Editorial: Partnership is worth rescuing

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No one said the war on illegal drug use would be easy. The same can now be said about the war's multimillion-dollar advertising program. It is in serious peril even though its ultimate potential is still to be determined. Congress must decide not only if it will continue after four years of uneven results but who will run it.

The "partners" now in charge-new White House anti-drug czar John P. Walters and the advertising industry-supported Partnership for a Drug-Free America-are at one another's throats just as Congress must decide whether to approve another round of funding. But let's hope it's clear to Mr. Walters, and to lawmakers, that there must be a place for a significant paid marketing communications component in any serious anti-drug effort. That means advertising. It is the dominant communications art form of our time.

Mr. Walters, a Bush appointee, inherited the ad program from his Clinton-era predecessor, Barry R. McCaffrey. This month Mr. Walters interpreted research results to declare that the campaign's creative efforts had thus far been a flop at influencing the attitudes of children, and he made clear he wanted to exercise more direct control over future advertising. The Partnership, the ad industry pro bono group specifically formed to offer all-star creative help to the government, fired back at slow and poor decision-making by "bureaucrats."

Unless Congress intervenes, there will be no partnership with the Partnership. There will be a client giving orders. When the two disagree in private business, it is called "philosophical differences" and the agency leaves. There are plenty of ad shops that would happily provide for pay what the Partnership gives to American taxpayers for free. Before that happens, Congress should not lightly turn its back on the ad industry's willingness-its eagerness-to offer the gift of free services. And Mr. Walters and the Partnership should decide once and for all if their differences are truly irreconcilable.

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