THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY BRUCE REED, PRESIDENT'S DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISOR The Briefing Room
3:10 P.M. EDT
MR. REED: Good afternoon. I'm Bruce Reed, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor, and I thought I would give you a readout from this meeting we just held in the East Room. The meeting went on for about three hours. There were 60 participants, 50 of who spoke. And we were able to secure real, lasting commitments to move forward in this effort to reduce youth violence.
Let me just run through a few of them. First, there was an extraordinary exchange between the representatives of the gun manufacturers and Sarah Brady, a leading gun control advocate, on the importance of finding common ground. We have, in fact, found common ground in five areas in which the President had laid out two weeks ago here at the White House.
The gun industry agreed in principle to support legislation to raise the handgun ban from 18 years to 21 years of age; close the gun show loophole by requiring background checks at gun shows; pass juvenile Brady legislation to ban violent juveniles from buying a gun for life; hold parents criminally responsible for recklessly giving access to a gun later used to commit injury or cause death; and finally, to expand gun tracing, which is a leading law-enforcement tool to track down guns used in crimes, and to stop illegal gun trafficking.
Bob Ricker, who's the head of the lobbying arm of the gun industry, said, we can make progress if we're all big enough to step forward. Sarah Brady said that this is not about being pro-gun or anti-gun; it's not Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative; it's about safety. And other representatives of the gun industry all said, we want to be part of the solution, and said that their involvement here at today's session grew out of a meeting here at the White House a year and a half ago, where they stepped forward to offer voluntary compliance in providing child safety devices with the guns that they sell.
Second, there was an exchange between the Vice President, Steve Case, and Doug Lowenstein, who represents the trade association for video game manufacturers. The Vice President asked Doug Lowenstein if his industry would be willing to commit to developing an on-line rating system for video games. Currently, there's a rating system for video games that you purchase in stores, but there's a big loophole for video games on line. And Doug Lowenstein, on behalf of the video game industry, and Steve Case, on behalf of AOL, agreed to work together to find a way to plug that loophole on-line.
Steve Case also announced that AOL is building on the efforts that were announced here last week, of creating a parents' protection page. They're also doing something they call PACT, which is a pledge that parents and children can make together when they go on-line to commit to store guns in a safe place if they own guns, to talk to one another, and so on. And we have copies of what they put out here.
Steve Case also talked at some length about how important -- what an important moment this is for the Internet. He mentioned that when cars and televisions first emerged on the horizon, everyone thought that they would be good for the country -- and they have proved to be good for the country, but there have been some consequences that weren't anticipated then from sprawl to violence on TV; and that it's very important to look now at how the Internet is developing in its infancy, to make sure that 50 years from now people will believe that the Internet has been a development that brought us closer together and not pushed us further apart.
As the President announced in his pool spray, the Kaiser Foundation, in partnership with the Ad Council, is going to be launching an ad campaign of public service announcements to encourage parents to talk with their kids about tough issues. The Kaiser Foundation is also stepping up parental education on the V-chip with a new national education campaign on that. As you may know, by July 1st, half the television sets sold in this country will contain the V-chip. The FCC announced today that it will put in place a V-chip task force to make sure that by the beginning of next year, there are V-chips in every new set sold in America, and to do more to educate parents on how they work and encourage them to use them.
And there was, I think, considerable interest in the V-chip model. The Vice President talked about how important this will be in changing market signals, that once parents have the ability to screen out violent programming, advertisers will take note; that, as the Vice President said, even if only three percent of parents block out a particular program, that will make an enormous difference in the marketplace, and send a signal to advertisers and to networks that violent programming is less desirable.
There was good support from the television industry for the voluntary ratings system and for doing more with the V-chip. Bob Iger from ABC and Les Moonves from CBS were both there to commit to do whatever they can to make sure that the V-chip is used and well-known. Bob Iger talked about how many people in the entertainment industry are hypocritical about this issue, that whenever the finger is being pointed at them about violence, they say that their medium has no influence, but when they go out and talk to advertisers, they say that the audience is listening and taking note. And he said that everyone in the entertainment industry does need to recognize that their work has a real influence.
And then finally there were several commitments made to help launch this grass-roots campaign. As the First Lady announced in the Rose Garden, we will be forming a non-profit organization to carry out the work of this effort, modeled after the national campaign to prevent teen pregnancy, as well as the welfare to work partnership that we've created over the last couple of years.
Let me tell you a few of the best moments from the discussion. I think one young man stole the show, Eric Heydenberk, from Quakertown, Pennsylvania, who is starting a web page to counsel other kids on what to do about being bullied, about conflict resolution and about how to talk to one another. He also brought a copy of his latest CD from his jazz band, which he gave to the President. And I was sitting next to Steve Case, who was ready to offer him a job. He's 12 years old, he's about this tall. And Jack Valenti said to all the kids who spoke at the meeting that if they wanted to run for Congress some day he would gladly get behind them.
There were some interesting moments between parents and kids. Sandy Feldman, head of the ATF, talked at some length about what needs to be done in the schools. But she also made the point that we need to help parents understand that it's all right for them to snoop on their children. And some of young people who were there, including Simonna Woodson, one of the students, said that she actually might get in trouble with her peers back home for saying it, but she thought that was a great idea, that she very much welcomes her parents meddling in her life because it shows that they have an interest and because it gives them a chance to talk.
And then, finally, I think there were several people, from the President on down, who challenged the media to consider the consequences of what they produce. The President told in the meeting the story that he told out in the Rose Garden about how there was a time when Hollywood tried to make movies that were consistent with the messages parents were trying to send and that made us larger as a nation, and that lots of things have changed over the last 30 years and culture is one of them. And we'd be kidding ourselves to believe otherwise.
So the overall tone of the meeting was extraordinarily constructive, no finger-pointing, a lot of people stepping up to the plate to take responsibility. Not a bit of politics in the room. Both Senator Brownback and Congresswoman Dunn spoke very thoughtfully about what they feel we can do as a nation to come together.
Q Was the NRA conciliatory as well as the other gun manufacturers?
MR. REED: Congressman Brewster, who was there -- former Congressman Bill Brewster , and NRA board member, was very constructive and supportive of what we're doing. And just in general, I think everyone there was struck by how conciliatory and apolitical the tone that was set.
Q Bruce, the NRA was not satisfied with your invitation to Congressman Brewster and complained this morning that none of their executive were invited to this meeting, even though they had offered their attendance. Why didn't you invite Charleton Heston or Wayne LaPierre or some of the people actually controlling the NRA?
MR. REED: We wanted to have a constructive meeting; we did have a constructive meeting. There was a wide range of views in that room. Not everybody agreed on everything, but we were able to find common ground because the gun manufacturers and the representatives of sportsmen, as well as the advocates of gun measures, were able to reach agreement. So I think that a vast array of views were represented, including the interests of hunters and sportsmen, and we should all be pleased that were making progress.
Q -- it wouldn't have been a constructive meeting then if the NRA had a seat at the table?
MR. REED: As I said, the NRA had a representative at the table, an old friend of the President, an old hunting buddy of the President. And he was very constructive, as were the representatives of the industry.
Q Do you think that Charleton Heston would have been destructive? Then why wasn't he invited?
MR. REED: I haven't had a chance, since I was in the meeting, to hear what the NRA said at its press conference today. Perhaps some of you --
Q Do you think that Charleton Heston would have been destructive, Bruce?
MR. REED: I'm not saying that. I'm saying we had a good meeting --
Q What are you saying? He wasn't invited, he would have come.
MR. REED: There are lots of people who weren't invited to this meeting. We only had 60 spots and --
Q He wasn't important enough?
MR. REED: I didn't say that either.
Q The foundation you're talking about, is there -- do you have first amendment concerns with that, the idea of a government-engendered group scrutinizing the media and telling them what to do about violence?
MR. REED: Well, this is not a media monitoring organization. This is an organization to shepherd commitments from people in all walks of life to make a difference on youth violence. That may well include challenging the media and involving the media and involving entertainers. In fact, Gloria Estefan was very good in the meeting at talking about how each of us has a responsibility to do our part. And Andrew Shue, who was also there, talked about the work of his foundation. So I think there's a strong role for representatives of the entertainment industry, and entertainers.
But the goal of this group, the work of this group, will be to study what's working around the country; try to help them spread successful ideas from one place to another; work with the media to make sure it's sending the right message.
Q The New York Times reported today that the conference was originally supposed to be about the link between media violence and youth behavior. But the New York Times said that you guys got sharp protests from Hollywood and Internet lobbies, saying that you shouldn't do that, you should look at a more broader look. I was going to ask you two questions. Is that true? And, did you talk with Internet people before this came about?
MR. REED: Well, first off, if you go back and look at the President's comments, the First Lady's comments, the Vice President's comments over the last six years, as well as over the last two weeks, you'll see that they've been completely consistent. From the beginning we've said this is not about pointing fingers, this is about taking responsibility. That was the purpose of the session.
As I said, the President and several others challenged the entertainment industry to take responsibility. But this was exactly the kind of meeting we had hoped for from the beginning -- a constructive effort to move forward in all walks of life.
Q In his Rose Garden comments, the President said, it's all right if some of this violent stuff is produced, it's just that it should at least not be marketed to children. And I was wondering if the White House supports some of the efforts on the Hill, for instance, to investigate is some of this violent stuff being specifically marketed to kids, kind of along the lines of the tobacco industry? And if that's found to be the case, then should there be more restrictions placed upon the marketing? Does the White House support that?
MR. REED: Well, I think, first off, the point the President was making, he did not say it's all right to produce this kind of material, but he was saying that, first, consider the consequences of what you make; if you're still going to make this stuff, at least make sure you don't market it to kids.
And I think we're all concerned about the glorification of violence, the effort to try to use violence to lure kids in. An I think there are lots of things that the entertainment industry can do.
The Vice President brought up another one at the meeting, which is that theater owners ought to enforce the under 17 requirements much more strictly than they do. I think getting violence out of the ads for movies and out of the previews for movies is a good step forward, and we can look further into what practices the industry may have. But I think all you have to do is go to the movies to see it.
Q Bruce, what the President said this morning --
Q Since you're talking about the movies, none of the movie studio heads themselves were here. Jack Valenti was here, but no one from specific studios. Can you explain why that was? And can you address the quotes we've seen in articles in recent days saying that some of those people feared that the White House was going to sandbag them and try to hold them responsible, maybe, for specific films that had come out?
MR. REED: Well, I don't want to speak for them. We were very encouraged that we were able to get the heads of ABC and CBS here, and I think that we saw encouraging signs from the entertainers who were there, who said how moved they have been since Littleton to try to galvanize efforts in their community. Jack Valenti said that in Hollywood right now, there are private meetings going on to talk about what the industry can do. And we certainly hope that's the case.
Q Can you tell us specifically, were any of those people invited and they just decided not to come, or they said they weren't willing to do this right now?
MR. REED: The only mogul I know of being invited and not coming is Edgar Bronfman, Jr., who had a scheduling conflict because his company is announcing a major theme park in Orlando today, and everyone in his company is there.
Q How about educating the parents and the kids --
MR. REED: There was a lot of talk about that. Several parents and representatives of parents' groups talked about that. And some people talked about the importance of media literacy, teaching kids how they're being manipulated by movies, by what they see on the screen, so that they understand how to deal with those kind of signals.
Q Bruce, what the NRA did say in their press conference this morning was that whatever gun control legislation the administration puts forward is a sham because it won't be enforced anyway. And the statistic that they like to use is, of the 250,000 people who have been turned away because of Brady Bill waiting periods and background checks, only -- they said, I can't back this up -- but only 11 have ever been prosecuted for actually trying to violate federal gun laws. And they're saying that there's no effort by the Clinton Justice Department to actually enforce the laws that are on the books. Do you have a response to that?
MR. REED: Yes. It's just not true that we're not enforcing these laws. We work very closely with state and local law enforcement and, in fact, I believe overall prosecutions of those kinds of cases are up 25 percent since we took office. And we have stronger partnerships between state and federal law enforcement to make that happen. And prosecutions of the most serious offenses, those which carry a sentence of five years or longer, are up 30 percent since we took office.
And we're consistently battling with Congress to get more money for ATF to do enforcement, to do gun tracing. And some in the gun lobby have not been helpful to that effort over the years.
Q So you're saying the big lobbyists are the problem?
Q The President spent about three times as much time talking about the entertainment industry this afternoon as he did the gun industry. Does that reflect his view, his focus on how to deal with the problem -- looking more at the entertainment industry than to the weapons manufacturers?
MR. REED: No, I don't think so. I think that one of the reasons that we wanted to have people from all walks of life here is that we think that there's not a simple answer to this -- that it's important for parents to take more responsibility, for the entertainment industry to take more responsibility, for gun manufacturers to take more responsibility, for us in government to take more responsibility and pass legislation that will keep guns out of the hands of kids and criminals. So he spoke in the morning, he spoke in the afternoon, addressed all of those issues, and I think they're all important.
Q Bruce, did the Vice President single out any television network for particular criticism?
MR. REED: Yes. In fact, he praised ABC and CBS and most cable stations, cable networks, for participating in the ratings system, and chided NBC for not taking part in that effort.
Q Why aren't they?
MR. REED: NBC has refused to participate in the voluntary ratings system.
Q Why? Did they give a reason?
MR. REED: Well, let them speak for themselves. They don't want to.
Q What did the Vice President say?
Q -- exclusive interviews with the President. What is this? Mr. Brokaw, Ms. Couric, I mean --
MR. REED: The Vice President raised this issue with Mr. Brokaw the last time they had a town hall.
Q One on one, right?
Q What did he say today? I'm told it was heated.
MR. REED: Yes, I can check my notes to see exactly what the Vice President said. It was along those lines.
Q While you're looking, on Friday you were saying that this new foundation was supposed to work with the media and others to make sure that they're sending the right signals about youth violence. My question is, how do they do that?
MR. REED: Well, one of the models for this campaign is the teen pregnancy campaign, which has worked with the networks to make sure that they're sending the right signals in their programming, to tell them how to talk about teen pregnancy, to get them to run public service announcements, for example. So there's a lot that can be done. But it's not meant as a monitoring organization.
What the Vice President said was that CBS and ABC have stepped up to the plate. The cable networks and the satellite industry have as well. NBC has not.
Q Bruce, I want to make sure I understand. You mentioned the Case-Lowenstein agreement. Are we talking about video games that are purchased on line or that are played on line?
MR. REED: Played on line. And "Doom" came up a couple of times as one example of that.
Q Bruce, what was the format of this meeting? Did the President act as MC?
MR. REED: Yes. The President moderated the meeting. It was -- well, you saw, those of you who were in there saw how it was arranged. It was a square table like the NGA meetings. The President and First Lady at the head of the table, the Vice President and Mrs. Gore on east and west ends. And the President moderated the discussion. The First Lady, the Vice President and Mrs. Gore jumped in several times to contribute.
The President started by calling on the kids who all told powerful stories of their own experience. And then the discussion went on from there into talking about parents. There were experts there who talked about their view of what needs to be done; educators there who talked about other possible solutions. There were a lot of other ideas that came up. Several people talked about the need for smaller schools as a solution, as a way to find a sense of community. A lot of talk about making sure that we have tools for parents to deal with the forces that they're up against. There were some religious leaders there who talked about the importance of involving faith-based institutions in providing solutions.
Q Bruce, the Vice President talked, said that he thought the meeting was better because it wasn't televised or reported or transcribed. Were there any particular bouts of candor you would direct us to that you think were more susceptible to happening because it was not a press coverable event?
MR. REED: Well, I think that the kids set the tone. They were very honest about their experience. And there was, in fact, one young woman there from T.C. Williams -- Maria Montiel I believe is her name -- who told the story of a good friend of hers who has come to school on a number of occasions with slashed wrists, just as a way to get attention from her friends and from her parents because she doesn't get enough time with her parents. So I think that that kind of openness is easier in a closed meeting than on C-SPAN.
Q Don't you think schools are supposed to be the best place for kids to learn good things? So what is wrong with the schools and do you think the gun lobby and all these interests, do you think they are more powerful than the schools?
MR. REED: Well, I think that there are a lot of things that we need to do to arm kids and parents with ways to deal with the forces that they're up against. Several people talked about how they don't -- several of the kids talked about how they don't get enough time with their parents. One girl said that really what she needs is to be able to talk to her teachers, because she's at school seven hours a day and she sleeps a lot when she gets home and there just isn't that much time to be with a parent. So it's important to have other kids to talk to, but it's also important to have teachers who show interest in the kids' lives.
Q Was there any discussion of the gun legislation that's coming up in the Senate?
MR. REED: Not specifically the congressional debate. There was, as I said, we talked about five areas of common ground which are likely to be included in that legislation.
Q What about discussion about regulating Internet through high schools, and different schools around the country? And when should we be looking for regulation of on-line video games available to teenagers, and other kids?
MR. REED: I don't know how long it will take Doug Lowenstein and the Internet providers to close that loophole, on on-line ratings. I'm sure that they are eager to get going on it, because they have been criticized on the issue. And I don't believe there was any direct discussion of the topic of Internet regulation. But the President did ask the Vice President to explain how the parents' protection page works, and how important it will be for parents to be able to look back at what their kids have been watching on the Internet.
Q Is that going to be -- is that looking at being regulated, Internet access through schools? Is that going to be stricter regulated through --
MR. REED: We'll see.
Q Bruce, how long did it last?
MR. REED: It was about three hours. It started just before 11:00 a.m., ended about 2:00 p.m.
END 3:42 P.M. EDT