Special Report: Democratic Candidates Share Views On Media Violence

Al Gore, Bill Bradley explore campaign concerns on Web sites.

Editor's Note: This is one of three stories covering current presidential candidates' positions on music-related issues. One examines Republicans; another, third-party candidates; this story looks at Democratic presidential hopefuls. An accompanying sidebar presents the front-running candidates' positions in graphic form.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Al Gore and Bill Bradley both appear to think there is too much violence in the media, and both say the entertainment industry needs to regulate itself.

The vice president and the former senator from New Jersey both voted in favor of the Communications Reform Act of 1996, which included the current voluntary television-ratings system and set forth guidelines for the V-chip — a device that would allow parents to block shows with violent content. Both also have called for the entertainment industry to regulate itself and to stop selling violent and sexually explicit material to young people.

But Gore, once a two-term senator from Tennessee and now the front-runner for the nomination, has been more vocal in expressing his feelings and touting his accomplishments on those issues.

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"He clearly doesn't support a heavy government hand," said Doug Hattaway, a spokesperson for the Gore campaign at its Nashville headquarters. "He believes that the industry has a responsibility to be responsible, particularly about kids."

Gore, according to Hattaway, helped negotiate the TV ratings provisions of the Telecommunications Reform Act and set forth guidelines for the V-chip, which has yet to be developed and marketed.

Regulating Lyrics

Gore also sat on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during 1985 hearings that explored regulating rock lyrics' violent and sexual content. Satirist Frank Zappa and Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider were among the star witnesses.

Gore's wife, activist Tipper Gore, co-founded the Parents' Music Resource Center, an advocacy group that helped instigate the hearings. The recording industry began voluntarily using a parental-advisory label in 1990.

Lyrical content again became an issue last year, after two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves in Littleton, Colo. The students reportedly were fans of Rammstein, KMFDM, Marilyn Manson and other industrial-metal bands.

But Barbara Wyatt, who sat on the board of directors of the PMRC with Tipper Gore and now serves as its executive director, said the Gores aren't as adamant on the issue of explicit lyrics as they were in the '80s and that they haven't been associated with the organization for years. Part of that, she said, is likely because of the "tremendous influence" of Hollywood on the Democratic Party.

"Because of their [fund-raising] involvement with the entertainment industry, I think they'd be very cautious about what they would do as far as legislation or anything," she said.

During a speech to the national Parent-Teacher Association on March 23, 1998, Al Gore called for schools to have the freedom to develop their own ways of blocking children from viewing violent and sexually explicit sites on the World Wide Web.

"Technology, by itself, is not enough," Gore said. "We need the combined power of parents, teachers and technology to protect our students in a way that reflects the values of each community." The full text of the speech is available on Gore's Web site (www.algore2000.com).

Media Responsibility

Bradley's Web site gives virtually no mention of media violence or entertainment policy. Instead, Bradley, generally more liberal than Gore, focuses on health care, social policy and race relations. In a short video on the site, Bradley points to the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which lowered and reset income-tax rates significantly, as a main legislative accomplishment.

But the former star athlete — Bradley was a forward for the NBA's New York Knicks from 1968–77 and a basketball hall of famer — did address media responsibility while in the Senate. He unsuccessfully co-sponsored a 1994 bill that would have barred federal agencies from advertising during violent programs and formed a system to evaluate the intensity of violence on programs.

"In America today, the blaze of violence is fed by many fires. Television, CDs and video games bring it into the open windows of our homes," Bradley said May 13,1994, in a speech on the Senate floor. In December, at a town hall meeting in Nashua, N.H., Bradley said, "I think [media companies] have to be careful about putting their own personal financial interests ahead of all of us."

Bradley also voted for the V-chip and the television-ratings system. He voted for regulation of obscene material on the Internet as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1995. He supported public television when it came under fire from Republican senators that same year and cited the concert series "Great Performances" as an example of high-quality public programming in another Senate speech in mid-1995.

Bradley's spokespersons did not return calls seeking comment.

Celebrity Support

Def Jam founder Russell Simmons and R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe are among the reported donors to Bradley's campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Bob Weir and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, the Eagles singer/drummer Don Henley, soul singer Anita Baker and Frank Zappa's children are among Gore's supporters, Hattaway said.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Gore spoke about violence and music.

"If you gave me a choice between guns and entertainment, obviously guns are amenable to government action, whereas the content of entertainment is protected by the First Amendment. I think that self-restraint in the media is important," Gore was quoted as saying.

"[Music] is a liberating force," he later said. "It is a voice for the nontraditional view."

(SonicNet's Will Comerford contributed to this report.)