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Gore Outflanks Bush in Pursuit of Swing Votes


WASHINGTON — In his aggressive response to the federal investigation of entertainment industry marketing practices, Al Gore seized a rare opportunity Monday to move to George W. Bush's right on an issue with potentially broad appeal to swing voters who could decide the presidential election.

Both Gore and running mate Joseph I. Lieberman warned they would seek new federal authority to regulate the marketing of violent entertainment to young people if Hollywood, the recording industry and video-game manufacturers did not voluntarily do so themselves. That placed the Democratic ticket in the unusual position of brandishing a bigger stick at Hollywood than Bush, who suggested Monday that his priority would be voluntary negotiations with the industry.

Bush and other Republicans immediately accused Gore of hypocrisy in his hard line, pointing to the Democratic Party's heavy reliance on Hollywood donors. But even some Republicans said Gore's call for an assertive Washington response to the findings of the Federal Trade Commission report shows how Democrats have scrambled the political debate over values.

With his threat of new federal oversight of Hollywood marketing, Gore is following the pattern that President Clinton established through his advocacy of such measures as the V-chip and the voluntary rating system for television: the use of activist government for culturally conservative ends.

"Gore is offering something tangible and I'm sure the Bush people are in a bit of a quandary," said Pete Wehner, policy director at Empower America, a conservative think tank. "They aren't sure whether they want to match what Gore wants to do."

The FTC study marked a continued escalation in Washington's criticism of sex and violence in entertainment--a focus that has established deep roots in both parties as concern has deepened about the influence of popular culture on children. Probably not since Congress investigated the presence of Communists in the film industry during the blacklist era in the late 1940s and 1950s has Hollywood been as much a political target as it has during the last few years. The sharp comments from Gore, and even the milder echo from Bush, suggest that the pressure isn't likely to let up any time soon.

For Gore, the issue of Hollywood violence could offer a window to reach culturally conservative middle-class parents now fiercely contested by both campaigns.

In 1996, the administration's support for the V-chip--a mechanism that allows parents to block their children from watching explicit material on television--and the voluntary rating system were part of "the tools for parents" agenda Clinton used in his reelection campaign to court suburban families, especially married women. Gore appears to have his eyes on the same voters: Though the vice president has erased Bush's earlier lead among married women overall, the Republican still holds a double-digit advantage among women who remain at home with children, according to the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey.

"This issue allows you to have a dialogue with parents about something they care a lot about," says Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant Bill Carrick.

In its long-awaited report, the FTC accused the film, recording and video-game industries of undermining their own rating systems by routinely marketing to young people violent products ostensibly meant for adults.

In a series of interviews and statements Monday, Gore emphatically endorsed the study and said he would pursue a three-step response. First, Gore said the entertainment industry should offer "an immediate cease-fire" by curtailing all marketing of violent products toward young people.

Second, Gore said as president he would give the industry's various components six months to follow the FTC recommendation that they adopt voluntary codes of conduct banning such marketing, as well as provide parents with more information about existing rating systems and more stringently enforce current restrictions designed to keep explicit video games, music and movies off limits to children.

If such actions do not occur, Gore said, he would ask the FTC to restrict entertainment-industry marketing practices under the government's authority to regulate "false and deceptive advertising." If the FTC's existing authority did not provide such power, Gore said he would seek legislation explicitly granting it to the agency.

"If [entertainment companies] are saying to parents in one breath, 'We're going to work with you, we're going to protect children,' and then behind the scenes they're advertising directly to children to attract them to the material they're not ready to handle, that is false and deceptive as an advertising strategy," Gore said at an elementary school in Belleville, Ill.

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