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Max Frankel Calls on Journalists to Bring Attention to "War On Drugs"


December 1994

In a column for The New York Times Magazine, former top editor Max Frankel makes the case that journalists should return to the metaphor of the "war on drugs" as a description of the failure of drug prohibition in the United States (Max Frankel, "O.K., Call It War," New York Times Magazine, Dec. 18, 1994, p. 30).

Frankel likens the war on drugs to the war in Vietnam -- a quagmire in which the country is foundering. He suggests that journalists cover the monthly "bag count" (the amount of drugs seized by law enforcement) and the photo-ops when politicians pose in front of mounds of drugs, but that they also report that these seizures do nothing to stop the influx of drugs into the major cities. "Commercial networks," he writes, "might learn that the war on drugs -- meaning the prohibition of drugs -- is not only being lost but is also unwinnable."

He writes that responsible reporters should use Walter Cronkite's 1968 statement that the U.S. should pull out of Vietnam as a model to argue that the U.S. should pull out of the war on drugs. Only then, he writes, will the country be able to look at realistic solutions to the problems associated with prohibition and drug abuse. "Not until we in the media do a better job of reporting the horrendous costs of this unwinnable war will the public consider alternative policies ... By all means, let's call it 'war.' Then let's deal with defeat."

[To contact Max Frankel, write to The New York Times Magazine, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, New York, 10036.]