WASHINGTON — A Baldwin and a Bush on the same page — what an absurd idea.Or so you thought. Indeed, President Bush and thesp William Baldwin sounded awfully similar when commenting on a reinvigorated push by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to vest Washington with authority to go after the entertainment industry for deceptive advertising when age-restricted materials are marketed to kids. In sum, both Bush and Baldwin, topper of the advocacy org Creative Coalition, say Hollywood should work with America’s parents and Washington pols to make sure information about entertainment ratings is clear, versus making government, i.e., the Federal Trade Commission, a policeman. So much for partisan stereotypes. While Hollywood is hardly a new issue for Lieberman, the pol is apparently stepping up his efforts in preparation for a 2004 presidential bid. Lieberman says the entertainment biz pollutes America’s youth with “sex, violence and vulgarity,” and that voluntary ratings systems used by the TV, movie, music and vidgame industries are confusing and need reform. If Hollywood won’t do it, then Washington will. “Let the chips fall where they may,” Lieberman said at a June 21 press conference, where he publicly called on Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft to support his FTC legislation. In last year’s prez campaign, Lieberman and Al Gore were criticized for attending lucrative entertainment biz fund-raisers while, at the same time, accusing Hollywood ofselling violence to kids. Politicos suggest that Lieberman wants to make sure Americans understand that the Democratic Party supports family values, and isn’t just a party for the liberal fringes. Fine, say Hollywood Dems, just don’t expect us to take it lying down. On June 24, the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action were slated to hold an all-day confab on how to make sure the party doesn’t become too conservative. One of the topics bound to come up was Lieberman’s bill. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) was slated to speak, along with Hollywood political activists Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner. House minority leader Gephardt is also considered a likely 2004 prez contender. His trip to Los Angeles could signal the strengthening of a bond with Hollywood Dems, who are becoming more and more frustrated with Lieberman. Regardless, Lieberman still poses a formidable force for Hollywood to reckon with in Washington. With Democrats now in control of the Senate, Lieberman is topper of the Governmental Affairs Committee. In addition, Dems control what comes up for a vote on the Senate floor. Lieberman said that he will hold hearings on media violence and ratings systems, most likely in July. He’s also in discussions about redirecting the FTC legislation from the Senate Commerce Committee to his committee. “We too have First Amendment rights. We have a right to be advocates for parents,” Lieberman says. “Frankly, we are trying to touch the entertainment industry’s sense of shame, so that they will draw lines they will not cross.” Also on June 21, a companion FTC bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Steven Israel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.). Osborne has ties with the conservative leadership in the House. Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti says Lieberman’s legislation would run counter to the First Amendment, not to mention that it would essentially gut the MPAA movie ratings system. Recording Industry Assn. of America topper Hilary Rosen agrees, saying the bill would make the record industry’s voluntary labeling system for explicit lyrics irrelevant. Entertainment industry execs take some solace in the fact that Lieberman hasn’t been able to get Republican senators to endorse the FTC measure, at least in the Senate. Other Dems co-sponsoring the bill include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) “I don’t want to go overboard, but it’s not a bill that has attracted a lot of support,” a Hollywood lobbyist says.
Want Entertainment News First? Sign up for Variety Alerts and Newsletters!