Sen. Joseph Lieberman will be the star witness at a Senate hearing this week that will examine whether Hollywood purposely markets violence to kids.
Last week, it was questionable whether the Democratic vice-presidential candidate would appear, but the Gore campaign locked in Lieberman when operatives decided it might be politically damaging if it looked as though Lieberman were stepping away from his tough stance on media violence.
When he was a largely unknown senator from Connecticut, Lieberman would have "walked through fire" to testify at such a hearing, Senate staffers said, but once he became a candidate for the White House, the political climate for such a move wasn't as clear.
With Lieberman in attendance, the hearing will almost certainly force the media-violence issue onto the campaign trail. The hearing will be chaired by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who, according to press reports last week, is the most popular figure in national politics. McCain and Lieberman often have worked together to press the entertainment industry to be more responsible.
Other witnesses at the hearing will be Jack Valenti, chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Robert Pitofsky, FTC chairman. The Senate Commerce Committee also planned last week to invite studio chiefs, but, at press time, invitations had not yet been sent. Entertainment industry executives typically have declined to appear at such hearings, leaving Valenti to speak for them.
The hearing will focus on a report from the Federal Trade Commission, which was commissioned by the White House last May. That report will be released today during a briefing at the F TC.
Sources said the report shows conclusively that Hollywood aims its marketing efforts squarely at kids by advertising violent movies, such as Scream 3, in such popular series as The WB's Dawson's Creek or Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. The report also focuses on videogames and music but does not discuss TV programs, except for targeted advertising within TV programs. Finally, it finds that retailers and theater owners are not adequately enforcing their voluntary ratings systems.
The report is worded strongly enough to force the entertainment industry to take notice, said Senate staffers. Typically, the industry ignores the government's calls for change.
Sources last week said they had not seen a draft copy of the report, but FTC staffers had briefed Senate Commerce Committee attorneys.
Washington lobbyists said they had not worked much with the FTC on gathering materials for the report. The agency worked mostly with studio lawyers to get marketing information, one lobbyist said, then did most of the research in-house.