frontline's drug wars (a special frontline series in collaboration with NPR: october 9+10, 2000 @ 9pm (240 minutes)

photo of a dea agent with a large cocaine seizure
an interview with reporter lowell bergman
Lowell Bergman is a producer and the series reporter for the FRONTLINE film "Drug Wars," airing Monday, October 9, and Tuesday, October 10, at 9 P.M. (check local listings). Currently a contract reporter for the New York Times, his award-winning career has included stints at ABC News, CBS News and the CBS program 60 Minutes. Bergman's credits for FRONTLINE include "The Terrorist and the Superpower," (1999) and "Murder, Money, and Mexico" (1997). Recently portrayed by Al Pacino in the 1999 Academy Award-nominated film "The Insider," Bergman calls the qualities that make for a good investigative reporter "curiosity and a willingness to test assumptions, combined with tenacity."

Why is it important for FRONTLINE to investigate America's thirty-year war on drugs?

The drug war has been the subject of all kinds of media coverage, but most reports are anecdotal. As a social, health, legal and economic issue it has altered the cultural landscape.

All the issues surrounding the drug war are so charged that people quickly paint themselves into a corner. Politicians are afraid to talk openly about its successes and failures - and their opinions - because of possible political consequences. So, what we are trying to present is an objective history that will enable us as a society to begin talking about drugs, and the effort to prohibit them, in a rational way.

In the course of your investigation, what most shocked you?

Well, when you travel to a place like Culiacan, Mexico, it's a shock to find the drug industry so ingrained in the popular culture that there's a patron saint of drug smuggling - Jesus Malverde.

And financially, to recognize that after more than thirty years, narcotics have become a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry, and a major element in our global economy. The drug industry is an economic benefit not only to other countries, but also inside the United States. Some of our largest and most well known companies and financial institutions are a part of it.

Also, we had the chance to speak candidly with the veterans of the drug war, the warriors inside the DEA, the FBI, the military, the police force. These men and women are now retiring after spending more than twenty-five years on the streets in America and overseas. Their perspective is unique and provided a viewpoint that I think many wiljjl find surprising.

In your opinion, can the war on drugs be won?

The problem is that the U.S. government has not set any reasonable goals on what level of drug use is tolerable. Clearly, demand will continue, and we cannot arrest our way out of this situation. Yet decriminalization is not the total answer. Drug use is a public health problem with an economic component that cannot be ignored. To win the war on drugs will no doubt require efficient coordinated law enforcement. Problem is, law enforcement is not as well coordinated as it could be and resources are spread thin.

Until we can determine that the drug war is not just a supply problem but a demand problem, and until the country will confront what needs to be done, we may continue chasing our tail and spending billions in the process.

bush and gore photos copyright ©2000 reuters new media/corbis
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