Criticizing "a media culture that so glorifies violence," President Clinton singled out three video games built around death and destruction, suggesting they contributed to the shootings by two disturbed teenagers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., last week.
In his weekly radio address, the president surveyed the breadth of American popular culture and found violence at nearly every turn. And he called on Hollywood to recognize its enormous reach.
"Video games like 'Mortal Kombat,' 'Killer Instinct' and 'Doom,' the very game played obsessively by the two young men who ended so many lives in Littleton, make our children more active participants in simulated violence," he said.
Clinton's words echoed--in some cases almost identically--those he chose 11 months ago. Then, in the wake of another horror, at a high school in Oregon in which two students were shot to death, he decried "a culture that too often glorifies violence."
The shootings have led Clinton to shift his attention in the midst of an extraordinary period--the confluence of the summit marking the 50th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the war that NATO is conducting against Yugoslavia--to an emotionally riveting and jagged tear in the nation's social fabric.
On Thursday, he visited a suburban Virginia high school, where he spent more than an hour listening to students talk about violence and peer pressure, and said he did not want to "blame the movies or blame the video games" for the Colorado tragedy.
Two days later, in his weekly radio address, Clinton said manufacturers of video games and the producers of Hollywood movies, as well as government and parents, all have a role.
Parents, he said, "should turn off the television, pay attention to what's on the computer screen, refuse to buy products that glorify violence."
"And to the media and entertainment industries, I say just this: You know you have enormous power to educate and entertain our children," the president added. "Yes, there should be a label on the outside of every video, but what counts is what's on the inside and what it will do to the insides of our young people. I ask you to make every video game and movie as if your own children were watching it."
The president used the radio address to draw attention to previously announced plans to propose legislation that would restrict the sale of guns and, in particular, ban violent youngsters from ever owning firearms.
He has also proposed modifications in education programs to provide $600 million to pay for, among other things, additional school counselors, conflict resolution activities, and emergency teams that would be dispatched to schools in response to such tragedies as the spate of school shootings over the last two years.
In the weekly Republican response to the president's speech, Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado asked why the young gunmen in Littleton did not understand that what they set out to do was "not just wrong, but evil."
"Or if they did understand, why did they not have enough moral sense to stop themselves, to seek the help they needed from a parent or relative, a clergyman or a doctor?" he asked.
Agreeing with Clinton about the impact of popular culture, Owens added: "We need to understand who and what feeds and profits from this dark subculture. And why is it that so many Americans patronize a mass media that all too often glorifies violence rather than condemns it?"
The question of the degree to which the diverse entertainment media is responsible for such tragedies, and other societal ills, is a troubling one across the American political spectrum.
Seven years ago, Dan Quayle, as vice president, made the pregnancy of an unmarried Murphy Brown on a television sitcom the focus of his campaign criticizing American values; in 1995, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who the next year became the Republican presidential candidate, described some movies and television programs as "nightmares of depravity."
Clinton, who has long political and personal ties with leading Hollywood figures, said in 1996 that he recognized the impact the popular media has on society, and that excessive violence "cannot help but affect the way we look at the world."
But, he said at the time, "you don't want to totally impair the creative process, and you don't want to say that nobody can ever produce a violent movie, no one can ever produce any kind of show that reflects the world as it is."