Senate shift gives big boost to Lieberman

Jun 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, already a thorn in the side of many television networks and studios, is preparing to ratchet up his political assault on Hollywood now that his party controls the Senate.
Seizing on several new opportunities created by the unexpected power shift, the longtime media gadfly and likely 2004 presidential candidate will reach out to influential Democratic lawmakers for help in passing pending legislation designed to protect kids from violent, sexually explicit and profanity-laden media content.
The bill would arm the Federal Trade Commission with the authority to penalize movie, music and video game companies that market such fare to youngsters.
Sen. Lieberman plans to ask Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., the new head of the Senate Commerce Committee and an outspoken critic of media sex and violence, to hold hearings on the measure.
“I’m sure we’ll be talking with him,” said Dan Gerstein, spokesman for Sen. Lieberman.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut lawmaker will appeal directly to the new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., for help in moving the bill through the political process, the aide said.
Early last week, Sen. Lieberman was working on a “Dear colleague” letter intended to drum up support among other lawmakers for the measure, which so far has only two co-sponsors: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.
Many in the industry had initially dismissed the senator’s prospects for passing his FTC bill, but that was two months ago when no one could have imagined the reshuffled political deck that would put Sen. Lieberman in the majority party. Democratic control has also created a new soapbox for the senator in his ongoing effort to clean up programming. On June 5 he became chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee after serving as ranking minority member under the Republicans.
At first glance, Governmental Affairs may seem an unlikely venue for hearings on media issues, but they could fall within its purview, because the panel has a wide mandate to investigate matters of concern to American taxpayers and oversee the workings of government.
“It can really delve into many areas,” an industry source said. “It would give him a pretty wide berth.”
As the senator lays the early groundwork for his anticipated 2004 presidential bid, the allure of generating media attention with high-profile hearings on the ills of Hollywood should all but ensure attention by the committee.
To that end, Mr. Gerstein said discussions have been held at the staff level about having the panel tackle media-related matters.
Sen. Lieberman, the staffer noted, held hearings on media violence when he headed a Senate governmental affairs subcommittee several years ago.
Sen. Hollings is something of a kindred spirit to Sen. Lieberman when it comes to promoting family-friendly programming.
The junior senator from South Carolina has repeatedly introduced “safe-harbor” legislation that relegates gratuitously violent television content to late-night hours.
The measure has passed Senate Commerce before, and Sen. Hollings is expected to take a fresh stab at moving the legislation now that he’s replaced Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as panel chairman.