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Are Hollywood Democrats Being Hypocritical in Supporting Joe Lieberman?

Aired August 10, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET




SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to stand with parents across this country who are working so hard to raise PG kids in an X-Rated society.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Nobody has been a bigger critic of Hollywood than Joe Lieberman. So are Hollywood Democrats now being hypocritical in supporting him?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, in Los Angeles, television writer, producer and screenwriter, John Romano and radio talk show host Dennis Prager.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. This weekend, Hollywood is rolling out the red carpet one last time for best pals, Bill and Hillary Clinton -- stars and studio holding fund raisers for Bill's presidential library and Hillary's Senate race. And Barbra Streisand is raising $2.5 million for the DNC. Oh yes, by the way, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman will be in Los Angeles too.

Are they going to get the same warm welcome? Maybe not. As senator, Lieberman gave Hollywood fits by teaming up with conservatives Bill Bennett and Delores Tucker to hand out Silver Sewer Awards for trash on TV, records, and the big screen.


LIEBERMAN: No, I love movies, I love television. I'm just asking them to give us better stuff.


PRESS: Al Gore, whose wife Tipper first crusaded for music industry ratings has jumped on board, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we must demand more restraint and responsibility from those who send these violent images in the path of our children.


PRESS: But now that Gore and Lieberman are the ticket, will Hollywood Democrats continue their criticism of him, or will they bite their tongues and pretend all is for given?

Bob Novak is already in L.A. checking things out -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Yes, we are waiting for you, Bill.

Mr. Romano, Tim Goodman, the TV critic of the "San Francisco Examiner" has written that the three politicians that Hollywood hates the most are John McCain, William Bennett and Joseph Lieberman. Now McCain and Bennett are Republicans, but Senator Lieberman is the Democratic vice presidential nominee. How does it make you feel that your party has named one of the three people you hate the most?

JOHN ROMANO, TV WRITER/PRODUCER/SCREENWRITER: I'm not sure of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm not sure it's a fair assessment that Joe Lieberman is one of three people Hollywood hates the most. I suppose if we're talking about his characterizing something that we talk about as Hollywood liberals, I think it's a fair description of a lot of people I know and work with in the industry.

That's -- let's say about that group of people that they have been very unhappy with some of the simpler-minded finger-pointing that has been done after the horrible incidents like Columbine, to suddenly hear what was really going on was that these people were watching too much television or listening to the wrong music. That seemed simple- minded and worthy of the kind of response that I think it got from Hollywood.

However, the other thing to say about those of us here -- you're asking this question -- is that there are many issues on our minds aside from our own dealings with government, the threat of government repression. I mean, this is a group, for example, that cares passionately about pro-choice. In the conversations I've had lately, the Supreme Court nominations are very much on everyone's mind. This is a California industry and therefore, Gore's interest in the environment is very important to us.

You're not going to see this become the one issue that turns aside this group which is powerful in its influence and very ready and generous with its financial support. Because on this issue, we do indeed as a group tend to disagree with some of the simpler statements made, for example, in the Bennett-Lieberman proposal. And I see very little in the appeal to Hollywood that they co-authored that I agree with. It doesn't make me less of a Democrat. And, you know, it doesn't -- it isn't going to decide my vote.

PRESS: John, while we fix that -- John, let me just interrupt. While we fix that earpiece of yours, let me just turn to Dennis Prager here for a second.

And Dennis, you and I have worked together at KABC radio in Los Angeles years ago, but it has been a while. So, before we jump into things, I would like you to help me remind everybody exactly what Joe Lieberman is saying and what he stands for. Here is Joe Lieberman just the other night on "LARRY KING LIVE". Please listen up.


LIEBERMAN: I've got to stand by my principles. I got into this as a father. And I think Bill Bennett did as well. I watched some of the stuff that my youngest child, my daughter Hana, was watching when she was five. And I hated the message it was sending her about violence and about sex and about respect and civility. So, what we have done is reach out and call out to folks in Hollywood and in the record industry, the video game industry, television, and say: Exercise some self-restraint.


PRESS: Now, Dennis, I think I know you well enough to know that you agree with everything he said, don't you?


PRESS: I do.

PRAGER: I mean, yes, who doesn't agree with that? There's a lot of junk on TV. There's a lot of junk in movies. There's a lot of junk in music. And it would be very nice if people exercised self- restraint, but the truth of the matter is, being a parent -- and my youngest is seven -- the truth is the burden is on us. I don't expect Hollywood to change. And I don't let me seven-year-old watch TV. He watches great movies on video and DVD.

And that protects his innocence and lets him see great films. So I got the best of both worlds.


PRESS: You should at least let him watch CROSSFIRE, Dennis, but I just want to follow up. So what's the beef with John McCain? It seems to me you should be embracing somebody on a national ticket who has these values even if he happens to be a Democrat.

NOVAK: Joseph Lieberman, you mean, not John McCain.

PRESS: I'm sorry, did I say


PRESS: I meant to say Lieberman.

PRAGER: Oh, you mean the charge against Hollywood for being hypocritical? Is that what you're referring to?


PRAGER: I don't think Hollywood for what John said. John and I, I suspect, don't agree politically. But I don't believe it's hypocritical of Hollywood liberals to support the Democrats. The Democratic ticket is governed by the presidential candidate. The vice president has less power than the superintendent of my building. I mean, it doesn't matter who is vice president unless he becomes president. So the fact is that there is a liberal versus a conservative running for president and people should vote accordingly.

If you like trial lawyers and you like the teachers unions, you vote Democrat, and if you don't, you vote Republican. For me, this is not rocket science.

ROMANO: But...

NOVAK: But I heard -- just a minute Mr. Romano -- I heard one of the most interesting things today. The very able governor of California, Gray Davis, was on "INSIDE POLITICS." And Judy Woodruff asked him a question about how he felt about Joe Lieberman being on the ticket. Well, Governor Davis praised Senator Lieberman, said that he thought that everybody should be proud of their work. And then he said something that just fascinated me. And let's listen to what he said this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "INSIDE POLITICS") GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Ninety-five percent of the entertainment industry does a solid job, inspires us, entertains us, and by and large, I'm proud of what they do.


NOVAK: Which we see in the filth on television, on the movies, do you -- can anybody take that seriously that 95 percent of the entertainment industry is doing a terrific job?

ROMANO: Well, there are a number of things -- there are a numbers of ways to come at that question. I mean, when people have tried to measure and calibrate and quantify how much violence there is in television, the results have often been silly. I mean, I think that the only way to describe the kinds of studies -- recently "New York Times" featured a piece on 30 years of research on the topic of how much violence there is on television, how much it affects kids -- the only way to describe that is bad science.

It listed among violent events everything from Road Runner dropping a brick on the Rabbit -- or whatever the heck he is -- to important and necessarily and artistically valuable violence on, say, "NYPD Blue," to things on MTV that I certainly don't want my kids watching -- though I don't want the government making that decision. I think that when you start -- when we talking about how much violence there is on television and how much violence there is in Hollywood, our I.Q. tends to drop very fast.

We start quantifying things in a ridiculous way. When I -- before I was in Hollywood, I use to teach English at Columbia University in New York and I had -- like all young assistant professors -- we had to teach a course called Literary Humanities, which covered the great books. Of those 12 books -- Homer, the Shakespeare we did, Dante, Song of Roland -- seven or eight were not only violent, but too violent for network television.

I now know as a TV producer that I can't do book six of the "Iliad": too violent. And it -- should I get it onto the screen in a motion picture and it shows up in your -- in anybody's quantification -- of how much violence there is in TV, what they're basically doing is saying that Homer isn't good for your kids. You're allowed to make that judgment as a parent, so put the "Iliad" on a really high shelf, so they can't get it.

PRESS: Hey Dennis.


PRESS: I know you can hear me.


PRESS: Tell John we are going take a break here.


NOVAK: We are going to have take a break. And we want you to take CROSSFIRE online. Tonight's guests answer your questions after the show at

And we will be back after this message to talk about, is it really hypocritical for Democrats to, for Hollywood, to back Joe Lieberman?


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

What a delicious situation: Joe Lieberman, the arch enemy of Hollywood, is put on the national ticket of Hollywood's very own political party. What's the entertainment industry to do? We are asking John Romano, a television writer/producer and screenwriter who was executive producer of "Party of Five" and "Third Watch," and Dennis Prager, who is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host -- Bill.

PRESS: Dennis Prager, I'd like you to help me pop a hole into this theory that Hollywood somehow is going to be cool to Al Gore and Joe Lieberman because of what they have said about Hollywood. I remember, Dennis, the first big critic of Hollywood was Bill Clinton. I was there in 1993 at the CAA headquarters at Wilshire in Santa Monica when he blasted Hollywood.

He has held White House summits on violence in the movies. He had a Department of Justice investigation started about what Hollywood was doing about violence in the movies. Don't you -- and yet, Hollywood has embraced like nobody else. Don't you think if Hollywood could put their arms around Bill Clinton, they are going to do the same thing for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman?

PRAGER: They are going to do the same thing for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman because their party is the Democratic Party; 99 percent of the people -- at least who have come out of the closet -- let me explain that -- are liberals in Hollywood. A guy called my radio show -- I swear this is the truth -- a guy called in a few years ago. He said Dennis: I'm an actor in Hollywood and I'm gay. And it's been absolutely nothing to come out of the closet as gay. But I'm also a Republican and I remain in the closet. I will not let anybody know that I'm a Republican.

So, Hollywood understands -- these people are not dummies -- they understand that it is very difficult to be a Republican or a conservative in Hollywood. And they will support the liberal party. And so it doesn't matter who heads it. But it will not be the same, because Al Gore does not love to be in the same room as an actor or actress as much as Mr. Clinton. Mr. Clinton would rather be with a Hollywood group than, I even believe, Arkansas politicians.

PRESS: Well, let me just suggest that there may even be another motive. And I agree with you on the fact that they will support Gore and Lieberman. Jeff Katzenberg, one of the heads of DreamWorks, has said in yesterday "L.A. Times" -- or a couple of days ago in the "L.A. Times" -- quote -- "This election is going to set the course of this country for the next decade in terms of education, health care, patients rights, gun control, and campaign finance reform. To think that somehow or other, Hollywood is going to find itself at the center of the important issues facing us today, I think is suspect at best, and unlikely in the least."

He's right, isn't he, Dennis? I mean, there are a lot of other issues and Hollywood is probably one of the least of them.

PRAGER: Right, who said this? They were talking into my phone, I'm sorry. Whose quote did you just read?

PRESS: I'm sorry, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is one of the heads of DreamWorks.

PRAGER: Right, and that Hollywood will or will not be at the center, he said?

PRESS: He said it will not, because there are so many other issues about health care and patients' rights. And that's what the election is...

PRAGER: That's right. I agree with that.


PRAGER: You see, the irony is it should be at the center of me as a parent's life. I -- it is inconceivable to me that Hollywood will stop producing junk. And it doesn't only produce junk. It also produces some decent stuff. But it is not going to happen. You know, if Rome produced gladiator fights, America will produce "Survivor." All right, I mean, that's just the way it is. That's human nature.

It is my task to imbibe minimally. I'm a believer in moderate vice, so that one can restrict television viewing to an hour a night. There's no harm in it. Beyond that, as you get higher and higher in numbers, you get lower and lower in happiness, in satisfaction and in success in life.

NOVAK: Mr. Romano, I think it goes a little beyond that. I mean, I think it's just amazing. I mean, Joe Lieberman has really been rough on the entertainment industry. And you people are just embracing him. And I think the guy who got it right is somebody named Michael Levine, who is a Hollywood publicist and author, and he said it straight in "Daily Variety" Tuesday.

He said: "I think Hollywood is so firmly entrenched in the Democratic sensibility that there is almost nothing" -- nothing -- "that the Democrats could do to alienate Hollywood." That's about right, isn't it?

ROMANO: Well, my thought is that you're making it sound -- and I don't know -- I didn't read Mr. Levine's piece, but that emphasis suggests that there is something hypocritical about that. Or it's a cynical suggestion that if you find that a group of people remain loyal to a point of view, to a party, to a group of leaders, even though the policies that may affect their particular -- that may gore their particular ox -- if you stay with them in spite of that, because you care about the things they care about -- education, health care -- things that are very high on the agenda of the people I know working in Hollywood.

And if you overlook the fact that: Yes, we may have a fight on our hands to protect some First Amendment freedom about what we do. We may still be looking at ideas like the V-chip, but these other things are more important to us. That's another way of saying: Why would one be so surprised in a free economy and a free system to find that a group was looking beyond its own economic interest for the moment and saying: As a citizen, I want these men as my president and vice president -- which is I think, the way Hollywood feels about Gore and Lieberman, and will argue the heck out on that issue.

NOVAK: OK, Mr. Romano, you don't think that Hollywood is being hypocritical, but maybe the Democrats are being hypocritical right now. You know, Joe Andrew, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is having a fit because -- an absolute fit -- because Loretta Sanchez is giving a -- Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California -- is giving a fund raiser at the Playboy Mansion of Hugh Hefner here in Los Angeles.

And he says that if she goes ahead with this fund raiser, she will be sanctioned -- sanctioned -- by the national Democratic Party. Now at the same time, Hugh Hefner and his daughter Christie, have given $8500 to Al Gore for his campaign the last couple of years. Is that not hypocrisy that they accept the money, but they have a fit because they are playing to a different constituency about this fund raiser at the Playboy Mansion? ROMANO: I don't think you could expect that the Democratic Party will cease to think like Hollywood producers about how a certain kind of presentation plays. Is the Hugh Hefner mansion a great place to have your cause brooded about? Someone may make a judgment that that's just not smart in terms of how it will play to the public.

NOVAK: But then why take the money, why take the money from Hugh Hefner then?

ROMANO: Again, it seems to me that the commitment of Holly -- all I can really comment about is Hollywood's commitment to the Democrats. And yes, we have a problem with Lieberman's issues, but our commitment is really motivated by other issues. And even...


PRESS: John, let me just interrupt, John.


PRESS: Go ahead, real quickly.

ROMANO: Even on the issue of violence, if people really care about the violence we see coming out of children, violence in the inner city, we're really concerned about incidents like Columbine, everybody knows what the answer is. Really, there are solutions that work. If we can spend more on education. And who is more likely to do that, the Democrats or the Republicans?

PRESS: All right, John. John, we're almost out of time. Let me go back to Dennis.

Dennis, I want to ask you about this fund raiser at the Playboy Mansion. Don't you think this is gross overreaction on the part of the DNC, I mean, it almost gets to the point of they're trying to act like the Vatican, saying you can't have a party at the Playboy Mansion. I mean, isn't this ridiculous?

PRAGER: Well, no, I understand its sensitivity on that. If it picks Joe Lieberman and the vice presidential candidate and presidential candidate say a prayer and invoke God 12 times and then have a fund raiser at, you know, at the mecca of hedonism and nudity...


PRESS: But, Dennis, they're not doing it. It's a Democratic congresswoman who's having it.

PRAGER: You're right. Yes, I understand the sensitivity there on why they would -- it's funny, I mean, you put me in the horrendous position of defending the Democrats here. You know, my listeners are probably wondering if this is the real me. But, I mean, that makes sense. The only thing I just want to say to John is that, you know, the thought of spending more on education -- I mean, you know, if when it comes to the policies, I just -- the last thing we need is spend more on education and give the bureaucracy more money. You see, the vouchers, that's where I was disappointed to hear that Mr. Lieberman changed his mind.

PRESS: That's leading us, as you know, into a whole new direction, Dennis Prager.

PRAGER: I know. I know.

PRESS: And we're out of time. Can't go there tonight.

Dennis Prager, thank you so much for being with us. John Romano, thank you for being there. And I'll be out there in Hollywood with you just later tonight, as a matter of fact. But, in just a couple minutes, Bob Novak and I will be back with our closing comments.


PRESS: Now, you can find out what's coming up in the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for a daily e-mail sent free of charge telling you what we are planning for that night. Log onto to sign up for your daily CROSSFIRE e-mail.

PRESS: OK, don't miss your chance to throw questions about politics and Hollywood at tonight's guests. They will be around right after the show at and we are packing our bags again. Tomorrow Bob and I will be in Los Angeles -- CROSSFIRE with a special preview of the Democratic Convention. And then join us Sunday night for a special edition of CROSSFIRE at our regular time, 7:30 Eastern, live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. We're making CROSSFIRE your convention headquarters.

Bob, I just want you to know, I have got my invitation to the Playboy Mansion right here. I'm going to go, Bob. I think Hugh Hefner and Christie Hefner are great Americans. They should not be vilified.

NOVAK: I know you'll fit right in there, Bill, too, I'm sure with all the Playgirls.

PRESS: You bet. You bet.

NOVAK: I will. You know, the reason that entertainment industry swallows Bill Clinton when he criticized them -- even Joe Lieberman, after all the nasty things he said -- is that they don't think they're on the level. They don't think they really mean it. They think -- as Jack Valenti says -- they are pandering, pandering to the American people, I guess. And I think they're right.

PRESS: I think they just support their issues, Bob. I'll see you out there later tonight.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.



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