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Courage Campaign’s Koch/cokehead ad draws fire

The Courage Campaign’s new ad taking on the billionaire Koch brothers, who’ve sank money into the campaign for Proposition 32, is being panned by fellow progressives who are offended by the ad’s mocking and stereotyping of drug addicts.

Many of the comments on this ad’s YouTube page and on the Courage Campaign’s Facebook page are scathing – not in defense of the Koch brothers, but against the Courage Campaign’s characterization of “cokeheads.” Some examples:

“Please admit you’re in the wrong and take this video down. Not only is this extremely offensive to those of us who have experienced drug-addiction personally or know people who have, it’s effective in alienating a usually supportive demographic. This isn’t behavior I’d expect from a progressive org, do the right thing and take it down.”

…and…

Having had a brother who passed away from a drug addiction and living his stigmatization I am saddened by the destructive nature of this ad. I can joke with the best of folks, but as I taught my child it’s only funny when you are laughing with people, not at them.

The Courage Campaign responded last night:

Hey folks, thanks for your interest in our ad and your concern. Our goal in creating the Koch Brothers ad was (and is) to educate the public about who is behind Prop 32. To do that, we chose satire, and we stand by our ad as a piece of political satire. We pride ourselves on creating messages that cut through the noise and reach people who might not be aware of the critical issues at stake. We did know that some might have concerns about the use of the word “cokehead,” which is why we specifically included the text “Problems with drug or alcohol abuse? Visit AA.org.” in the ad.

We appreciate your feedback, and actually see it as an opportunity to educate the public about two important issues, Prop 32 and media portrayals of those struggling with drug abuse. We are not going to take down the ad, but we think this is a great opportunity to publicize studies, articles or other revealing investigations into the stigmatizing of addiction and recovery. Can you please share anything like that with us? You can post it here or email it to us at info@couragecampaign.org. Also, is there an organization that makes sense for us to collaborate with on this effort? Many of those who commented are connected to Students for A Sensible Drug Policy. The Courage community would appreciate learning more about your organization, and we’d love to partner with you in posting information in the coming weeks. Thanks again for your feedback. We’re always learning.

But the critics aren’t placated, and topday started a change.org petition urging the Courage Campaign to take down the video.

What do you think?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.