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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Looking for a Fall Guy

May 19, 1999|MIKE DOWNEY

Bill Clinton, that shining example to America's youth, came to California a few days ago to scold the entertainment industry's leaders for making money off the wrong kind of entertainment, after which he asked them for more money.

While pulling a "Bulworth" on the very people who paid huge sums to put him in office and keep him there, Clinton was here to raise nearly $2 million Saturday at a Democratic Party fund-raiser.

A few hours earlier, in a radio address, the president said, "I'm telling you, there are common threads" in a bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building, a killing of a gay man in Wyoming and a racially motivated murder in Texas. His strong implication was that video violence was the stitch in those threads.

He advocated a ban on guns in all movie ads and previews.

This meant that in the future, films along the lines of "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line" would only be able to show World War II soldiers carrying their canteens. James Bond presumably may be shown confronting an enemy with a lethal Mont Blanc pen. Clint Eastwood could be depicted in one last Dirty Harry ad, holding a puppy.

Clinton also asked that IDs be checked so a child won't walk "unchaperoned into an R-rated movie." This is an excellent entrance strategy. Of course, no mention was made of the number of times unchaperoned children turned on a TV and listened to R-rated dialogue about the president's personal life, which their uncomfortable parents later labored to explain.


Everybody needs a fall guy, and the entertainment industry, Southern California's largest employer, is more and more becoming a scapegoat for governmental, educational and parental shortcomings, as well as for the kind of random worldwide violence that has existed since the entertainment industry consisted of gladiators, court jesters and a cross-legged man with a flute and a cobra.

Knocking the entertainment business has become a sure-fire way to gain cheers and applause, like yelling "Brooklyn!" inside a New York theater. It is a buck that Clinton can conveniently pass, so he can show his face before bereaved parents--he's scheduled Thursday to make a public appearance in Littleton, Colo.--and hold someone else accountable, as easy to generalize about as ants at a picnic.

"Our administration is fighting to do all we can to protect children," Clinton said.

What an adorable little oxymoron . . . fighting to protect us from violence.

It puts the onus on Hollywood to do what Washington can't. (Or won't.) Somebody has to answer for what happened in Colorado and elsewhere. If legislators can point their fingers at somebody else, maybe lynch mobs won't point at them.

And if it requires a little back-stabbing, so be it.

A week ago today, a unanimous U.S. Senate vote called for a federal investigation of the entertainment industry by the Justice Department and by the Federal Trade Commission, as well as a National Institute of Health study to determine the industry's contribution to crime and violence in America.

Industry figures, who donated a reported $8.5 million to Democratic committees in 1998 and another $6.3 million to Republicans--not including the amounts donated to individuals--are being offered up for sacrifice by ingrate politicians looking to blame their own inadequacy in curbing crime on those who fictionalize it.

Donors would be wise to remember this, next time candidates come to visit with their palms up.


Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) last week proposed an amendment that would ban violence on TV in any form, daytime or prime time. His proposal failed, 60-39. Among those endorsing it, however, was California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is listed among the five leading beneficiaries of cash donations from the entertainment industry during the 1990s. (As is Hollings.)

Barbara Boxer--the top recipient of industry donations--at least didn't turn her back on the business. Boxer voted against the Hollings proposal, saying she was unwilling to give any agency or senator "the power to decide what show goes on [at] what time."

In weeks to come, powers that be will unfairly focus on TV and cinema, holding Technicolor shoot-'em-ups at fault for actual gunplay, linking children's corpses to cops 'n' robbers. They'll probably ask NBC to change a show's name to "Just Slap Me."

Blood is being wiped on the wrong hands. This is a smear campaign, nothing more.


Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail:

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