Good start, but what next?!?
What are we to learn from the Washington-to-Hollywood uproar over broadcast television's first TV-M presentation, Schindler's List? Plenty. The controversy began when Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected publicly. "I cringe when I realize that there were children all across this nation watching this program," said the congressman. "They were exposed to the violence of multiple gunshot head wounds, vile language, full frontal nudity, and irresponsible sexual activity. It simply should never have been allowed on public television." Rep. Coburn, co-chairman of the Congressional Family Caucus, instantly became the bad guy--even among his usual allies in Washington--while the television moguls wrapped themselves in a mantle of righteousness. The controversy has at least stalled legislation to force the TV industry to adopt content-based ratings instead of the current vague rating system. Right now that proposal is dead in the water. So what are the lessons? To begin with, the reason Christians should be concerned about nudity and violence is their moral effect. Nakedness and sexual scenes can provoke lustful imaginings and the mental adultery warned against in Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Displays of violence can also provoke sin, when viewers take pleasure in a vicarious fantasy of hurting someone. The nudity in Schindler's List was by no means sexually titillating, and its violence was not portrayed as something pleasurable and good. In fact, Schindler's List had a positive moral effect, creating in viewers a sense of outrage against human sin and compassion for its victims. Schindler's List is thus a special case. By making it their first uncut R-rated movie, the networks were proceeding with caution. And Rep. Coburn walked right into the trap. When Christian culture warriors react superficially, they only advance their opponents' cause. In fairness to Rep. Coburn, however, his stance against nudity of any kind on TV is not unreasonable. He was unjustly caricatured. Still, Christians in politics need to be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But now that the M-barrier has been broken--and to such great acclaim--it will be interesting to see what the networks plan next. Perhaps a "sensitive but disturbing" look at AIDS, such as And the Band Played On. Eventually, the programmers and audiences will wonder, why should all TV-M shows be depressing? And why shouldn't the networks be able to compete with cable and pay-for-view? At that point, the high moral tone of Schindler's List will no longer be necessary. Stay tuned. --by Gene Edward Veith
What will it take?
Despite a string of startling disclosures last week about possibly illegal campaign fundraising efforts at the White House, Attorney General Janet Reno remained steadfast against naming an independent counsel to investigate. First came Vice President Gore's March 3 admission that he used his White House telephone to solicit campaign contributions for the Democratic National Committee (see p. 21); federal election law clearly prohibits the solicitation of campaign contributions on government property. Two days later, the White House admitted Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Margaret Williams, accepted at the White House and turned over to the DNC a check for $50,000. At her weekly news conference March 6, Ms. Reno maintained that because the contributions were for the DNC, they weren't strictly covered by laws governing federal elections--and thus the disclosures do not trigger the independent counsel statute. The party committee also supports candidates for state and local offices. In between those disclosures, the White House counsel's office March 4 directed administration staffers to comply with a Jan. 30 subpoena from Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr for any information relating to 20 individuals or entities connected to the Indonesian financial conglomerate Lippo Group. The subpoena centers on a 1994 payment from Lippo to Webster Hubbell in the few months between his resignation as number-two man at the Justice Department and the beginning of a prison term for Whitewater-related crimes. The New York Times March 5 reported that payments to Mr. Hubbell came from sources other than Lippo and totaled more than $400,000. Those who paid the former associate attorney general, the Times reported, "were regulars at the White House fundraising coffees or overnight guests in the Lincoln Bedroom." The largest chunk of the money came from Hong Kong-based businesses controlled by the Riady family, which also controls Lippo. According to the Times, those businesses benefited from a $2 billion American-Chinese joint venture "that received crucial backing from the administration at about the same time Hubbell was being paid." The question for Mr. Starr is whether the administration orchestrated payments to Mr. Hubbell in exchange for his willingness to obstruct the probe into wrongdoing by the president.
Not only did the Balanced Budget Amendment fail once again by one vote in the Senate March 4; the previous day, President Clinton's purported five-year balanced budget plan also failed, and by a much greater margin: $69 billion. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the White House plan further revealed that the administration had put off 98 percent of its savings until the last two years--and that its Medicare savings totaled only $82 billion, not the $100 billion projected by White House economists. House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich called on the administration March 3 to send up a new, more honest budget. But that same day, support grew for a change in the way the government calculates automatic increases in so-called entitlement programs. Before Mr. Kasich's committee, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified to the "almost ... 100 percent probability" that the Consumer Price Index overstates inflation, causing overpayments to entitlement beneficiaries. Mr. Greenspan endorsed an independent review board to recommend changes to the CPI. Meanwhile, President Clinton's economic advisers were huddling at his direction to explore with congressional leaders creation of such a board. Reducing the CPI would ease significantly the task of balancing the budget. Two days later, congressional liberals led by House minority leader Dick Gephardt met with White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles to argue against any change in the CPI. Mr. Bowles said the president had made no final decision. On Capitol Hill, Democrats turned up the heat on Republicans to offer a budget proposal of their own, instead of merely criticizing the president's deficit-perpetuating plan. But the Republican budget chairman in the Senate, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, revealed that White House officials "more than once, through more than one official channel" urged GOP lawmakers not to produce a budget, in hopes their secret negotiations would move the administration and the Congress closer to an agreement.
Washington in brief
CIA double agent pleads guilty. Harold James Nicholson pled guilty March 3 to charges the former CIA agent spied for Russia from 1994 until he was nabbed late last year. In addition to his guilty plea, Mr. Nicholson agreed to cooperate with authorities, who want to know more about his four secret meetings with Russian agents. Supreme Court sidesteps ruling on constitutionality of English-only law. A unanimous court struck down March 3 a lower court ruling invalidating Arizona's law that requires state officials to conduct all government business exclusively in English. A Hispanic state employee sued, asserting her First Amendment rights, after the law passed. Even though she quit her job two years later, a federal appeals court allowed the suit to proceed. The Supreme Court's ruling held that the case should have ended when the woman quit her job. The decision restores the law, but leaves unresolved its constitutionality. Twenty states have some form of English-only laws. INS Citizenship USA program criticized. "The INS is out of control," congressional subcommittee chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) told Immigration and Naturalization Service chief Doris Meissner March 4. Rep. Rogers was reacting to the disclosure that the INS granted citizenship to 180,000 immigrants without conducting a criminal-records background check; another 10,800 became citizens despite felony arrest records in their background checks. Ms. Meissner countered that her agency naturalized only 168 new citizens "improperly," because a felony arrest alone is not enough to disqualify an immigrant from citizenship. The Washington Post revealed that documents from the vice president's office showed that the upcoming elections were part of the consideration in the White House's order to speed naturalizations. "We were under pressure from many quarters," Ms. Meissner said, including Mr. Gore's office. Congressional panel decertifies Mexico in drug war. A March 6 nonbinding House committee vote of 27-5 rebuked President Clinton's decision to certify Mexico as fully cooperative in the war on drugs. Congressmen pointed to the Feb. 18 arrest of Mexico's top anti-drug official because of his ties to a drug kingpin in that country. The House measure, if it wins final approval, would officially decertify Mexico, but would also allow Mr. Clinton to waive the provisions restricting U.S. aid and trade. The previous day, Colombian authorities temporarily disbanded their drug-crop eradication program in protest of Mr. Clinton's decision to decertify Colombia as an ally in the drug war.
Rubble and rain
A deadly tornado roared through Arkadelphia, Ark., obliterating 60 blocks of the town's midsection. The Arkadelphia twister was one of 14 tornadoes that cut a 260-mile swath through 11 Arkansas counties, killing a total of 25 people and creating a trail of destruction that Gov. Mike Huckabee described as "apocalyptic." A two-year old boy blown away by the winds was found alive and uninjured almost a quarter-mile away from his home. The violent thunderstorms that spawned the Arkansas tornadoes swamped the Ohio Valley with almost a foot of rain, creating the region's worst flooding in three decades. Floodwaters inundated towns along the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers, as well as their tributaries, killing at least 30 people in four states, including two people sucked into culverts. In Cincinnati, Riverfront stadium was in the river, as the Ohio River crested at 12.6 feet above flood stage. In Falmouth, Ky., when rooftop-high floodwaters began to recede slightly at midweek, houses were found to be off their foundations and sitting in the middle of streets. President Clinton ordered federal disaster aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the hardest-hit areas.
Defending the Decalogue
Federal and state lawmakers weighed into Alabama's much-publicized brouhaha over whether it's legal to have the Ten Commandments on display in a state courtroom. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, calling the Commandments "the cornerstones of a fair and just society," overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution supporting their public display. Meanwhile, an Alabama state senator introduced a bill permitting the Ten Commandments, as well as the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to be displayed in every courtroom and school in Alabama. The Decalogue display dispute began when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged a Ten Commandments plaque prominently seen in the Etowah County courtroom of Circuit Judge Roy Moore (see WORLD, Feb. 22). Judge Moore, with the strong support of Alabama Gov. Fob James, defied a judicial order to remove the plaque. The case will go before the Alabama Supreme Court.
The Dallas Morning News ignited a legal and ethical firestorm when it quoted a purported confession by Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh. The paper, citing "confidential defense [team] reports," said Mr. McVeigh told a defense attorney that simply blowing up an unoccupied building wouldn't have been sufficient demonstration of his anti-government sentiment. "We needed a body count to make our point," the paper quoted him as saying. McVeigh attorney Stephen Jones, who said the confession wasn't for real, nonetheless accused the Dallas newspaper of stealing defense files. The entire situation grew murkier still when a reporter from an Oklahoma newspaper said the supposed confession actually was a bogus document concocted by a private investigator. He said the investigator planned to use the "confession" to get a potential witness to talk by assuring him that he was "off the hook" and wasn't a suspect. Despite all this, Mr. McVeigh's trial will start as scheduled on March 31.
Despite presidential and congressional moves to bar any future federal spending on human cloning, the director of the National Institutes of Health, insisting he found human cloning personally "offensive," nonetheless said cloning of humans should not be rejected out of hand. In testimony before a congressional committee, Harold Varmus echoed the timeworn language of the abortion debate in a new context: "How do we define reproductive rights? ... Where does privacy begin and end?"
More than 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands left homeless by a strong earthquake that struck rural northwestern Iran. The quake, which affected some 100 villages, measured 6.1 on the Richter scale. Rescue efforts were hampered by freezing temperatures, snow-clogged roads, and wolves.
Putting pressure on Israel
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the United States to talk about the Middle East peace process with President Clinton, campaigned against Israel's plan to build new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. President Clinton said the decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow the construction to go forward created "mistrust" that could damage the administration's peace efforts. The housing plan for East Jerusalem--the area Palestinians eventually want to claim as the capital of their hoped-for independent Palestinian state--faces heavy criticism in the United Nations, where most members of the Security Council pledged to vote for a resolution urging Israel to reverse its decision.
Boris is back
A vigorous President Boris Yeltsin delivered Russia's State of the Nation address March 6, promising to root out political corruption and to bring order out of economic chaos. Mr. Yeltsin, who has been ill almost continuously since he was reelected last summer, attempted to show he is firmly back in charge. He promised to reshuffle his government and to reform Russia's tax code. Mr. Yeltsin also spoke out against the planned expansion of NATO, saying it "may become a fateful decision that will cost the peoples of Europe dearly." Some worry that NATO expansion to Russia's borders will further incite Russian nationalism, and perhaps bring to power a strongly anti-Western leader.