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Bennett: Lieberman Soft on Industry

September 20, 2000

CLEVELAND (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.″

In response, Lieberman said he was surprised by the remarks but would continue to be Bennett’s friend. He also wondered whether Bennett had been pressured by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush into making the comments.

``I wonder whether this is a sign of a campaign that’s faltering or kind of anxiously trying to regain the momentum,″ Lieberman said.

After threatening Hollywood with sanctions for marketing violence to kids, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and running mate 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.″

Lieberman said Wednesday that part of leadership is ``being willing to challenge your friends and supporters to do better.″ He said he would challenge Bush and running mate Dick Cheney to similarly challenge the oil and tobacco industries, and the National Rifle Association.

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 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 he thought David was ``very funny.″

Lieberman said Wednesday that he, too, was offended by the joke. ``I thought that part, particularly, was in bad taste. I winced when I heard it. But on the other hand that’s freedom of expression.″

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 Gore for selecting Lieberman as a running mate. ``Recent events have caused me to re-evaluate 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 guaranteeing minimum standards of health care. He also addressed more than 1,000 students, teachers and union members at a rally at Warrensville Heights High School and was raising $700,000 for the Democratic National Committee at three fund-raisers.