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A push for anti-drug movies

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The nation's drug czar is appealing to major movie studios, individual directors and writers to promote anti-drug messages in films.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, told the the House Government Reform Committee this past week that he believes there will be opportunity to leverage popular movies and videos that responsibly communicate campaign messages, after their release.

McCaffrey's not talking financial incentives, just the power of persuasion to influence cinematic themes. It's a call to their collective conscience of the motion picture industry to acknowledge the tremendous power it wields in shaping societal attitudes. Here's hoping some, at least, take the plea to heart.

McCaffrey appears to be taking a realistic approach to this request. Filmmakers aren't going to respond overnight. Some may not respond at all. But there is value in reminding the film industry about the power of the messages — positive and negative — contained in films that have widespread commercial appeal.

This is a different course from the drug office's approach to the television industry, in which officials reviewed scripts and watched episodes in advance. If the government approved a particular program with an anti-drug message, the network received a credit that reduced the number of costly public service announcements it was required by law to broadcast. The office has taken a similar approach to the magazine industry, although officials say it did not read magazine articles before publication and it has since quit reviewing scripts and watching television programs before their national broadcast.

In the early stages, the office's programs for television and magazines — however well intentioned — were viewed as unwarranted government propaganda.

To the drug office's credit, it appears to have learned from past blunders. This time it's appealing to an industry's sense of morality and sense of responsibility.

Surely filmmakers recognize that motion pictures that glorify drug use or depict drug use in a humorous vein send mixed messages to youth whose families, schools and communities are attempting to instruct about the dangers and pitfalls of drug use.

While many youth are guided by their family, church and community expectations, there needs to be a safety net for children who have no such advocates to steer them from harm's way.

Realistically speaking, it is not the movie industry's responsibility to provide America's children with a moral compass. It is a parent's responsibility.

What McCaffrey asks is that movie studios, producers and writers take into account the profound confusion some youth encounter when a box-office hit contains messages that are four-square against their family's anti-drug beliefs.