In the eyes of most political observers, the Democratic takeover of Congress signaled tougher federal scrutiny of business interests, but those same pundits might make an exception for the entertainment industry given that Hollywood is a major financial base for Democrats. But when the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on children and TV violence on June 26, the roles seemed to be reversed: It was the Democrats taking the entertainment industry to task as socially irresponsible, while Republicans in general favored the do-nothing approach.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) began with a strong call for the television barons to stop pouring sewage into America's living rooms, promising to introduce a tough bill next month to allow federal regulation of indecent, violent, and profane content on TV. He slammed Hollywood for putting its short-term profits ahead of the long-term interests of children by conducting "a never-ending race to the bottom," and insisted the industry was "unable and unwilling to police itself."
Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) suggested that any crackdown on the entertainment industry was fraught with constitutional problems. "It is not something that is easily regulated," he stated — correctly. There is a better solution and one which de facto deregulates cable: Cable Choice, giving the public complete control over what it subscribes to, and pays for. Yet Stevens has offered no tangible support for this measure, either.
His silence is preferable to the comments made by his Republican colleague Gordon Smith, who denounced cable choice claiming it would reduce the number of family-friendly children's offerings, an audacious statement with no basis in fact.
But at least Stevens and Smith were in the building.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who agreed strongly enough with Rockefeller on his bill to co-sponsor it in the last Congress, did not attend the hearing. Senator John McCain, who had a chance to distinguish himself with socially conservative presidential primary voters by showing up at the hearing, was a no-show. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Senator David Vitter, who owe their recent promotions from the House to the Senate on strong support from the pro-family movement, did not attend the hearing.
Other Republicans were there for a moment or two, but did not stay around long enough to question the witnesses. At Senator Rockefeller's request, the Parents Television Council put together a five-minute video showing some of the most outrageous moments of violence on television. It began with the recent dope-snorting out of a dead man's intestine on CBS's NCIS; the 2004 fellatio-at-gunpoint scene from FX's The Shield; and the marital-rape scene from FX's Rescue Me from last June. At this point, only two minutes into the showing, senators demanded the video be stopped. "We've seen enough," declared Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), who at least denounced it as "trash."
Senator Trent Lott, the GOP Minority Whip, left in the middle of that brief interlude — ten minutes into the hearing, never to return.
But that was better than Senator John Sununu (R-New Hampshire), who then denounced Senator Rockefeller for showing video of the extremely graphic violence and rape scenes on C-SPAN. "As much as I might share the concerns raised in your opening statement," he huffed, "I can't for the life of me figure out how it is that showing what the chairman believes to be indecent material on national TV at 10:35 in the morning is going to solve the problem."
"What the chairman believes"? Sununu "might" share the concern that it's indecent to show a rape, a forced-fellatio scene, and a woman sucking heroin out of her dead brother's innards on national television?
These senators couldn't stand watching just five minutes of the kind of programming that is being aired over the public airwaves, in front of millions of children; or is being made possible by the forced subsidies of millions of parents appalled by its offensiveness. If this didn't make the point, it is pointless to go further with this crowd.
But there was yet another bombshell lost on these legislators. Renowned law professor Laurence Tribe is now a hired gun for the cable sleaze-makers, and was there to do their bidding, but in the course of the hearings made an incredible assertion. He declared that in his opinion a federal court could determine that the forced-oral-sex scene on The Shield was "obscene." Under the law, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, obscenity often constitutes a felony.
Was he pressed on this? How about Fox executive Peter Liguori, sitting right there on the witness stand, the man who "led" the FX network at the time that disgraceful episode aired, and no one even asked him if he was proud of himself. Not a peep, to either one.