A ticket to ride roughshod?


In the aftermath of the high-profile spate of school shootings, many politicians jumped on the blame-the-media bandwagon. Sen. Joseph Lieberman was not one of them. He was already driving it.

Now he is campaigning for a position that would give him plenty of time and opportunity to step up his campaign. Al Gore made fighting pollution a centerpiece of his vice presidency. The prospect of a Vice President Lieberman stumping to stamp out what he brands as cultural pollution is disturbing to those who might not see eye-to-offended eye with him, and even to those who do but think it bad precedent to use the government's big stick to impose its moral standard on others. It is one thing for citizens to lobby for or against types of programming; it is another for government officials to incite them and to suggest the government is on their side.

Hollywood is generally playing down Lieberman's attacks, framing him as a voice calling them to the angels of their better nature rather than a censor ready to damn them with legislation. We hope they are right, but by most accounts he believes deeply in his attacks on popular culture. That's more troublesome than simply a weathervane pointing in the direction of the prevailing political winds.

As a legislator, Lieberman has been more than just talk. Invoking the public-interest standard and the interests of children, he has advocated codes of conduct for TV and suggested tying content to license renewals. Likening media companies to tobacco companies, he voted for a law that would have banned violent TV programming during the day. In short, he is comfortable using his bully pulpit to bully the media into following his lead on content. In combination with the new family-values candidate, Al Gore, this ticket could prove a nightmare for TV and radio programmers.

Talking about political weather vanes, candidate Gore was looking the part last week when he joined the DNC in turning his back on one of his own party, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, for hosting a fundraiser at the Playboy mansion. Forget that the media company is run by a smart, savvy woman or that its top executives have never turned a deaf-bunny ear to the party's pleas for money, the Democrats are hanging Sanchez out to dry in their attempt to outmoralize the Moral Majority. Since when did becoming a centrist mean joining with would-be censors from the other side? The Clinton sex scandal was bad, but reacting to it by recasting themselves into finger-wagging puritans makes Democrats look like hypocrites desperate to win an election. If they succeed, the media can only hope this is merely old-fashioned grandstanding and not new-fashion policy.