It was to have been a cozy breakfast on the Paramount lot, just the Vice President and the heads of the major movie studios and television networks discussing how to promote cancer awareness. Then Al Gore marched in with a rough cut of his own: a five-minute video of movie and television scenes in which the hottest stars--John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Winona Ryder among them--were smoking cigarettes. The 1997 power breakfast quickly became a food fight, with accusations of irresponsibility and censorship flying back and forth between Gore and the angry moguls.
Over the years, Al and Tipper Gore have had more than their share of tense moments with the entertainment industry. The uneasy relationship started with Tipper's crusade in the 1980s against smutty and violent rock lyrics. It has continued through Al's vice presidency, during which he played a key role in negotiating a voluntary TV-ratings system, a law requiring that new televisions be equipped with a V chip to help parents block out offensive programs, and a deal in which broadcasters agreed to provide three hours of educational children's television a week. In a televised forum on school violence on MSNBC with Tom Brokaw as co-host, after the Littleton tragedy last year, Gore startled his staff by blasting the network that ran the program for refusing to agree to the ratings system.
Last week he put even more heat on Hollywood, as the Federal Trade Commission released its report showing the lengths to which the entertainment industry goes in marketing mayhem and sex to children under 17. Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman, a longtime critic of the industry, vowed that if these companies don't change their selling practices, a Gore-Lieberman Administration would give the FTC new enforcement powers and prosecute them for false advertising.
By comparison, George W. Bush was nearly mute on what might have seemed an ideal issue for a Republican, commenting vaguely about the responsibilities of parents and movie theaters. It may be that his campaign decided that bashing Hollywood didn't work for Bob Dole in 1996. Or it could be that the entire subject is not particularly comfortable for a candidate who sat for 10 years on the board of Silver Screen Management Services Inc., a New York-based firm that financed more than two-dozen R-rated movies. The Hitcher, one of its films for Home Box Office (which is owned by this magazine's parent company), was described by reviewers as having a "massacre about every 15 minutes" and "gizzard-slitting depravity." A Bush-campaign spokesman said the Governor did not participate in Silver Screen's decision to back the film and wasn't aware of it either.