LOS ANGELES -- Vice President Al Gore raised a lot of Hollywood eyebrows the other day when he bit the hand that has been feeding him by embracing a scathing Federal Trade Commission study accusing the entertainment industry of marketing violence to teen-agers.
The Democratic presidential nominee, the beneficiary of millions of dollars in soft-money campaign contributions from the liberal Hollywood set, warned movie, television and recording executives that if they don't clean up their act in six months, he will seek stronger FTC regulative authority from Congress.
Mr. Gore called first for a voluntary "immediate cease-fire" by the industry on the sorts of advertisements run on television cartoon shows and even in comic books peddling so-called adult fare to kids in spite of the warning ratings the material bears. If that doesn't work, he said, and a tighter code on self-policing isn't adopted, he will push for the legislation.
Mr. Gore's threat assumes that he'll be sitting in the Oval Office in six months, a circumstance that his Hollywood contributors devoutly want in spite of his lashing out at what he called unfair and illegal practices by the industry. They are a politically sophisticated bunch who recognize that the Democratic nominee, in his attack, is probably helping himself with women voters who have begun to move in greater numbers since his party's convention here.
Evidence of the Hollywood set's unshaken commitment to Mr. Gore is that two more big fund-raisers hosted by movie and television figures are to be held next week, one Monday night co-hosted by actor/producer Rob Reiner and another later in the week in Silicon Valley.
According to Andy Spann, a vice president of DreamWorks SKG, each is expected to raise $2 million. Other sponsors, he says, include Alan Horn, chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers, Haim Saban, head of the Fox Family network and Jeff Katzenberg of DreamWorks.
What's at stake in the November election, Mr. Spann says, "are a lot larger important issues" than those directly affecting Hollywood, including economic growth, education, health care, abortion rights and the environment. "Whatever disagreements we have we will argue out after the election. Any rational human being looking at violence in America will look to access to guns," individual stress and other factors that contribute to teen-age violence.
Mr. Reiner says: "I don't think anybody is thrilled about government regulation of marketing practices. But beyond that there is much greater interest [among his colleagues] than the parochial interests in our business." He predicts even increased Hollywood support for Mr. Gore between now and November.
Without having to worry about a serious backlash from his friends in the entertainment industry, Mr. Gore has seized upon parental revulsion toward violence in movies, television, recordings and videos as a way to reinforce his claim as a defender of family values.
In doing so, he is challenging Republican nominee George W. Bush for the same mantle, and Mr. Gore's threat of more regulation can pose a political dilemma for the Texas governor. Mr. Bush routinely rails in his stump remarks against excessive regulation and interference "from Washington, D.C."
His first comment on the FTC report was to say he will "absolutely work with the CEOs of Hollywood ... who produce products that oftentimes pollute our children's minds," adding, "but I'm going to remind moms and dads [that] their biggest responsibility is to make sure their children are not watching and/or playing with these violent games."
Bush aides were quick to draw attention to a meeting Mr. Gore had more than a year ago with Hollywood executives in which he was reported to have told them the FTC study was President Clinton's idea and that he was never consulted about ordering it. This report cast Mr. Gore as a hypocrite in coming out now so strongly in support of its findings castigating the entertainment industry.
For now, though, Mr. Gore seems to be having his cake and eating it too --playing the family-values card at the expense of his Hollywood supporters while continuing to rake in more millions in campaign help. At a time the Bush campaign is seen as struggling, it's got to be maddening for the folks in Austin.
Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from The Sun's Washington Bureau.