijuana Alert {use the order form in the Notes from the Editor's Cuff). Call it to the attention of the editor of your paper and to radio and TV talk show hosts. See if it's in your public library and your school libraries and either set them to buy it or present them with a gift copy.

    AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media, Inc., 1275 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, and is free to AIM members. Dues and contributions to AIM are tax deductible. The AIM Report is mailed 3rd class to those whose contribution is at least $15 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non-members subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).


    I HOPED THAT BY THIS TIME I WOULD HAVE HAD WORD THAT BRUCE CHRISTENSEN, PRESIDENT of PBS, had agreed with us that the decision by his staff not to accept our documentary, "Television's Vietnam: The Impact of Media," was unwarranted. But as we go to press (1/8/86) all we have heard is that Mr. Christensen has viewed our film twice and has still not made up his mind what to do about it.

    IN THE MEANTIME WE HAVE LEARNED THAT PBS IS AIRING A DOCUMENTARY ON JANUARY 10 titled, 'Witness to Revolution: The Story of Anna Louise Strong." I am obliged to write about it on the basis of the press release circulated by PBS. The PBS staff refused to honor my request to see the program in advance on the ground that the circulation of the AIM Report (39,000) was too small to Justify such a request. When I pointed out that newspapers carry my weekly column with an aggregate circulation in the millions, the PBS assistant press officer quickly found another excuse. He said that we were an "advocacy" group and could not be accommodated for that reason. My statement that all we advocated was honest and accurate reporting failed to budge him. He admitted that he knew of no other critic who had been denied the opportunity to screen a program in advance on this ground.

    WHILE THE SPOKESMAN VIGOROUSLY DENIED IT, I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT THE PBS STAFF didn't want me to see their glorification of Anna Louise Strong in advance because they knew that it was another example of leftist propaganda and that I would expose it as such. Anna Louise Strong was an American radical who went to the Soviet Union in 1921. For the next 29 years she served as a faithful flack for the Soviet regime. She was one of Stalin's most faithful foreign sycophants, zigging when he zigged and zagging when he zagged. In 1949, Stalin grew weary of her, and she was jailed briefly as a spy. She was expelled from the "workers' paradise" and had to return to the land of her birth. She suffered in this "exile," because the Stalinists treated her as a traitor to the cause.

    IN A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN MAY 1949, SHE SAID: "MY LOVE AND ADMIRATION FOR the USSR was mot upset by my arrest; I think no rancor appeared in even my (New York Herald) Tribune stories.... In these, I even made up the best case I could against myself, in order to make the USSR seem rational to myself and to others.... But now I'm sorry I gave that handle to people to hit me with.... I wish I had just said: 'They called me a spy but never said what I had done and never gave me a chance to reply.... I don't know of anything I ever did against that country and I don't know why they called me that.' ....That would have been true also, and better for me."

    THAT SHOWS THE DEPTH OF STRONG'S DEVOTION TO THE COMMUNIST CAUSE. SHE WAS willing to lie for them even if it meant making herself look guilty of something she had not done. The late Eugene Lyons knew Strong well during his tour of duty in the Soviet Union as a UPI correspondent. In his book, The Red Decade, Lyons says that "the mountainous confusions, sorrows, and brutalities" encountered daily in the USSR were sometimes too much for her, "but always her sense of duty triumphed over these sensibilities." Lyons added: "Bravely she strode to a typewriter and indicted another paean of Joy for 'the achievements' of Stalin. Her whole emotional life was invested in Russia. She could not go back on it. At all costs she must rationalize the facts themselves and rationalize the need for withholding these facts from those with too little understanding in her native America."

    STRONG CLAIMED THAT SHE TOLD NO LIES, THAT SHE JUST DIDN'T TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH about the Soviet Union. But her concealment of the truth was a massive, continuous lie. One story she helped conceal was the great 1932 famine created by Stalin's collectivization program, which cost millions of lives. In her book, This Soviet World, much of which was devoted to the peasant problem, Strong didn't mention this great disaster, which has been called "the hidden holocaust," except in a footnote which mentioned "the suppression of information during the difficult year of 1932." What information had been suppressed she couldn't bring herself to say.

    THE PBS PRESS RELEASE SAID THAT STRONG DEVOTED HER LIFE TO HELPING OTHERS. THE "others" included Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, the two tyrants who hold the world record for "helping" others depart from this life. Unable to adjust to life in the Free World, Strong went to China, where she flacked for Mao until her death in 1970.

    THERE MIGHT BE SOME POINT IN DOING A DOCUMENTARY ON ANNA LOUISE STRONG IF THE object were to show how an American Journalist and writer prostituted her talents to promote totalitarian tyranny. It could show how her lying lectures, articles and books helped deceive American intellectuals into thinking that Stalin was a demigod and Mao was the greatest Chinese who had ever walked on the face of the earth. But the PBS documentary is about what their press release calls "this remarkable woman," not about a pathetic intellectual prostitute. Her propaganda lives on.

    YOU WILL BE HAPPY TO KNOW THAT ONLY $27,000 OF YOUR TAX DOLLARS WAS SPENT ON THE glorification of this communist flack. Most of it came from the Washington Commission for the Humanities (Olympia, Washington), which is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency. PBS Contributed $1,000 out of a fund provided to it by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Neither NEH nor CPB had any say in the allocation of these funds to this particular project. This process of giving control of the funds to organizations with no responsibility to Congress makes it easier to use taxpayer dollars to fund projects that would infuriate most taxpayers if they knew about it.

    I DON'T SEE HOW PBS PRESIDENT BRUCE CHRISTENSEN, HONEST MAN THAT HE IS, CAN possibly refuse to air the AIM documentary on the ground that it fails to measure up to the high journalistic standards demanded by PBS when they are airing programs like "Witness to Revolution: The Story of Anna Louise Strong" and "Guatemala: When the Mountains Tremble." (See AIM Report, January-A 1985). I urge again that you write to Mr. Christensen at PBS, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, S. W., Washington, D.C. 20024 and tell him what you think he ought to do. You might send a copy of your letter to Senator Barry Goldwater, chairman of the Communications Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees public broadcasting. Address it to him at the Commerce Committee, U. S. Senate, Washington, D. C. 20510.

    I HEARTILY ENDORSE THE SUGGESTION BY DAVID MARTIN, AUTHOR OF THE FEATURE STORY in this AIM Report on the media and drugs, that you buy, read, and distribute Peggy Mann's book, Marijuana Alert. We are pricing it at $8.95, $1.00 below list. It could save someone you know and love a lot of suffering.

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