WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno, who never struck me as someone who spent a lot of time in front of the boob tube, has now completed her analysis of television in America:
It is violent. There are rapes on TV, murders on TV and bloody assaults on TV.
And you should see what they put on after the evening news is over.
It will not do, Reno announced Wednesday. If the TV networks and Hollywood studios don't clean up their acts, Congress will have to impose its own impeccable sense of values upon them.
"The regulation of violence is constitutionally permissible," Reno told the Senate Commerce Committee, whose members were quick to nod their agreement.
Nobody, however, asked Reno the obvious question:
"If we ban all violence on TV and in the movies, how soon can you promise us a reduction in crime?"
The honest answer to that question would have been: "Never."
That's because the violence we see on TV and in the movies is a reflection of the violence in our society, it is not the cause of the violence in our society.
But people are frustrated. We have spent billions battling crime. Our drug laws have gotten stricter. Our jails have never been so full.
Has crime been reduced? Are we safer? No.
But if we can't find new solutions, we can find new villains: It is the networks that are causing the murder and mayhem. It is the movie studios.
(Though this does not explain why America suffered periods of extreme violence before there were either movies or television: The murder rate in Los Angeles in the 1850s was 19 times greater than today.)
The entertainment industry is a fat and easy target. Who cannot take a little pleasure at seeing those seven-figure-a-year network presidents and studio bosses squirming under the lights in the congressional hearing rooms?
But if you really want to see somebody squirm, just ask the members of Congress this question:
"Since guns on TV and in the movies don't really kill anybody, but guns in real life do, why hasn't Congress passed the Brady bill yet? Why hasn't Congress passed a ban on semi-automatic weapons yet?"
Those things Congress finds difficult. In comparison, beating up the entertainment industry is easy.
Especially since that industry is already beginning to cave in.
The Walt Disney Co. is cutting scenes from a movie already in release because two teen-agers were killed when they were dumb enough, misguided enough or drunk enough to imitate the scene in real life.
I'm genuinely sorry for those kids. But blaming Disney for those deaths is like blaming the ending of "Romeo and Juliet" for teen suicide.
As long as Disney is so eager to preserve its wholesome image, however, it should be consistent. And it better cut the scene from "Snow White" where the dwarfs chase the wicked queen off the cliff. And the scene from "Alice in Wonderland" where the queen yells: "Off with their heads!" And the scene from "Bambi" where Bambi's mother gets killed by a hunter.
And speaking of "Bambi," do you realize how many forest fires we have had in this country since that movie was released?
Nor can a campaign against fictional violence be limited to TV and movies. Kids get violence from books, too. And the youngest kids are the most vulnerable.
So we better burn all books in which three blind mice get their tails cut off with a carving knife and Hansel and Gretel push the witch into an oven.
And, while we are at it, the Bible is not the most non-violent book I have ever read. There is a lot of smiting going on. David hurls a stone into Goliath's forehead with enough force to kill him, for example. How many kids might imitate that?
The problem is not new. Kids have been tying towels around their necks for decades and jumping off high objects to imitate Superman.
Banning Superman was not the answer. Teaching kids the difference between fantasy and reality was.
It still is. Congress cannot do for your children what you will not do for them. It cannot spend time with them. It cannot teach them values.
Congress does have a role to play, however.
If it wants to do something meaningful about violence in this country, it should remove guns from our streets, not our screens.