CBS chief defends network’s handling of threats against candidates

Friday, August 25, 2000

The president of CBS Television says the network is concerned about
recent suggestions of violence against both GOP presidential nominee George W.
Bush and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman on “The Late
Late Show” and on Howard Stern's morning radio program, respectively, and has
acted appropriately in both situations.

“We are not perfect, although we strive to be,” Leslie Moonves said in
a letter to Federal Communications Commissioner Gloria Tristani, released
yesterday. “When we make a mistake, which hopefully is not often, we admit it
and work to learn from it.”

The CBS official was responding to an earlier letter from Tristani
advising the network that she had received many complaints from viewers
concerned about the Bush incident on “The Late Late Show.” In that episode, a
caption saying “Snipers Wanted” was flashed on the screen under a picture of

Tristani told Moonves that she had heard from a number of angry
citizens demanding government action. “They believe violence suggested on
television too easily and too often becomes violence attempted,” she said.

Tristani also complained about a recent caller to the Howard Stern
show who threatened Lieberman's life. That individual was subsequently arrested
by the Secret Service for allegedly making the threats and charged in the

“Two concerns dominate the calls I have received: The misuse of the
public's airwaves to suggest that violence solves problems and the implicit
endorsement of vigilante action against those with different opinions,”
Tristani said.

“Perhaps there is no government solution for bad taste or the
thoughtless broadcast of misguided humor,” her Aug. 18 letter continued.
“However, America's patience with gratuitous violence on her airwaves is
perilously thin.”

She urged CBS “to meaningfully respond to these citizens and use this
incident to assess its public interest obligations.”

“Let me assure you that we take very seriously our obligation to serve
the public and all of the audiences we reach,” Moonves said in his letter dated
Aug. 23.

He said the commitment to audience exists both at the CBS Television
network and at CBS affiliate stations. CBS also owns Infinity Broadcasting,
which has the rights to Howard Stern's show.

Moonves noted that on Aug. 11, CBS and Worldwide Pants, the producer
of “The Late Late Show,” issued “a very public and candid apology that we made
certain was widely distributed to the media” over the “Snipers Wanted”
incident. In that apology, which was “covered extensively,” Moonves said, the
network called the offending graphic “inappropriate and regrettable” and said
it was “not consistent with our broadcast standards.”

Additionally, he said, the show's host, Craig Kilborn, issued an
on-air apology in which he said he wanted to apologize “personally to George W.
Bush, our audience, the viewers at home and to anyone else who was offended. I
am sorry it happened.”

Moonves said Bush had accepted both the network's and Kilborn's

“The Howard Stern incident is quite different,” Moonves told Tristani.
“The threat to Sen. Lieberman was volunteered by a caller to the show. To his
credit, Mr. Stern immediately challenged the caller and cooperated fully with
authorities, making possible a trace of the caller's phone, his subsequent
arrest and pending prosecution.”

“Another example of CBS's commitment to our audience relevant to the
concerns in your letter is our ongoing public service announcement campaign to
foster parental awareness of the V-chip,” Moonves told Tristani, who is the
head of the FCC's task force on the technology that is installed in television
sets and allows parents to block certain shows they consider inappropriate.

“I am very proud of our record in addressing and meeting those (public
service) obligations to the American public and our audience,” Moonves

He did not mention Tristani's suggestion, made in an interview with
APBnews, that if broadcasters “fail in their obligations to serve the public
interest,” the renewal of licenses for network-affiliated stations could be at

“That is certainly something that I would look at, were I here,
whenever those license renewals would come up, if that is what Americans are
asking us to do,” Tristani told for an Aug. 22 story.

She told APBnews that she hoped the media would police itself and
prevent similar incidents of violence so such a response would not be

Tristani has been an outspoken critic of violence on television. In a
June 26 speech to a conference on children and the media sponsored by the
Annenberg Public Policy Center, Tristani rejected the idea that moves to
protect children from harmful media influence violate the First Amendment.

“We do not have to choose between protecting our children and
protecting the First Amendment. We can do both,” Tristani said.

She also rejected suggestions that “speech depicting violence is
absolutely protected by the First Amendment” and said she favored expanding the
FCC's ability to move against stations that broadcast “obscene, indecent or
profane language” to include violence as well.

“I am now convinced that as strong a case can be made for violence as
obscenity as for sex as obscenity,” Tristani said in that speech.

“The shield of the First Amendment should not become a sword that
harms our children,” she said.

Tristani, a Democrat, is one of five FCC commissioners. A native of
New Mexico, she was nominated to the FCC by President Clinton in 1997, and her
term ends in June 2003.

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