Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
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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.
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".
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"How The Left Created Trump," revealed Rob Hoffman in Politico in November 2016. "Blame liberals for the rise of Donald Trump," insisted S.E. Cupp in The Chicago Tribune the year before. "How the left enabled fascism," explained David Winner in The New Statesman in 2018. For decades, we’ve been fed a narrative that the rise of any right-wing tendency is the fault of leftists and liberal scolds. The electoral appeal and success of fascist movements and politicians, we’re told, is first and foremost a reaction to blue-haired wokeness warriors whose language and protests alienate and antagonize Real People. These Real People, then, have no choice but to shift further right, where they find a political home – typically shared with the likes of faux-populists like J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley, and Tucker Carlson – that makes them feel included and represents their best interests. It’s a convenient refrain. Instead of placing the blame on wealthy and powerful right-wingers and centrists who actually benefit from the preservation of reactionary politics, or giving credit to left-wing activists for challenging devastating right-wing policies, this narrative instead demonizes the powerless, while insisting that those who are fighting for a better world should simply give up, lest their agitative ways turn off potential allies and create another Trump. Who does this narrative benefit, and how do both overtly right-wing and ostensibly liberal legacy media allow it to persist? On this episode, we dissect the concept that reactionaries’ politics are the result not of their own interests, but of a snarky, out-of-touch Lefties who say mean things and simply bring up racism, imperialism and other injustices too much, and if they simply went away, the Trump right would starve itself to death and be replaced by moderate, reasonable National Review politicians. Our guest is The Dig's Daniel Denvir.
"Clinton Says He's Not Leaning Left but Taking a New 'Third Way,'" reported The New York Times in 1992. "It's not left. It’s not right. It’s forward!" proclaimed former presidential candidate Andrew Yang during a 2019 Democratic debate. "Neither left nor right," reads the slogan of far-right French political party Front National. Every few years we hear about a new, trailblazing political vision that transcends traditional party lines, leaning not to the right or the left, but straight ahead. No longer, we're told, must we conform to antiquated political notions of "liberal" or "conservative," nor must we continue to tolerate the corrupt duopoly. Instead, we can embrace a forward-thinking alternative; a third way; a modern, pragmatic and new political paradigm. But for all the talk of moving "beyond left and right," there sure is a lot of right-wing sentiment. Rhetoric like this almost exclusively comes from neo-fascists, libertarians, and centrists – Glenn Beck, Bill Clinton, Andrew Yang, and the like – and virtually never from figures on the Left. Why is that? What political purpose does the false notion of transcending right and left serve? And why does this hackneyed concept continue to surface and resonate? On this episode, we examine the vacuous nature of claiming to reject political categories of "right" and "left." We analyze how this rhetoric disguises garden-variety right-wing austerity politics as a novel, barrier-breaking political vision, as well as how it taps into real frustrations with political systems, but obscures and absolves the causes of these frustrations through sleazy, sales-pitch style tactics. Our guest is writer Osita Nwanevu.
Episode 169: How the Right Ventriloquizes "The Working Man" to Push Pro-Corporate Policy and Gut Welfare
"Yes, undocumented immigrants take jobs from working Americans. Here’s the proof," an opinion piece in The Washington Post tells us. "Save our truckers, not affluent students seeking a free ride," pleads longtime Republican consultant Douglas MacKinnon in The Hill. "Biden's Student Debt Cancellation Robs Hard-Working Americans, Will Make Inflation Even Worse," proclaims a so-called Expert Statement from the Heritage Foundation. There’s a warning we hear again and again, particularly from the Right: A policy that would actually help people must be stopped, because it’ll harm the Working Man. According to demagogues like Tucker Carlson and JD Vance – as well as many of their more liberal counterparts – immigration, labor organizing, protest rights, and student debt cancellation simply can’t be allowed, lest they harm hardworking, meat-and-potatoes plumbers and truckers. But these cynical admonitions disguise some very important truths. Progressive policies serve the interests of many of these plumbers and truckers, many of whom might want to organize their workplaces or have their debt relieved. And the supposed menaces of job-stealing immigrants or entitled lawyers who want others to pay off their loans aren't actually responsible for depressed wages or plummeting standards of living–corporations bolstered by U.S. policymaking are. On this episode, we examine the right-wing trope of ventriloquizing an imaginary “Working Man” in order to divert attention from policies that serve the corporate bottom line, We’ll detail how this tactic obscures class dynamics between labor and capital, reinforces racist conceptions that harm workers of color, and ultimately suppresses the rights of all workers while absolving their employers of wrongdoing. Our guest is filmmaker, author and Debt Collective co-founder Astra Taylor
In this Halloween themed News Brief, we debunk the idea drug dealers are handing out fentanyl candy to our children. But we also examine why these copaganda panics are able to take hold: namely the failure of liberals to provide an alternative, non-carceral vision for how to handle the very real and urgent overdose crisis.
In this Live Show Beg-a-Thon, recorded 10/20, we discuss the morality politics of Star Trek and Pro Wrestling with guests are Robert Greene II and Brandi Collins-Dexter.
Citations Needed is now in its sixth season. Over the past five years, we've dropped 170 episodes and over 125 news briefs. We've been joined by hundreds of amazing guests. We've done live shows, AMAs, newsletters and special interviews. Our small team does all the research, writing, recording, editing, pre-production, production, post-production, transcription, promotion and distribution. We love doing the show and we have more great episodes on the way. But first, we're doing our first PBS-style fundraiser, tote bags and all. Since we started, we've always been listener-supported. We've never run ads or had corporate sponsors. It's the way we want it - to stay totally independent. And for that, we rely on you, our listeners, fans and supporters. So, it's finally fundraiser time. Go to patreon.com/citationsneededpodcast to support the show. Next week, new and current supporters will be in the running for official Citations Needed swag - mugs, tote bags, t-shirts and sweatshirts - and nine lucky folks will get copies of recent pod guest Brandi Collins-Dexter's new book, "Black Skinhead: Reflections on Blackness and Our Political Future." But you have to be a subscriber to win stuff! Sign up to support the show by 12am on Monday, October 24 to be eligible. Thanks for all your support. We can't do this without you.
In this public News Brief, "DC Media's 'Fare Evasion' Meltdown," we discuss local TV news, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal's breathless coverage of so-called "fare evasion" and how our media decides which theft to care about and which to ignore.
In this public News Brief, we discuss the nominally progressive news network's lies and omissions when covering efforts to reduce the US's unprecedented jail and prison population.
Ep. 168: How Faux Folksy "Real World" Advice is Employed to Limit Political Possibility and Punch Left
"Increasing Numbers of US Students Look for a ‘Real’ World," read a 1965 headline from the magazine Moderator. "Academics: Get Real!," the Harvard Business Review implored in 2009. "‘Defund the police’ runs into reality," the Washington Post warned in 2021. "As Latin America Shifts Left, Leaders Face a Short Honeymoon," the New York Times declared in 2022. We're often reminded that anyone who espouses some degree of left-wing politics – whether a student, activist, political leader, or anyone in between – is at odds with the "real world." Academics, especially those in the humanities, sit in their ivory towers. Organizers and demonstrators against state violence have their heads in the clouds. Elected leaders campaigning on elevating living standards don’t know what they're in for. But who's in charge of determining what’s ‘realistic’? Or what "the real world" is exactly? Why is studying theory, fighting for better healthcare, or working toward poverty reduction any less ‘real’ than plugging away at a spreadsheet for a weapons manufacturer or venture capital firm? And how did this pat and folksy concept of the "real world" emerge as a go-to dunk on eggheads and activists? On this episode, we seek to answer these questions, as we examine the canard that anyone to the left of a Goldman Sachs executive isn't living in or contributing to the "real world." Our guest is Street Fight Radio's Bryan Quinby.