THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Nashville, Tennessee) ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 10, 1995
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT AT OPENING OF FAMILY AND MEDIA CONFERENCE
Tennessee Performing Arts Center Nashville, Tennessee
9:05 A.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Governor. And ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here. Many of you are here for the fourth year in a row, and I want to say a special word of gratitude to you and to everyone who has come. Thank you so much.
And, Governor Sundquist, thank you for your very warm and gracious words of introduction. I want to say to you publicly what I said to you the other day privately -- my whole family appreciate the courtesies you have extended during my mother's stay in the hospital and your offer to us to stay in the Governor's Mansion. We'll take a rain check on that one; we've been hanging out at the hospital. But thank you so much; and to Martha, we appreciate it very much.
Mr. President, Tipper and I are so thrilled that you decided to attend this year's conference. And I know, after the many conversations we've had for so long about this issue, how deeply concerned you and the First Lady are about the set of issues we're addressing today.
And I want to share with the group here that we had a wonderful off-the-record, out of the public eye visit in my mother's hospital room this morning. The President was thoughtful enough to come straight from the airport over there, and he brought from the First Lady my mother's favorite soup from the White House that the First Lady had served at a luncheon a few weeks ago. And my mother hasn't stopped talking about it since then. And somehow the First Lady got word of that and instructed the President to make sure -- (laughter.) So he showed up at the hospital carrying a container of soup. (Laughter and applause.)
Now, yesterday, when I told my mother that the President had called and asked if it would be all right if he came by to visit her in the hospital, the first thing she said was, "Well, son, now, will he have had breakfast before he gets here?" (Laughter.) And she started looking around the room at what she could fix. (Laughter.) And she found some fresh peaches that somebody had brought to her, and got them all sliced up and served him fresh Tennessee peaches as soon as he got -- so they swapped the soup for the peaches this morning. And it was a wonderful occasion, and we're very grateful to you, Mr. President. Thank the First Lady also.
It will be my pleasure and honor in just a moment to present the President. And then, following the President's remarks, we will have a very short video presentation -- just 10 minutes -- to get our brains going on the subject. And then the President and I will moderate this first panel, made up of experts and men and women who've dealt with this issue for quite a long time, on the impact of media on families. And then you will be able to follow the rest of the program from the printed material that you have there. We want you to enjoy the session today.
Yesterday, we had a so-called experts conference out at Tennessee State. It was a remarkable conversation that went on for five hours. And you'll be hearing some of the results of that conversation throughout the day.
Others have done this, but I do want to personally add my words of thanks to Marty Erickson, Director of the Children, Youth and Family Consortium of the University of Minnesota; her resourceful staff and all those in Minnesota who have worked so hard to -- as the co-sponsor of this conference. We're very grateful to Dr. Erickson and her team. And equally so, to Majority Leader Bill Purcell, who, with his fellow members of the Select Committee for Children and Youth, Democrats and Republicans, have done a remarkable job of co-hosting this conference also. And they voted unanimously to co-sponsor. We're grateful to the committee and to the Executive Director, Karen Edwards, who along with Bill Purcell, has provided outstanding leadership on issues relating to families and children here in Tennessee and around the country. And, Governor, I'm awfully proud that our Tennessee state legislature is known nationally for providing leadership on this issue.
We're all grateful, as well, for the generosity of the foundations that have made this conference possible. It is a real testament to the impact of the Family Reunion series of conferences that major institutions committed to families and children are supporting this initiative. I want to acknowledge also, Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who is here, and Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry; other members of the Tennessee General Assembly -- forgive me for not singling you out individually, there are too many of you here. We want all of you, but I -- forgive me for not mentioning you all by name, but thank you for being here.
I want to welcome a special guest from the United States, U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, from North Dakota, who has been a real leader on this subject. And we appreciate your presence here, Kent. Congressman Bob Clement, who represents the Andy Jackson district right here in Nashville, and we appreciate your support, Bob. And Congressman Harold Ford from Memphis, who has been a leader in this area as well; a subcommittee chair dealing with the concerns of children for many years, and we're grateful to you for being here.
The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Reed Hundt, is present and in the fourth panel today, which will be moderated by Kathleen Hall Jamieson -- will participate in the discussion of what government's role is.
Carol Rasco, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor who has been at all -- the last three of the family conferences and is a great child advocate in her own right, is also present. Representatives are present from the Justice Department, Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Police, the National Service, the Commerce Department, the Education Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
I also want to mention the presence of one personal friend who has been at these family conferences in the past, and two years ago was a presenter at the family conference -- a child advocate, Dr. Henry Foster. We're glad that you're here, Dr. Foster. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
This is the fourth in a series of Family Reunions. The first was focused on the importance of treating whole families and dealing with whole families instead of dealing with pathologies -- that is, problems that individual members of a family might have; the need to get away from that old approach of coming up with a program for teen pregnancy, a program for drug abuse, a program for violence. All of those things are necessary, but they all need to be dealt with within a context of the family unit.
The second in a series of conferences focused on how family policy must be reinvented so that it is driven by the needs of families, not by the survival of bureaucracies.
The third year we focused on the critical need to promote the active and responsible involvement of fathers in the lives of their children. And in each of the three preceding conferences, especially last year, speakers and experts and panelists often spoke about the need to focus on the role of the media -- "the third parent," as last year's keynote speaker, Reverend Jesse Jackson, described the role of the media. The amount of information both in terms of data and emotional messages that come from the media now dwarfs the amount of information coming from parents or teachers or from congregations. And so we decided 12 months ago that that subject would be the focus of this year's conference.
And, of course, as others have noted and I want to say in a special way, I owe a debt of understanding to my wife, Tipper, who, for 20 years, has played a leading role. And if you think you've heard from Tipper on this subject, I guarantee you I've heard from Tipper on this subject. And I appreciate it. (Applause.)
Just a couple more introductory points. The approach we're going to try to take during our conference today is an approach that focuses on the complexity of the problem, and tries to avoid a simplistic search for a single silver bullet, a single magic answer. We're trying to get away from an emphasis on villains, an emphasis on magic solutions. We're trying to focus on the whole problem in all of its complexity and subtlety and seriousness. In doing so, let me express my confidence that this can be solved. And by the end of the day, I hope that we will all come away from this feeling as if we have a better understanding of exactly how to go about it.
I'd like to suggest some stipulations at the beginning of our conversation today. In lawsuits when the lawyers on either side don't want to spend a lot of time arguing about things that don't need to be argued about, they'll just say, okay, we can agree on this at the start. I don't know if we can agree on all this, but let me suggest that, number one, we can stipulate that there are many factors responsible for all of the problems that are going to be discussed today. And we're not trying to pin the rap on the media for violence, for drug abuse, for premature sexual activity -- for all of the problems that are going to be talked about -- the breakdown of families, the wave of drugs and guns, the breakdown of values. There are all kinds of problems. So we're not -- even though we're going to be talking about the role of the media because that's our theme this year, we're not trying to convey the message that that's the only problem. And so we'll stipulate that in advance.
Secondly, let's stipulate that for all the problems that have been created and identified and need to be addressed there are lots of good positive benefits that come from the media and to families and to children. Necessarily, we're going to be spending probably a little more time talking about some of the problems that haven't been solved, but let's stipulate that we all know and realize that there's a lot of good that comes as well.
Third, yes, parents have the primary role. But that is not to say that others don't also have a role to play. But let's stipulate that we all agree that parents have the primary role to play.
Fourth, let's stipulate that the First Amendment must be protected. We will not sacrifice our freedom of speech or the protections of the First Amendment. But let's also stipulate that some who make that claim sometimes follow it quickly with proposals that, to the ears of some, appear to violate the First Amendment. So there's no intention to do so; there is a shared alertness to any proposals that might violate the First Amendment.
Fourth, yes, the market forces play a huge role, but they exist and always will -- and should -- and are largely beneficial. But any solution we try to adopt must respect the role of market forces.
Now, finally, let's stipulate that it is not practical for families to simply pull the plug of the television set and the record player and the CD player and throw all the entertainment products out of the house. That might be a good solution for some families, and I'm not here to argue that that isn't the best for some families. But for most families in America it is not practical. So let's don't pretend that it is. By the same token, it is, likewise, impractical for parents to stand in front of the television set or the record player 24 hours a day and monitor each and every program and song that comes along. It's valuable for parents to talk with their children about what they're watching and hearing. That must take place -- more of it must take place.
But to pretend it is a solution for families where there's a working parent who can't be there in the home, for families where the parent's come home exhausted, there's no child care, the kids are sitting in front of the television set, that parent cannot monitor every single program. So what we need are options that fall in between the two extremes. Parents can't do it all and they can't do completely without the entertainment media. Somewhere in between we will find some solutions.
Now, others have said this is not a new discussion. President Kennedy's FCC Commission Chairman, who is with us today, Newton Minnow, was largely right in 1961 when he called TV a vast wasteland. And in those days, Fred Allen, the comedian, used to ask, why do they call TV a medium? The answer: because it's never well-done. (Laughter.) Well, that's not true. There is a great deal that is quite well-done on television. And we will be hearing about that today also. And there's a lot that's well-done in the other entertainment media that we'll be talking about today. You know the examples and I will not list them here.
A few years back, there was another FCC Chairman with very different views than Newton Minnow or Reed Hundt, who is also with us here today, who said, television is just another appliance; it is a toaster with pictures. Well, that's a clever phrase, but it's wrong. The entertainment media have such an impact on families that they must be seen as very different from toasters and other household appliances.
So we look forward to the discussion today. And, necessarily, during the few days leading up to this conference, when I'm normally immersed in all the details of each panel, I was in the hospital room this year. And so this year, I was also thinking a great deal about the lessons that I was taught by my mother and my father. And there's a famous story in my family about the first time that my father ran for Senate against a man named Kenneth McKeller, and some here know -- from Tennessee -- know this story. He, Senator McKeller, the long-time incumbent, put up signs all over the state that said, "The thinking feller votes McKeller." My mother devised a response. We never tore a sign down and encouraged all of our supporters never to do that. But I remember very clearly, my sister and I went around and put up the sign my mother had devised. Everywhere we found a sign that said, "The thinking feller votes McKeller," on her suggestion we put another one right underneath it that said, "Think some more and vote for Gore." (Laughter and applause.) She was a media expert even then. (Laughter.)
But the approach she took, I think, has something instructive for us here today. The solution needs to be additive. It needs to take into account what is there and provide more information about how to deal with what is there.
I'm grateful to my parents for mediating the information that my sister and I got when we were growing up. And I hope that this conference will provide information about how families throughout America can do the same thing in the modern media age.
Now, the impact of this conference is greatly enhanced in every way by the fact that the President and the First Lady have devoted tremendous attention, energy and resources to the needs of children and families in America. And there could be no greater testament to the concern that the President of the United States has for this issue than for him to come all the way here today and to participate in several hours of this conference and to share his thoughts with us.
I am very grateful to him personally, and on behalf of our state and all of those gathered for this conference, I would like to say, thank you, Mr. President.
And ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the President of the United States, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I thought it might be nice to stop by here after having done my primary duty which was delivering the soup to Mrs. Gore. (Laughter.) I'm delighted to be here, Governor, Mayor, Senator, members of Congress. To Representative Purcell and the other distinguished members of the Tennessee legislature who are here, Dr. Erickson and to all of you, let me say that I came here primarily to listen. And I find that I always learn a lot more when I'm listening than when I'm talking. So I will be quite brief.
I want to say a few things, however. First, I want to thank Al and Tipper Gore for their lifetime of devotion not only to their family, but to the families of this state and this nation, as manifested by this Family Reunion, the fourth such one, something they have done in a careful and sustained way. It's already been mentioned twice that Tipper has worked on the whole issue that we're here to discuss today for many, many years, never in the context of politics, but always in the context of what's good for families and what we can do to move the ball forward for our children and for our future. And I think this country owes them a great debt of gratitude. And I'm glad to be here. (Applause.)
Secondly, I'd just like to frame this issue as it appears to me as President and as a parent. I gave a speech at Georgetown a few days ago in which I pointed out that the world in which I grew up, the world after World War II, was basically shaped by two great ideas -- the middle-class dream, that if you work hard you'll get ahead and your kids can do better than you did; and middle-class values, a family and community and responsibility and trustworthiness, and that both of those things were at some considerable risk today as we move out of the Cold War into the global economy and the whole way we live and work is subject to sweeping challenge.
The family is the focus of both middle-class dreams and middle-class values, for it is the center around which we organize child rearing -- our country's most important responsibility -- and work. And how we work determines how we live and what will become of us over the long run.
We have seen enormous changes in both work and child rearing in the last several years. We know now that a much higher percentage of our children live in poverty, particularly in the last 10 years, even as we have a percentage of elderly people in poverty going below that of the general population for the first time in history in the last 10 years -- a considerable achievement of which we ought to be proud as a country. But still, our children are becoming more and more poor.
We know that a higher percentage of our children are being born out of wedlock. What you may not know, but is worth noting, is that the number of children being born out of wedlock is more or less constant for the last few years. So we not only have too many children being born out of wedlock, we have more and more young couples where both of them are working and having careers who are deferring child bearing and, in many cases, not having children at all. That is also a very troubling thing in our country -- the people in the best position to build strong families and bring up kids in a good way deciding not to do so.
We know that most children live in families where, whether they have one parent or two parents in the home, whoever their parents are in the home are also working. We know that we do less for child care and for supervised care for children as a society than any other advanced country in the world.
We know, too, that most of our parents for the last 20 years have been working a longer work week for the same or lower wages, so that while Representative Purcell here complimented the Governor on his budget because it maintained a commitment to children in terms of public investment, you could make a compelling argument that the private investment in children has been going down because most families have both less time and less money to spend on their children.
And we know that as parents spend less time with their children, by definition the children are spending more time with someone or something else, so that the media has not only exploded in its ramifications in our life, but also has more access to more of our children's time than would have been the case 20 years ago if all these technological developments had occurred when the family and our economy were in a different place.
And I think we have to look at all these issues in that context. Now, it's commonplace to say that most of us believe that there's too much indiscriminate violence, too much indiscriminate sex and too much sort of callous degradation of women and sometimes of other people in various parts of our media today. I believe that the question is, so what? What we ought to be talking about today is, so what are we all going to do about that? Because our ability to change things, I think, consists most importantly in our ability to affirmative steps.
At this talk at Georgetown, I made a commitment that I would try to set an example for what I thought our political leaders ought to be doing. We ought to have more conversation and less combat. When we criticize, we ought to offer an alternative. We ought to be thinking about the long run -- these trends that we're dealing with have been developing over quite a long while now. And we ought to celebrate what is good, as well as condemn what we don't like. And I think if we do those four things, then we will be able to make good decisions.
So let me just make two specific suggestions and then I'd like to get on with listening to other people. First of all, in the spirit of alternatives and celebrating what is good, I'm for balancing the budget, but I'm against getting rid of public television -- (applause) -- or dramatically cutting it. (Applause.) In our family this is known as the "leave Big Bird alone" campaign. (Laughter.) I say that because we are going to have to cut a bunch of stuff, folks, and we are going to have to cut a lot of things. The budget would be in balance today but for the interest we're paying on the debt run up between 1981 and 1993. Next year, interest on the debt will exceed the defense budget. This is a big problem for our families, their incomes, their living standards, their future.
But consider this. Public TV gives, on average, six hours of educational programming a day. Sometimes the networks have as little as a half an hour a week. Public television goes to 98 percent of our homes. Forty percent of our people don't have access to cable channels like the Learning Channel or A&E. Fourteen percent -- only 14 percent of overall public television channel funding comes from federal money, but often times in rural places, like Senator Conrad's North Dakota, over half of the money comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Sixty percent of the viewers have family incomes below $40,000. It costs you a $1.09 a year, per citizen, to fund it. And for every dollar public television and radio get from the government, they raise $5 or $6 from the private sector. So I think that's my first suggestion.
My second suggestion relates to the presence of Senator Conrad here. If we don't believe in censorship, and we do want to tell parents that they have a responsibility -- that television, to use Reverend Jackson's phrase that the Vice President mentioned, may be the "third parent," but it can't be the first or the second, and that's up to the parents -- if we want to say that, but we know we live in a country where most kids live in families where there's one or two parents that are working, and where we have less comprehensive child care than any other advanced country in the world, the question is how can we get beyond telling parents to do something that they physically cannot do for several hours a day unless they literally do want to be a home without television, or monitor their kids in some other way.
There is one technological fix now being debated in the Congress which I think is very important -- it's a little simple thing; I think it's a very big deal. In the telecommunications bill, Senator Conrad offered an amendment which ultimately passed with almost three-quarters of the Senate voting for it. So it's a bipartisan proposal that would permit a so-called V-chip to be put in televisions with cables which would allow parents to decide which -- not only which channels their children could not watch, but within channels, to block certain programming.
This is not censorship, this is parental responsibility. This is giving parents the same access to technology that is coming into your home to all the people who live their who turn it on. So I would say, when that telecommunications bill is ultimately sent to the President's desk, put the V-chip in it and empower the parents who have to work to do their part to be responsible with media. Those are two specific suggestions that I hope will move this debate forward. (Applause.)
Having said what I mean to say, I would like to now go on, Mr. Vice President, to hear the people who really know something about this. I want to thank you all for your care and concern. And let me echo something the Governor said: There is a huge consensus in this country today that we need to do something that is responsible, that is constructive, that strengthens our families and gives our kids a better future and that celebrates the fact that this is the media center of the world. And we want it to be that way 10, 20, 50 years from now. But we also want to be that way in a country that is less violent, that has a more wholesome environment for our children to grow up in, where our children are strong and taking advantage of the dominant position the United States enjoys in the world media.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 9:38 A.M. CDT