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COLUMN RIGHT / DAVID HOROWITZ

TV Control Is Met With Media Silence : In dictating to broadcasters, the Clinton administration is no friend of the 1st Amendment.

June 16, 1996|DAVID HOROWITZ | David Horowitz is president of the Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture

Suppose George Bush had announced in his "State of the Union" address that he didn't like the programs he saw on television. Suppose he had summoned the broadcast heads to Washington to tell them they had better put restrictions on their product or he would do it for them. Suppose that Vice President Dan Quayle led the cheering squad and compared the noxious influence of television to cigarette smoking and cancer. Suppose the network heads, recognizing the president's raw power over their spectrum, had bowed to his blackmail and sheepishly complied. Suppose that, having tasted victory, the president then raised the ante and defined the type and time of programs he wanted broadcasters to air.

This scenario did not happen during the Bush-Quayle administration. But it's happening now, under Clinton-Gore. Last year, Vice President Al Gore told a Nashville audience that "the link between television violence and real violence is exactly analogous to the link between cigarette smoke and cancer." President Clinton then signed a V-chip law with provisions for a government ratings board to determine and block "violent' programming.

Last month, Hillary Clinton used a platform provided by government-sponsored public television to propose that "broadcasters [be] required to offer three hours a week of quality educational programming for children." Her proposal is the party line of a campaign whose water has been carried by the Clintons' man on the FCC--chairman Reed Hundt.

Last year, Hundt tried to hold up the purchase of CBS by Westinghouse until they complied with his orders. Last week, the president chimed in, telling broadcasters "If we can control," violent programming, "we can agree to increase the content" of educational programming.

As former FCC judge Sol Schildhause put it: "Given their way, it won't be long before we're reading a quarterly listing by the government of programs that are safe for TV stations to air and those which it deems 'uneducational.' "

Resistance to this massive government effort to censor what we see and hear has ranged from weak-kneed to nonexistent. The press has distinguished itself by an uncharacteristic silence. No outraged editorials. No columns pillorying the meddling president and his hysterical veep. No features pointing out the ominous precedents for further erosion of 1st Amendment freedoms.

How different the media's response would have been if it were Republicans proposing V-chips and ratings systems rather than liberal Democrats. In fact, Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and the congressional Republicans were leaders of the opposition to the V-chip legislation. They were supported by most religious conservatives, Ralph Reed and the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon foremost among them, arguing that it was a matter of parental responsibility that should not be surrendered to the federal Big Brother. But they were defeated by the tactical maneuvers of Rep. Edward Markey, liberal Democrat of Massachusetts, who slipped the V-chip amendment into the final telecommunications bill.

The anticensorship Republicans are counting on the unconstitutionality of the amendment to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Last week, a Philadelphia court blocked a related amendment to the telecommunications bill called the Internet Indecency Act, which many experts believe would criminalize even clinical and scientific discussions about controversial topics like abortion. A free-speech coalition that includes America Online and other major Internet carriers fought to have the law overturned, but the Clinton administration (joined this time by the Christian Coalition) is vowing to appeal the judges' ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

And where are the Friends of Bill in Hollywood? As everyone knows, the entertainment industry played a strategic role in electing Clinton, only to have him turn around and launch the most extensive government attacks on artistic freedom and public expression since the McCarthy era. Where are the protests, the full-page declarations in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, the scalding asides by Murphy Brown to make Clinton and Gore pay for their betrayal?

Clinton's West Coast campaign swing last week is expected to net his campaign $2.5 million. His appearance at two Los Angeles fund-raisers attracted big name stars like Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Geena Davis, Johnny Carson, Neil Simon, Jay Leno, Barbra Streisand, Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger and Whoopi Goldberg. None expressed concern about the heavy hand of government shaping their enterprise and telling them what to produce.

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