Bozell: Why Isn't TV Sleaze a Campaign Issue?

In his culture column this week, Brent Bozell wonders why on Earth the GOP doesn't have the wherewithal to attack the sleaze in Hollywood entertainment? Polls show a sizable majority are disgusted. But maybe it's because Hollywood is the big Democratic beehive you don't want to disturb. Or maybe by picking on TV network entertainment divisions, you're also picking on TV network news divisions. Or fussing about indecency makes you look square to independents? Whatever the reason, it's another season of never mind:

Looking back at the fall campaign, it’s yet another cycle in which the Republican political brain trust sidestepped the issue of America’s growing concern for indecency oozing out of almost every perfumed pore of Hollywood. This time it may have been the fatal mistake. The number one issue of importance coming out of the ’04 elections was “moral values,” thus presenting the GOP with the opportunity to pounce on the indecency issue during the ’06 campaign. I visited with one Republican incumbent running for re-election and suggested that this would be an ideal theme for his campaign. He responded that in all his years in the Senate he’d never received as much constituency mail as what landed in his mail box, his email and his voice mail following the Janet Jackson Super Bowl striptease. But he also left me with the clear impression, validated later by his campaign performance, that he’d do nothing on this front.Republican strategists pull muscles just thinking about Dan Quayle scorning the “Murphy Brown” single-mom plot in 1992. Here and there was an exception. In TV ads in Pennsylvania, family-values stalwart Sen. Rick Santorum told voters “I'm even working with Hillary Clinton to limit inappropriate material in children’s video games, because it makes more sense to wrestle with America's problems than with each other.” I’m sure a few other candidates had throw-away lines in their stump speeches. But there was nothing of substance, nothing serious coming out of this crowd.And it was a lost opportunity in another way. The biggest rap against the GOP from its conservative base has been its do-nothing approach to governance, yet on the issue of decency the Republicans could point to a smashing legislative accomplishment. Still, no one could seem to locate the fact that on June 15, President Bush signed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which act increased tenfold the potential of FCC fines to those who continue to violate the public trust by pouring garbage on the public airwaves. The House version of the bill passed in June by a 379-35 margin, and the Senate passed it by unanimous consent – no roll call vote. It was a smashing success, exactly in line with the sentiments of the vast majority of Americans. So why the campaign silence? Maybe it’s because, as with so many other “values” issues, the Republican leadership was never enthusiastic. It’s important to note that it took the Republicans in the Senate two and a half years after the Janet Jackson breast-baring to pass their version of the bill – and they did so only after massive constituency pressure. Brent also notes that reform ideas like providing viewers with more choice in what cable channels they buy have lost miserably in Congress, perhaps due to massive lobbying "investments" by the cable industry.

Personally, I think it's weird that Hollywood’s defenders in Washington often declare their passion for the principle of freedom of speech as they defend bestiality, necrophilia, breast-baring, and F-bombs on television. But it’s odd that these people who are so fond of free expression when it’s perverse often don’t defend free speech when it’s political. Here's a fun fact: Of that tiny minority of 35 members of Congress who voted against higher FCC fines this summer, 30 of them voted in 2002 for the Shays-Meehan law cracking down on political groups from speaking the name of a federal candidate in the last 60 days of an election. (Four of the other five no votes this summer hadn’t been elected yet in 2002.) The other one is libertarian outlier Ron Paul.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis