WASHINGTON — After a three-hour White House confab on youth violence, President Clinton said he is not pointing fingers at any one industry, including entertainment, but at the same time he urged Hollywood to be aware of the consequences that violent movies, song lyrics and videogames have on children.
“It is true that there has been a breakdown in the family, schools and communities,” Clinton said, adding, “It is also true that there has been a coarsening of the culture in many ways, and those who influence it must be sensitive to it.”
Surgeon general study
Clinton also used Monday’s event to announce he would formally request the Surgeon General to prepare a report on youth violence and its causes. As ex-pected, Clinton also announced the White House would organize a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing youth violence. The Clinton administration claims success with similar non-profit efforts to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy and to encourage businesses to hire workers from welfare rolls.
The summit was called by the White House in the wake of the violent rampage by two Colorado high school students that ended in the deaths of 15 people, including the two killers, who committed suicide.
The D.C. meeting itself, which was closed to press, was held in the East Room of the White House and included a broad group ranging from network honchos such as CBS’ Leslie Moonves and Disney/ABC’s Bob Iger to poet and novelist Maya Angelou. Afterward, at a Rose Garden press event, Clinton said the entertainment industry, along with parents, schools and the firearms industry, must take responsibility for giving children a “a safe childhood” that is protected from violence.
Off button exists
Clinton challenged parents “to turn off the television when they don’t like what they see, and to refuse to buy products that glorify violence.” He also said violent products should not be marketed to children.
One source described the three-hour closed-door session as a “group hug” in which most of the participants adhered to the Clinton administration edict that no individual industry or group should be blamed for the violent actions of kids. At least one sour note was sounded by Vice President Gore, who used the meeting to once again point out that NBC has failed to join the rest of the broadcast networks in implementing the television content code, a source said.
And afterward, FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani criticized NBC for not attending the White House session. In addition to NBC, Fox also was not represented at the White House nor were any individual studios. But sources at several companies reported the White House never issued formal invitations and did not apply any political pressure to force execs to attend.
In his statement to press after the meeting, Clinton did his best to acknowledge that there are many factors contributing to the level of violence among the nation’s youth. At the same time, Clinton also made it clear that the entertainment industry must face up to some role when it comes to shaping the attitudes of children toward violence.
Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack Valenti, who represented the major studios at Monday’s White House confab, told reporters that he is holding a series of discussions with members of the creative community, who, he said, are increasingly sensitive to the complaints about violence in movies.
Valenti said he is encouraging creatives to “expunge” any gratuitous violence from movies. And without prompting, Valenti defined “gratuitous” as “more than enough.”