Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Ep 174: How Your Favorite 1990's "Very Special" Anti-Drug Episode Was Probably Funded by the US Government
On a Very Special Episode of "Home Improvement," Tim and Jill lecture their son about the dangers of marijuana after he’s caught smoking a joint. On a powerful episode of ABC’s "Sports Night," written by Aaron Sorkin, sportscaster Dan Rydell delivers a four-minute monologue on how dope killed his younger brother. On a devastating episode of CBS's "Chicago Hope," a dozen teenagers are rushed to the emergency room after taking a new psychedelic drug at a rave.
We’ve all seen these "Very Special" drug episodes throughout our childhoods and adolescence. For some reason, our favorite shows, seemingly out of nowhere, decided to dedicate an entire episode to the perils of teenage drug use.
These episodes, mostly from the 1980s and '90s, have become a cultural punchline, something amusing and mocked but ultimately, one would think, harmless. But what most viewers don't know is that many of these episodes were not just part of a teen-oriented convention turned TV trope; a number of them were actually funded by the federal government to the tune of hundreds of thousands––sometimes millions–– of dollars to promote so-called "drug awareness."
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in the late 1990s made a deal with multiple TV networks to include anti-drug messaging in show plots. In 1997, Congress approved a plan to buy $1 billion of anti-drug advertising over five years for its National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.
From at least 1997 to 2000, the Feds paid TV networks to air what was ostensibly drug awareness public health information but was, in many key ways, propaganda to sustain and build support for the war on drugs. The White House drug office paid networks large sums of money to weave so-called "anti-drug" stories in their narratives, undisclosed to the viewer, often revising and approving scripts without the show writers knowledge.
Rather than being harmless––if corny––anti-drug messages we can all now laugh at, these narratives were also part of a broader scare strategy to frighten, misinform, and prop up the federal government's war on drugs both at home and abroad.
On this episode, we will review some of the major TV shows that ran these episodes, how much money they took in from the U.S. government, and how these tropes shaped and directly impacted public policy that promoted racism, imperial meddling in Latin America, and mass incarceration.
Our guest is Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
News Brief: 'Tough Love' Used to Justify Abusing Children and Surplus Black Population in Alabama
In this News Brief, we talk with Josie Duffy Rice about her new podcast, "Unreformed: The Story of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children,” incarceration as racial disciplining mechanism, and what has––and hasn't––changed in our so-called "juvenile justice system".
Episode 173: How to Sell Police Crackdowns on Homeless People to Liberals
"The city has had 125 daily interactions," New York Mayor Eric Adams tells the Daily News. "We’re working to solve the homelessness crisis, with innovative mental health interventions," San Francisco Mayor London Breed tells reporters. The city needs to "clean up homeless encampments," countless city officials tell us. Everywhere we turn, our elected –– largely Democratic –– governors and mayors are talking about quote "solving the homelessness crisis" without specifying what, exactly, these plans entail.
Saying elected officials are going to harass and displace the homeless population until they’re incarcerated or leave our city and wealthy neighborhood sounds unseemly and inhumane. But this –– minus the occasional and insufficient attempts to offer public housing –– is more or less the strategy of most big cities: Send in police to "sweep up" encampments, enforce low-level drug offenses and ticket the unhoused for loitering and camping, But saying this is the plan sounds mean, so, over the past couple of years, as America’s housing crisis has grown more acute and the end of COVID-era tenant protections unceremoniously sunset, a cottage industry of pleasant sounding euphemisms have emerged to sell police-led homeless crackdowns to squeamish liberals.
The right-wing, historically, is fairly upfront with its bootstrap, austerity logic. And they, for the most part, don't run major cities where the homelessness crisis manifests. Liberals and progressives –– short on resources and political incentive to actually address the underlying issues –– need to sell the same played out, discredited carceral attempts at removing Visible Poverty but, unlike Republicans, can't do so in explicit terms. So, a PR regime emerges to paper over these glaring contradictions, leading to heretofore unseen levels of bullshittery.
On this episode, we going to examine four popular euphemisms employed by "blue" city leaders to sell the same old carceral playbook to their wary, self-identifying progressive constituents, how these programs do little to address the central issues of a lack of affordable and free housing, and how city leaders –– with wildly insufficient federal support for housing, a foaming anti-homeless media and suffering from institutional political cowardice –– are left with little more than meaningless "emergency declarations," Tough Guy, Take Charge press conferences, and nice-sounding rehashes of the same failed, cruel policies of austerity and precarity.
Our guest is The Wren Collective's Henna Khan.
Episode 172 - The Foundational Myth Machine: Indigenous Peoples of North America and Hollywood
Soldiers from the US Cavalry defeat the Plains Indians, securing new territory for their burgeoning empire. A group of settlers fends off an armed Indigenous tribe on horseback in their intrepid effort to conquer new lands. A Civil War hero decides to head for the frontier in its waning days, forging an undying friendship with the Native people there.
Each of these summaries describes a film made within the last hundred years that explores dynamics between white settlers and Indigenous people in North America in what we now know as the United States, and sometimes Canada. The problem, of course, is that these films, and so many others like them, don’t — to say the least — present this history accurately. Instead, since Hollywood’s inception, the viewing public has been primarily fed a diet of reductive, dehumanizing, and paternalistic depictions of Indigenous people.
But why have stories involving Indigenous people so frequently involved the perspectives of white settlers? Why are the vast majority of these stories confined to the genre of the Western, replete with shootouts and stagecoaches? What role does the U.S. government play when it comes to the stories we’re told about Indigenous people, how has the historically simplistic portrayal of Native people benefited the interests of the United States and Canada? And how — above all — was the expansion of US empire westward and, later, across the globe, inextricably linked to the Hollywood project of romanticized Western ideals.
On this episode, we examine the history of Indigenous depictions in Hollywood, looking at the ways the entertainment industry has sanitized the genocide and subsequent enduring abuses of Indigenous people, recycled centuries-old “noble savage” tropes, and argue that Indian dehumanizations wasn’t just an accidental byproduct of white supremacy, but was essential and central to the establishment of America’s sense of self and moral purpose.
Our guest is Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader Jesse Wente.
News Brief: Biden, Congressional Dems Partner with GOP, Media to Discipline Rail Labor
In this News Brief, we are joined by Real News' Mel Buer and Max Alvarez to discuss the media campaign to obscure Biden and Congressional Dems selling out rail workers.
News Brief: Law & Order's Boring Anti-Bail Reform Diatribe
Five days before the midterm elections, the long-running NBC staple removed all subtlety and character work and explicitly lobbied against bail reform in a ham-fisted, boring slog of an episode. With guest Juwan J. Holmes.
Essential media breakdown
Their analysis and guests are top notch. It’s particularly helpful in peeling back layers of media that are thrown at us more frequently and across more mediums than ever before. The “data driven” and (continued) war on drug episodes are what drew me in. Keep it up guys!
It also probably gives you enough tools to analyze my use of essential as a review title. Incredible toolbox for staying sane in a truly ridiculous modern media environment
Love this pod!
So informative & engaging - highly recommend