- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

The connection between watching violence and actually taking a knife or gun to someone is not clear. The data runs to different directions. There's no last word.

The television networks insist there's no connection at all, and if that's true the networks owe their advertisers refunds. They charge them a lot of money on the theory that television commercials persuade people to buy a lot of stuff.

On the other hand, certain studies suggest that watching violence inoculates a young person with such fear and loathing that he won't actually turn violent himself. Other learned studies suggest that watching violence plants "how to" seeds for committing violent acts, desensitizing young psyches and lowering the threshold for enjoying it.

That's why the latest Federal Trade Commission report on its investigation into the marketing of violent video games and movies to children is both maddening and frustrating. We can believe the findings are valid, but we don't know exactly what to do about them beyond being outraged, not merely at the what's being marketed, but also at the marketers.

Al Gore and Joe Lieberman threaten the purveyors of violence with regulation six months after they take office if Hollywood doesn't clean up its act, but they know the First Amendment won't allow that, and the marketers of Hollywood trash know that, too. But Al and Joe took it all back, anyway, just to assuage hurt feelings in Beverly Hills.

The ambiguity lends itself to hypocrisy, as Joe Lieberman in particular has demonstrated. He made his reputation in Washington as a friend of beleaguered parents promising that "parents shouldn't be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children." That was before he felt the need to pander for cash. "Al and I have tremendous regard for this industry," he told that famous Beverly Hills bash-for-cash. He and Al will be no more than gentle "nudges," employing the Yiddish term for gentle naggers. That's having your Channukah gelt and spending it, too.

Al and Joe cheerfully forced a California congresswoman to cancel her fund-raiser at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles during their convention. But when $4.2 million swag was at stake the other night in Beverly Hills, the venue didn't matter.

Lynne Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the Reagan administration, asked an obvious but simple question in her recent testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee: "Shouldn't people of stature hold [the purveyors of trash and violence] to account?"

Women, she suggests, are now in a position to be heard as never before, and should focus on practical ways to shame those who traffic in violence against women. The rapper Eminem, for example, celebrates the pleasures of raping and murdering his mother. His records are produced and distributed by Interscope, owned by Seagram. Two women sit on Seagram's board. Lynne Cheney challenged them to take up the issue of corporate accountability, citing Eminem as evidence of corporate irresponsibility.

Mountains of persuasive data tell how an abused child is prone to grow up to be a violent adult. Many such children don't. It's impossible, given the rough tools of social science, to make the cause and effect connection. A lot of things make an impact on the lives of different children. We're discovering there may be a genetic component in human violence, but short of discovering something specific, such as a brain tumor or evidence of paranoid schizophrenia, we can't be certain of what it is.

Money, and lots of it, makes cleaning up the swill a difficult task. Teen-agers are going to spend $160 billion this year and a lot of it is spent on music and movies, a 60 percent increase over three years. Creators of violent fantasies in movies and records want their piece of it, and to hook the kids for tomorrow. When some of this cash overflows into the pockets of politicians, the clean-up gets all the more difficult, corroding the convictions even of good men. That's clear enough, if the causes of violence aren't. You could ask Al Gore and Joe Lieberman about that.

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