BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — As Hollywood gears up for peak award season here - most notably the Golden Globes and Oscars - a sizable handful of top creative executives appears ready to nominate a late entry: Gen. Barry McCaffrey for Best Performance by a federal drug czar.
The director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy seems to be taking a different approach in trying to get Hollywood to change its depiction of drug use in the nation's film, TV, radio, and recording industries. He is playing the role of nanny more than nag.
Unlike some of his predecessors and other recent antidrug crusaders in Washington, Mr. McCaffrey is choosing to cajole rather than chastise the Hollywood elite, at least for the moment. It is a welcome shift for an industry that is under assault for everything from the lyrics on CDs to violence on the small screen.
"I don't believe the problem is the American film industry or TV or the music world," said McCaffrey in a visit here last week, where he came to deliver some of his views - and listen to those of writers, producers, and directors.
His message was a familiar one: In portraying the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substances, be more realistic in showing the negative consequences of such use. And don't forget to give viewers accurate portrayals of youth that statistically reflect the American norm that most youth (80 percent of teens) don't use drugs.
But instead of attacking media producers here, McCaffrey praised such TV shows as NBC's "ER" and the recent movie "Trainspotting," which he says showed the "deadend" consequences of young lives destroyed by heroin use. He also mentioned several Arnold Schwarzenegger films, whose plots surrounded pursuing and eliminating drug lords and pushers.
McCaffrey spoke before a luncheon gathering of top, senior executives from some of Hollywood's top entertainment companies - among them NBC, CBS, Paramount, MGM, Disney, Fox, and Universal - sponsored by the Entertainment Industry's Council.
He drew repeated praise.
"It was a breath of fresh air," says Richard Masur, president of the Screen Actors Guild. Noting that smoking has reemerged as a fashionable act in film, he says: "He was very articulate and insightful ... especially identifying some trends that have reappeared."
According to recent statistics, drug use is growing among Americans age 18 and under. Perhaps more worrisome, the largest growth in use is occurring among those 10 and under since the 1960s - 39 million.
McCaffrey quoted experts who hold that if young Americans do not try drugs and alcohol before college age, "they will never join the group of 3.1 million Americans who are addicted to illegal drugs." He adds: "We are most concerned that eighth graders have seen a tripling in their use of drugs over six years."