Continuing his efforts to pressure the entertainment industry to improve the quality of programming beamed into American homes, President Clinton said in Glendale on Tuesday that he would summon television executives to the White House this summer to urge them to produce more educational programs for children.
In a late morning speech at Glendale Community College, Clinton said that television stations have an obligation to improve the quality and quantity of shows aimed at children.
Noting that many community college students are older and may already have started families, he said: "It wouldn't hurt to have at least three hours a week devoted to their education while you are here pursuing yours."
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, with Clinton's backing, has been pushing for a rule requiring all television stations to air a minimum of three hours of educational programming a week. Broadcasters have criticized the requirement as an infringement on free speech, but Clinton's comments are likely to increase pressure on them to at least offer a voluntary industrywide standard on the issue.
Executives at all the major television networks indicated Tuesday that they would be glad to attend the White House meeting, which Clinton said would be held before August.
The president was warmly received by about 1,500 students, faculty members and others in a sunlit plaza on the Glendale campus. His speech was briefly interrupted by two hecklers, one wearing a white sailor's cap reading "Slick Willie," who asked whether Clinton was on active military duty.
The protesters were referring to a legal brief filed on behalf of the president in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case which included a claim that Clinton, as commander in chief, was entitled to temporary immunity from civil damage suits. That assertion sparked a barrage of criticism from Republicans, and Clinton's lawyer has removed the argument.
The hecklers were quickly shouted down by the crowd and quietly led away by security guards. Clinton directed his own barb at his detractors, telling the crowd with a laugh: "They have nothing to run on. We have a good record, so they have to try these kind of radical, crazy attacks."
Clinton had begun his speech with a friendly nod toward his presumed Republican foe, Bob Dole, who retired from the Senate Tuesday to focus on his efforts to unseat the president. While saying he expects to wage a "rather vigorous campaign" against Dole, Clinton asked his audience "to just take a moment and wish him well. . . . He has given over 30 years of his life to serving our country in the U.S. Congress, and I think we ought to give him a hand today."
After the speech, Clinton called Dole to congratulate him on his last day in Congress, aides said. "He told Dole that he got a crowd in California to give him a big hand and he deserved it," White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn said.
Just two weeks ago, the Clinton campaign produced and briefly aired a political advertisement accusing Dole of being a "quitter" for deciding to leave the Senate to run for president while so many disputes between Congress and the Clinton administration remain unresolved.
In calling for a White House conclave on children's educational programs, Clinton was drawing upon a technique he used on another entertainment issue earlier this year: In February, a Clinton-sponsored meeting resulted in TV executives pledging to rate programming for violent and sexual content to make them compatible with V-chip technology, which could allow parents to block reception of objectionable material.
CBS President Peter Lund made reference to that meeting in accepting Clinton's latest invitation: "CBS is pleased to accept the president's invitation because we're anxious to make the case for quality in children's programming. As with the violence summit in February, the outcome will be more favorable for America's viewers, including children, if any agreements reached are both voluntary and bipartisan."
Clinton, who Monday night attended a $5,000-a-head Beverly Hills fund-raiser with scores of top Hollywood executives and talent, made a point in his Tuesday speech to praise the industry for its efforts to clean up program content.
"Now I've worked hard with the entertainment industry, and I want to compliment them for agreeing to develop a system of voluntary ratings for television programs to help parents in dealing with the exposure that their young children might have to programs with excessive violence [or] improper content," Clinton said.
The speech emphasized administration policies and Clinton proposals for strengthening families and broadening educational opportunities. He mentioned passage of child immunization programs, job leaves for family emergencies and expansion of the earned-income tax credit for low-wage workers.