A few years ago I found myself in Nashville at a two-day gathering of liberal “media experts” sponsored by Vice President Al Gore. The purpose of the meeting was to provide a “scientific” rationale for the censorship that Gore and the president (who also attended) were preparing to launch against the nation’s entertainment industry.
The event was held in an auditorium at Vanderbilt University, where Gore orchestrated the proceedings from the stage. With all the obtuseness that generally characterizes his thought process, the vice president was saying scary things like “the link between real-world violence and television violence is exactly analogous to the link between cigarette smoking and cancer.”
Of the 200 attending the event, only Jack Valenti, Tom Selleck and I took issue with Clinton and Gore’s “solution” — the V-chip — which they proceeded to unveil at the conference.
When Gore called on me to speak, I asked how crime rates could be so different in various neighborhoods of a given city, when the TV shows were the same. I also asked how the experts attending the event could have witnessed 100,000 murders on TV without becoming the desensitized, violence-crazed thugs that they implied was a television-watcher’s inevitable fate. My questions were not appreciated and I even heard some hisses as I spoke.
From the back of the auditorium, Jack Valenti held up a list of the 60 top Nielsen-rated network TV shows and said “not a single one of them is violent.” He could just as well have been talking to an audience of the deaf.
A pivotal moment came when Betty Friedan, an icon to virtually all present, rose to her feet and said something like: Mr. vice president, the left and right finally agree on something. Don’t be intimidated by those who are telling you that government should not play an active role in making society a better place.
It was my turn again and I had the bad manners to respond: “What Betty Friedan just said sent chills up my spine.” There was an eruption in the first row where Tipper Gore was sitting. She raced down the aisle to get to where I was, and sputtered in my face that I had insulted the feminist legend with my remarks.
It was an incident that actually turned my bride-to-be — who was sitting next to me and who had been apolitical until then — into a Republican on the spot. That’s because she was terrified by the idea that these were the president’s friends and advisors, and that this was the vice president’s wife. Perhaps liberals’ rudeness is reason enough to become a Republican. But, unfortunately, the puritan impulse to censor and control others seems to be a bipartisan disease, as events would soon reveal.
The V-chip, of course, is a crude device that will not help children whose parents are already derelict or absent — in other words, the kids who need it most. Moreover, it is dangerous. Al Gore himself points out that if 3 percent of parents use the V-chip to block a particular show “advertisers will go elsewhere.”
Since it’s highly possible that 3 percent of parents would object to a quality show with violence, like “Roots,” it’s also possible that such shows will simply not be made. This is the little kicker that censors like Gore choose to ignore.