NEWS ANALYSIS : Hollywood Money Blunts Clinton’s Barbs : Politics: President treads carefully in critique of industry. Unlike Dole, he does not lay blame for eroding values primarily on popular culture.
After Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) unleashed his recent attack on Hollywood, President Clinton hastened to proclaim his own credentials as a spokesman for American virtue against the depredations of the entertainment industry.
The White House quickly released a five-page summary of Clinton’s comments on Hollywood and violence as part of its “me too” effort. But the President’s remarks have significantly less edge than Dole’s--and with good reason.
Hollywood money has been a mainstay of Democratic campaigns for years, and top industry officials have been among Clinton’s most generous sponsors.
For example, in the 1992 election cycle, Time Warner Inc., the media giant singled out by Dole as purveyor of some of America’s most depraved music, and its executives gave more than twice as much money ($1.49 million) to Clinton, other Democratic candidates and the party itself as the entertainment industry as a whole gave to Republicans ($640,000).
Overall money figures show that Hollywood favors Democrats by overwhelming margins: For the 1992 elections, 86% of the money given by the entertainment industry through political action committees or individual contributions went to Democrats; in 1994, in the face of strong Republican challenges to congressional Democrats, the number rose slightly to 87%.
White House officials say Hollywood’s generosity to the Democrats makes Clinton’s criticism of the industry that much more courageous.
“It’s easy to criticize those who will never support you anyway, as Dole did. But what takes courage is to say these things to your friends, as Clinton has done with violence and Hollywood,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House director of special projects who has frequent contacts with entertainment industry figures.
The White House aides point to a consistent Clinton record of chastising Hollywood for what he called in this year’s State of the Union Address “the incessant, repetitive, mindless violence and irresponsible conduct” portrayed in movies, television and music.
And yet Clinton’s language has been in the more-in-sorrow vein compared to Dole’s podium-pounding condemnation of Hollywood for debasing the culture with “nightmares of depravity.”
White House officials insist that Clinton has not pulled his punches when it comes to his wealthy Hollywood friends, but there is undeniably a gentler tone to his critique.
The differences between Clinton and Dole are more than stylistic.
Clinton, like Dole, believes that traditional values and the American family are under attack today as never before. But he does not lay the blame chiefly on the doorstep of popular culture.
“I don’t believe in censorship, and I don’t believe in singling Hollywood out,” Clinton said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” program two weeks ago. “I agree with a lot of what Sen. Dole said. . . . But I think that we need to do this in a spirit, not of dividing each other, but of asking everybody to come forward and be accountable.”
In Clinton’s view, the most pressing threats to American families are economic: stagnant wages, unaffordable health care and longer working hours that allow parents less time with their children.
Clinton argues that poverty, drugs, poor schools, gun availability and irresponsible parents, as well as the drumbeat of sex and violence in the media, contribute to America’s social problems.
Clinton takes issue with Dole and other Republicans--from former Vice President Dan Quayle to former Education Secretary William J. Bennett--who believe that cultural pollution and lack of personal responsibility are the chief causes of the violence and despair in American life.
The President believes that music and movies play a part, but only a part. His answer lies not only in more upbeat messages from the media but also in more economic opportunity, more gun control, more police officers, more effective education--all of which bear a cost to the public purse.
“We have cultural problems and economic and political challenges in this country, and we should not permit Washington to be divided over what is essentially a phony choice,” Clinton said last week at a White House ceremony to swear in police officers hired under last year’s anti-crime legislation. “Keep in mind, often when we talk about cultural problems up here, we’re looking for an excuse not to do our part and assume our responsibility.”
Clinton’s message is vastly more appealing to Hollywood than Dole’s, and the difference shows in the stark discrepancies in fund raising.
Contributions from individuals in the entertainment field are skewed, 9 to 1, toward the Democratic Party and its candidates, according to a Times analysis of Federal Election Commission records. From 1991 through 1994, reliable Democratic contributors--including David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Norman Lear, Lew R. Wasserman, Michael D. Eisner and Sherry Lansing--have given Democrats $5.7 million, compared with total Hollywood contributions to Republicans of $665,000.
Political spending by Hollywood political action committees is also heavily Democratic, although the difference is less dramatic, in part because business PACs tend to be less ideological than individual donors, and corporations generally prefer powerful incumbents of either party over challengers.
Still, from 1991 to 1994, Hollywood PACs gave 72% of their total of $1.3 million in contributions to Democrats.
Executives of Time Warner, the nation’s largest entertainment conglomerate, were even more one-sided, showering 83% of their political money on Democrats over the past four years.
The company’s close association with Democrats in 1992 was underscored by gifts to the party to help pay for that year’s convention in New York.
Time Warner and its executives gave $515,114 to the convention host committee that helped pay for Democratic Party advertising, television cable installation and gifts to delegates. Time Warner’s late chairman, Steve Ross, spent $14,071 for a reception for the site-selection committee, which he reported as an in-kind donation to the party.
While Dole’s assault on Hollywood carries little risk, Clinton exposes himself to some danger, and not chiefly because he may jeopardize the financial support of the generally liberal entertainment community, which is unlikely to bolt for the GOP.
The larger risk is that the American people will find his message of individual responsibility and sexual restraint not credible because of his own reputation for undisciplined personal behavior.
“The President likes this issue. He likes to talk about this issue. But it is dangerous for him to talk about it, as he knows,” said Bennett, who advised Dole on his Hollywood speech and who is leading his own crusade against Time Warner for producing music that contains offensive lyrics.
“If the public thinks you’re cynical about it or just using it to advance yourself, it will hurt you,” Bennett added. “I admire Clinton’s courage to talk about it because he knows he can be bitten by it.”
Times researchers Murielle Gamache, Gary Feld and Padraic Cassidy contributed to this story.