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Bennett: Lieberman Soft on Industry

September 20, 2000

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Former Education Secretary William Bennett, one of Joseph Lieberman’s closest Republican allies, accused the Democratic vice presidential candidate Wednesday of going soft on the entertainment industry.

Bennett and Lieberman have teamed up for three years to issue annual ``Silver Sewer″ awards to media outlets that they deem ``cultural polluters″ and Lieberman has promoted the V-chip device to help parents control what their children see on TV. But Bennett accused his friend Wednesday of compromising his beliefs about the entertainment industry for political reasons.

``He remains my friend, but I cannot defend this,″ the former Reagan administration official said in a telephone interview. ``I’m deeply disappointed. He so softly voiced his criticisms in Hollywood that he was barely audible.″

Lieberman spokeswoman Kiki McLean said Lieberman is ``disappointed that Mr. Bennett feels that way.″ She said Gore and Lieberman have shown courage in being willing to criticize their own supporters. ``Al Gore and Joe Lieberman have said that marketing violence to children is wrong,″ she said.

A week after threatening Hollywood with sanctions for marketing violence to kids, Gore and Lieberman seemed to soften their tone at a star-studded Beverly Hills fund-raiser earlier this week. Lieberman told leaders of the entertainment industry that, ``We will nudge you, but we will never become censors.″

The event raised $4.2 million for the Democratic National Committee. Guests paid $10,000 each to mingle with actors Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks, among others.

At the Los Angeles fund-raiser, Lieberman said he and Gore are ``both fans of the products that come out of the entertainment industry _ not all of them, but a lot of them.″

``And it’s true,″ Lieberman said, ``from time to time we will have been _ and will be _ critics or nudges. But I promise you this, that we will never, never put the government in the position of telling you by law, through law, what to make.″

Republicans have accused Gore and Lieberman of hypocrisy for criticizing the industry’s conduct and then accepting campaign cash from Hollywood.

Bennett said Wednesday: ``Joe Lieberman and I were not engaged in nudging the industry. We were engaged in shaming the industry.″

Bennett also contended that Lieberman should have ``walked out″ of the fund-raiser when Larry David, producer of the now-ended ``Seinfeld″ TV series, made a joke about Jesus. David said, ``Like (Republican rival George W.) Bush, I too found Christ in my 40s. He came into my room one night. And I said, ’What, no call? You just pop in?‴

Bennett said the remark was inappropriate and offensive to Christians. After the fund-raiser, Lieberman had said that he thought David was ``very funny.″

McLean said Wednesday that Lieberman ``is somebody who has great respect for faith.″

As recently as two weeks ago, Bennett was defending Lieberman’s expressions of his religious faith on the campaign trail, saying the senator from Connecticut was merely following a national tradition of politicians speaking out about religion.

When Lieberman’s selection as the vice presidential candidate was announced in August, Bennett responded, ``He’s my favorite Democrat.″

Bennett said in a Wednesday news release that he was reconsidering his earlier praise of Al Gore for selecting Lieberman as a running mate. ``Recent events have caused me to reevaluate my opinion.″

A report last week by the Federal Trade Commission charged the industry with aggressively marketing violent films, music and video games to young children. Report in hand, Gore and Lieberman urged sanctions against the industry unless it stops marketing violence to kids within six months.

Lieberman was in Ohio on Wednesday to promote a patients’ bill of rights, which would guarantee certain minimum standards of health care.

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