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Group’s Letters Call on CEOs to Clean Up Talk Shows’ Content : Media: Companies that produce the programs previously said they are providing entertainment.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Accelerating their campaign against TV talk shows that they say debase American culture, former Education Secretary William J. Bennett and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) on Wednesday sent letters to the chief executives of the corporations that make the programs.

“We’re calling on these corporations’ sense of corporate responsibility and asking them to exercise their authority to clean up these talk shows,” said Nicole Giddens, a spokeswoman for Bennett’s Empower America advocacy group.

The CEOs of Time Warner Inc., Sony Corp. of America, Viacom and the Tribune Co. are among the executives who will be receiving the letters. Giddens, who declined to reveal the exact contents of the correspondence, said that the emphasis was “positive, asking the shows themselves to make changes.”

If they don’t, she said, “we’ll continue our campaign. Our next step would be radio advertisements and mailing to the citizenry.”

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Empower America, which claims about half a million people on its mailing list, is preparing a mailing that would list the addresses of the corporations producing the talk shows that Bennett and Lieberman find offensive. The group also is preparing a radio ad with an 800 phone number soliciting comment and offering a packet of information.

Time Warner--which previously was the subject of political and stockholder pressure by Empower America and other groups protesting the violent content of some of its gangsta rap singers--produces the “Jenny Jones” and “Carnie” talk shows through its Warner Bros. television division.

A division of Sony produces the “Ricki Lake” show. Viacom produces the “Maury Povich” and “Montel Williams” programs. The Tribune Co. produces the “Geraldo Rivera” and “Charles Perez” shows.

Bennett and Lieberman are holding off on sending a letter to the Gannett Co., which is in the process of acquiring Multimedia Entertainment, which produces the “Sally Jessy Raphael” and “Jerry Springer” shows.

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At a news conference Oct. 26, Bennett, Lieberman and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) denounced the talk shows as “demeaning, exploitative, perverted, divisive or, at best, amoral.” Citing topics such as teen-aged prostitutes, fathers who molested their daughters, and young women sharing the same man, they contended that such programming diminishes both guest and viewer alike.

Bennett praised Oprah Winfrey for her decision to do less sensational fare on her syndicated talk show.

Spokespersons for Time Warner and Viacom declined comment Wednesday. Those involved with the programs previously have rejected criticism, saying they were providing entertainment that millions of Americans watch and enjoy every day.

Giddens said that a campaign to persuade advertisers to withdraw their support of the targeted talk shows would be “our final effort, after these others.”

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