D.C. insider wooed by group to defend major labels

WASHINGTON — If the music industry has its way, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke will be spending her days worrying about music piracy instead of the Iraqi fedayeen.

According to several industry insiders, Clarke is on the “top of the wish list” to head the Recording Industry Assn. of America, whose chief mission is to protect the interests of the major labels.

Busy with the war in Iraq, Clarke has not engaged in direct talks or negotiations with the RIAA about the matter.

Despite all the buzz about Clarke making the rounds in Washington and Hollywood, outgoing RIAA topper Hilary Rosen said right now the search for her successor is in the “winnowing stage,” with no frontrunner.

“We’re looking for that combination of leadership and political knowledge and determination and enforcement of the issues — the ability to build consensus internally in the industry and project it effectively,” Rosen said.

Rosen denied Clarke is an official candidate for the job and called any reference to a wish list “irrelevant.”

“Torie is an amazing talent,” Rosen said. “Any organization would be lucky to have her, but she has clearly been occupied with other things.”

Clarke did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In January, Rosen announced her intention to leave the million-dollar post so she could spend more time with her family — domestic partner Elizabeth Birch and their 4-year-old twins.

Rosen said she will make her self available to the RIAA as a consultant until the end of the year.

Some political observers believe Clarke, 43, more than meets the job description at the RIAA, based on her two decades of politics and public relations work in Washington.

Since the days leading up to the war in Iraq, Clarke has tried to serve the interests of the military and the media, two notoriously demanding masters. She helped sell the idea of embedding journalists to the Pentagon’s top brass and vehemently defended Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s war plans when they came under fire.

Clarke served in the first Bush White House and later joined the National Cable Television Assn. as strategic counsel just when consumers were balking at a rate hike.

Despite the RIAA’s hefty salary and prominence in Washington and Hollywood, it may be a hard sell for Clarke or anyone else. Rosen’s tenure in the top spot at the RIAA has been no picnic.

Rosen, who has spent nearly two decades at the trade org, has faced down brutal public criticism for the record industry’s efforts to fight digital piracy — particularly its successful battle to shut down file-swapping pioneer Napster.

At the same time, the exec has had to act as referee between the five major music labels, which have been far from united in their public stances. Sony Music and Universal Music in particular are said to have great influence in dictating an aggressive stance against pirates, while others have suggested a more conciliatory approach.

To top it off, Rosen has been the scapegoat of choice for a group of Capitol Hill lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who have vilified the entertainment biz and music in particular for marketing adult-themed products to minors.

(Justin Oppelaar in New York contributed to this report.)

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