THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, THE FIRST LADY, THE VICE PRESIDENT AND MRS. GORE AFTER WHITE HOUSE STRATEGY SESSION ON CHILDREN, VIOLENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY The Rose Garden
2:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated, everyone. We're getting our group up here, you see. It's a little slow -- it's a large and, as you can see, diverse and distinguished group. We just had a wonderful meeting in the East Room of the White House. We had not only the Vice President and Tipper and Hillary and I, but many members of our administration and four members of Congress -- Senator Brownback and Senator Reid, and Leader Gephardt and Representative Jennifer Dunn were there.
And we listened to several hours of discussions; over 40 people spoke, many of them already heavily involved in the efforts to give our children a safe childhood and protect them from violence.
This was exactly the kind of session I had hoped for, where everyone was talking about the problems and the opportunities; everyone was talking about what could be done to accept responsibility. No one was pointing the finger of blame.
In the weeks and months ahead, as we launch our national campaign to prevent youth violence, we will build on the strong foundation of this day, and on many of the things which have been said and many of the people who have said them.
I want to say a special word of appreciation to the young people who are here today and who are working in their own communities to try to help their fellow students have a safe and wholesome life.
As the national campaign gets underway, we know we'll have to overcome the old ways of doing business. We've seen some of that today as well, in the remarkable support that gun manufacturers have given to many of our common-sense gun proposals. We see in the efforts of networks like ABC and CBS, and private family foundations like Kaiser, and agencies like the FCC, all of whom have supported the television rating systems, and giving parents the tool of the V-chip to protect children from excessively violent programming.
We know that there is more for each of us to do at home and at school, in Hollywood and in the heartland and here in Washington. Every parent, every teacher, every leader has something more to do.
First and most fundamentally, we must do more to help parents fulfill their most important responsibilities, those to their children. Challenging parents to turn off the television when they don't like what they see; to use the new tools the Vice President announced recently to keep an eye on the computer screen; to refuse to buy products that glorify violence. If no one consumes these products, people will stop producing them. They will not build it if you don't come.
To the media and entertainment industries, I also say we need your wholehearted participation in this cause. There are many changes which have occurred over the last generation in our society. It is true that we've had a lot of breakdowns in families, schools and communities. It is true that we have had a rise in the availability of weapons. It is also true that there has been a coarsening of the culture in many ways. And those who influence it must be sensitive to that.
I mentioned today that not very long ago there was a fascinating story on the birth of Hollywood, the virtual creation of Hollywood by immigrants, on one of our cable channels. And the story really graphically demonstrated how these immigrants -- who came to the United States, faced initial discrimination, went to California to make a new life -- created an image of America, and an image of the American Dream and an image of American life in the movies that they made that had a very positive impact on the culture of America for decades.
We cannot pretend that there is no impact on our culture and our children that is adverse if there is too much violence coming out of what they see and experience. And so, we have to ask people who produce things to consider the consequences of them -- whether it's a violent movie, a CD, a video game. If they are made, they at least they should not be marketed to children.
Finally, I urge Congress to join in this campaign by passing the legislation necessary to keep guns out of the hands of children. As a group of gun manufacturers and sportsmen made clear today, these are common-sense measures that they support.
There are also other things that we can do that I hope we will do -- to provide more support for counseling services, for mental health services, for other things which will help to improve our efforts.
Again, let me say, I want to thank the Vice President and Tipper Gore for the work they have done on these issues for years. I want them to come forward and speak. But first, I want to ask the First Lady to speak -- and acknowledge that she has to go to a school as soon as she finishes talking here.
She had the idea for us to call this national conference and to try to organize a national grass-roots campaign. It was a good idea and it looks like a lot better idea after today's meeting. So I want to thank Hillary for everything she's done and ask her to come forward and say a few words. (Applause.)
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you, all. I think everyone who participated in the meeting this morning came away with the positive feeling that there isn't any problem that we face when it comes to our young people, that if we're honest enough to talk about it we can come up with ideas about how to address it, and we can better empower all parts of our society to be part of the solution.
To that end, the President mentioned that we want to have a national campaign to prevent youth violence. It's modeled on the national campaign against teenage pregnancy, the national campaign that was launched to convince employers to hire people coming off of welfare to go to work. It's in the greatest of American traditions of the kind of public-private partnership that is unique to our country.
And in the next weeks that campaign will be put together. It will be a not-for-profit, 501-C3 effort that will bring together many of the people around the table today in the East Room and many others. It will come forward, we hope, with very specific suggestions about what parents can do, what schools can do, what community groups can do, what the media can do, what gun manufacturers can do, what all of us can do.
You probably know that I really do think it takes a village; but my book had a subtitle, and that was, it takes a village to raise a child and other lessons children teach us. And the most important lesson I think all of us are learning, once again because of the tragedy in Littleton and the consequences that flow from that, are that we have to do a better job doing our most important job, and that is helping to raise our children and create a climate in our country that is good for children.
We have to battle a lot of attitudes and cynicism and skepticism and hopelessness and helplessness, and a sense by many people that the forces that are arrayed against families and children are just too big to try to deal with, and maybe the only thing we can do is just shut the doors of our own home and try to deal with what goes on there. But we have to do that as well.
So I'm very encouraged by the conversation that we had this morning, and I'm very excited about the prospects for this national campaign. And I hope that everyone, everyone in America, will realize that there's a role for each of us in trying to prevent youth violence. And more than that -- trying to reach out and listen to our children so that we can provide the kind of support that they need.
And someone who has known that and done it in her own life, and done it in our public life for many years, who has continually addressed the issue of mental health and particularly how it affects children -- someone who I admire greatly and who will be chairing the first ever White House Conference on Mental Health on June 7 -- and that is Tipper Gore. (Applause.)
MRS. GORE: Thank you very much, Mrs. Clinton. And to everyone that participated in the strategy session today, we want to thank you. We want to thank members of the media for being here, because certainly in some of the things that we heard we would like to ask the media to help get the word out to the parents, to all members of the community, that we are all part of a solution to helping better support our kids.
We heard loudly and clearly that every member of the community -- whether it was the entertainment industry, the gun industry, businesses giving more flexibility, time to their employees so that they could strengthen their families by spending more time with their children whenever that was necessary -- we really heard that children need to spend more time with adults. Children themselves, the kids involved in the strategy session said that they need to have more involvement from adults, parents, in their lives. And that's a call to action that we've got to answer.
Something else that we heard loudly and clearly is that, yes, while Littleton was symbolic for so many of us and such a tragedy and a wake-up call, that there have been little massacres going on in our society for years. And many people have been very, very concerned about that, and we continue to be. But we all come together now, around the table -- just as I hope all Americans will come around their tables, in their own homes, in their own neighborhoods, in their own communities, to say, how can we better support children?
One way we clearly can is by providing more counselors in schools, more access to mental health support and mental health help. When we hear children talk to us about other kids who are headed toward violence either against others or against themselves -- since suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers -- we have to have adults in place in all parts of the community that will listen, but especially in the schools.
So that is something that I wanted to mention, and that I would like to ask also for the media's help in our coverage of these issues very specifically, in the first-ever White House Conference on Mental Health, which will happen on June the 7th, with some 1,000 downlinks all around the country. And it will be at Howard University.
You can do a great deal to help us talk to kids, and tell children in America that we are willing and ready to listen to them, as well as -- I'd like to ask for people in the media, themselves, the programmers and others, if they will consider the effect they have in reporting the news on kids, the effect that they may have, and the way that they portray people with a mental illness in their programming. They can go a long way -- all of us can -- if we just join our hands and hearts together in a very positive way, and ask a central question: Is what we are doing good enough to help our kids mature into healthy adults? Because that's in the interest of all of us, for all Americans.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And now I'd like to present someone who has even more to say on this subject, in particular, about giving parents tools to use in order to do their job more effectively, the Vice President, Al Gore. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Tipper. And, Mr. President, I want to thank you and congratulate you and the First Lady for taking the initiative to pull this rather extraordinary strategy session together that we just had. I know that I speak for all of the men and women and children who participated in this session in saying it was quite a useful, even inspiring, certainly encouraging, session.
And just to try to briefly capture the spirit of it for those of you who were not there -- and, incidentally, I'm sure it would not have been as good if it was open to the press. (Laughter.) Even you, Sam. (Laughter.) But people who have had differing points of view on contentious issues for years and years spoke directly to one another about how they wanted to reconsider some of the assumptions they have held in the past, how they wanted to have an open mind about new approaches to solving problems that obviously have not been solved up until now. It was really an occasion for quite a bit of reconciliation.
So I want to thank you, Mr. President and the First Lady. I want to thank Tipper for being my inspiration and source of education on these issues for a long time now. Twenty-two years ago, she formed a citizens group on violence in the media, and as others have mentioned, the White House Conference on Mental Health Care is coming up.
I want to thank Leader Dick Gephardt, and Jennifer Dunn, Harry Reid and Sam Brownback, all of my colleagues in the Cabinet, and all of the leaders from the various sectors of industry and society, who were present here today.
One of the other very impressive things about this gathering was that it didn't just point fingers, and it didn't try to simplistically settle on one particular cause of a very complex problem. And I think it's a sign of maturation in our society that people from all different sectors could come together and really see this issue in all of its complexity.
Obviously, better parenting is the main and most important solution. But some of the participants raised new aspects of that that haven't been always talked about in connection with this issue. Let's look at the prevalence of domestic violence in our society, and realize that the painful real-life lessons that children learn from seeing domestic violence, as common as it is -- even if it's seldom reported to the extent that it occurs -- those lessons are far more powerful, in the impact on those children than the imagery they see in the media.
Obviously, all of the adults in this nation have to take more responsibility for becoming involved in the lives of all children. Dr. Maya Angelou talked about the epidemic of rage and cynicism that can only be cured if adults become more involved and more constructively involved with children.
We talked about the importance of early childhood education and after-school care -- both areas where communities can help parents by filling in the times of the day when it's so difficult for some families to do the job they need to do. Of course, we talked about the problems in schools, how some of them are too big, how we need smaller schools, or at least smaller schools within large schools; more teachers; more guidance counselors.
We talked about how to heal communities that foster a feeling of alienation and isolation, that hurts the ability to establish a sense of connectedness that is so important for children to learn. Of course, we talked about how to limit the availability of guns to children and to criminals and to those who are obviously unsuitable to have guns.
And we talked about the role of the media. And I want to commend ABC and CBS and most of the cable networks and satellite networks for participating in the V-chip system that is going to hold the promise of dramatically improving the ability of parents to protect their children against images they feel their children are not capable of handling.
We talked about the Internet. Steve Case and others described the new safeguards that are going into effect in just a couple of months, and video games. And a new breakthrough occurred right in the meeting with an agreement between the video game industry and the Internet industry to plug a loophole that now makes it possible for children to get unrated and violent video games over the Internet, where it's impossible for them to buy them in stores.
We talked about self-restraint and a movement starting within the entertainment industry to recognize that, obviously, since billions of dollars is spent on advertising because it affects behavior, the plague of ultra-violent images that are planted like seeds in the minds of children bear bitter fruit in some vulnerable children. Most can handle it; they've been given the strength to do so by their families and by their faith and by their communities. But it was so encouraging to hear the entertainment industry describe the steps already taken, others in prospect, and the movement within the industry.
And, of course, the need for more mental health services and early detection and an ability to intervene early because, as someone said, a 1st grade teacher can often tell you within a couple of weeks after the start of the school year that one or two children in her or his new class is going to be vulnerable to trouble if there's not intervention. But there are waiting lines and not enough services.
Finally, we talked about the faith dimension of this and the need to -- with all, of course, due respect and utmost observance of the principle of separating government from religion -- of making it easier to reconnect faith communities with some of the efforts that are now underway.
In closing, as the President mentioned, this is just the beginning of an important new partnership. And he mentioned -- excuse me -- the First Lady mentioned that this was modeled after the campaign against teen pregnancy. Secretary Shalala has played a big role in that one. And I had the privilege of announcing the success, the new figures that show success in that -- where, again, it was recognized there's not a single cause, there has to be a community-wide effort to address all of the factors that go into that. And it's succeeding.
So I'm encouraged. And, Mr. President, I want to thank you again for the kind of leadership that has made this possible. And I know that all of the people who joined us here would like to join with Tipper and me in thanking you for convening this session. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
Q -- forces? Is that good enough?
Q Mr. President, are you encouraged by word of a Serb withdrawal?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm encouraged by any good word, but I think that the conditions that we set out are the minimal ones to make this work. I don't think that the -- after all the Serbs -- after all the buildup, and the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars have been driven out, many, many killed, I don't think they'll come back with that. So I think we have to do better.
But any little daylight, any little progress is -- it's better than it was the day before. We just have to bear down and keep working, and we'll work through it.
But I think that forces have got to be withdrawn. There has to be an international security force there. Otherwise, they won't come home. And that's the important thing.
Q Mr. President, as a high-schooler, how can I reconcile these images we see on the news?
END 2:29 P.M. EDT