WASHINGTON – Beltway culture warriors painted Edgar Bronfman in Faustian terms Tuesday, claiming that the lure of the high profits led the Seagram chief exec to abandon a promise that he would not distribute music with objectionable lyrics.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) Empower America’s William Bennett and Delores Tucker of the National Political Caucus of Black Women said during a press conference here that Bronfman had broken the promise by selling music by Marilyn Manson, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dog that contains violent and sexually explicit lyrics.

Buying a lie?

Bronfman allegedly made the promise shortly before MCA (now Universal Studios Inc.) agreed to buy 50% of Interscope Records from Time Warner.

In response to the D.C. trio’s claims, MCA on Tuesday released a statement saying it adheres to a “comprehensive review process to monitor the content of releases from all of its record labels.”

Referring to Universal Studios, Bennett said, “Their word is not worth anything.” adding, “MCA now joins other corporations in America in trying to make as much money as it can from the wreckage of civilization.” Bennett and his colleagues said that Marilyn Manson promotes pedophilia and that that Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dog promote violence and the degradation of women.

Anti-black attitude alleged

Tucker also suggested that there is a double standard at work. She noted that when Michael Jackson included a lyrics in song which were offensive to Jews, the lyrics were immediately dropped. But, Tucker said, lyrics offensive to blacks continue to be published by leading companies in the music business.

During the press conference, Tucker distributed a March 11 letter signed by Matthew Gerson; she said it articulates a promise which Bennett says he received privately from Bronfman.

“An integral part of MCA’s agreement with Interscope allows us to choose not to release any specific music which this company deems to be objectionable. MCA will not have any ownership interest in or profit from these titles, whether new releases or past catalogue,” wrote Gerson.

Whose standards?

One MCA exec says the dispute comes down to a difference over standards: what is excessive to Bennett and his fellow culture warriors may not be to decision-makers at his company.

The exec, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that during the last several months the company has decided not to distribute several works, including “Death Row’s Greatest Hits.”

“Tough decisions have been made, we have made financial sacrifices,” the exec said. Priority Records released the album last month.

Bennett disputed MCA’s claim that it was enforcing any standard when it comes to music lyrics. The former Bush administration official was particularly upset about the cover art from shock rocker Marilyn Manson’s “Antichrist Superstar.”

The cover is photograph of a Christ figure with two kneeling men below him. The kneeling figures appear to be drinking from tubes attached to the Christ-figure’s codpiece.

“If this is what you stand for, sit down Mr. Bronfman, because you don’t have the foggiest idea what standards are,” Bennett said. “If you don’t know this is crap and filth, then you don’t have the wit to get in the game.”

But Recording Industry Assn. of America prexy and chief operating officer Hilary Rosen noted that differences over acceptable forms of entertainment will not be resolved at press conferences.

“It’s the age-old debate; is art imitating life or is life imitating art?” Like other industry execs, Rosen noted that all works with explicit lyrics are labeled with parental warnings. MCA said its is “committed to following the voluntary stickering program.”

But Rosen insisted that Tuesday’s press conference was not really about a failure by the industry to police itself.

“This is about Bill Bennett’s ego, not about the reneging of a promise from Bronfman that he never had,” said Rosen. “MCA has been doing what every other company has been doing, vigorously reviewing lyrics, making sure that every record has artistic merit and being able to explain that process to Bill Bennett or anyone else who asks.”

Sen. Lieberman is also critical of MCA’s parent company Joseph Seagram Ltd., for advertising hard alcohol products on TV and radio.

Asked if there is any connection between the trouble the company is having in Washington with its music and beverage divisions, Lieberman replied that both are a matters involving “good citizenship.”

Adam Sandler in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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