WASHINGTON — When it comes to bringing down the bad guys in government, America’s newspaper presses are still rolling and, when linked with the power of the national camera, their impact can still be lethally quick.
Few recent stories better prove that the death of American newspapers has been prematurely exaggerated than an expose this month by The Washington Post and the venerable “60 Minutes” television news program, an investigation that saved us from another nomination-travesty by the Trump administration. Through both Sunday print editions and evening programming, the nation was informed that a nominee for the job of federal drug czar had been a leading figure in furthering the growing opioid addiction epidemic.
Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican, was the key sponsor of legislation that has kept the Drug Enforcement Administration from interrupting unscrupulous dealers with access to hundreds of millions of addictive prescription pills. The bill was passed during the Obama administration by unanimous consent, a device Congress saves for “noncontroversial” legislation. According to the expose, it literally prevented the DEA from doing its job. A tidal wave of dangerous drugs, selling from $30 to $50 a pill, has hit the country.
The Post devoted four pages of space to outline in meticulous detail this horrific case of lobbying by pharmaceutical interests, including strategic campaign contributions to chief players like Marino, who received $100,000 in donations from political action committees associated with the drug industry.
Two days later, about as quickly as these stories can take hold, Marino withdrew himself from consideration for the drug czar post, reminding folks that he had been a strong anti-drug prosecutor. The White House, in effect, said oops, with Trump pledging his fealty to the toughest drug policy available.
Democrats hopped all over the revelations despite being guilty of supporting the DEA-weakening bill’s passage. It had been signed by President Barack Obama under advice from the DEA administrator himself — a fact Republican Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah, who had helped push the legislation in the Senate, was quick to note. The Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America also issued a statement saying it did not support or lobby for the bill and called for its repeal, even though it had been a longtime industry objective.
Everyone, it seems, was running for cover except the guys on the frontline fighting this, chief among them Joseph Rannazzisi, a former top DEA official with a hard-nosed approach.
The dedication of the Post and “60 Minutes” deserves the deepest gratitude of all of us and points out the importance of mainline print journalism. With experience and the willingness to devote money, time and energy to a project, newspapers at every level can still produce reporting unmatched by the mainly unchecked, ill-conceived and undisciplined internet.
It seems probable that the bill will be repealed. Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill says she will introduce legislation to end the Marino law, and it would be difficult now for the pharmaceutical industry or members of either House of Congress to rally against it. Meantime, I’m certain two powerful news organizations will be keeping an eye on things.
Their work might prevent repeats of what happened in Kermit, W.Va., where 9 million pills were shipped. The town’s population is 350.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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