Jennings asked more directly: "Do you think there is too much violence and too much sex in American entertainment, and would you, should you, now be using your moral leadership on your Hollywood friends or with your Hollywood friends in order to reduce it?" Faced with talking tough about some of the Democrats' largest campaign donors, Kerry started hemming and hawing: "In the appropriate ways, at the appropriate times, absolutely." When it is appropriate? A rumpled political veteran would quickly guess: "Never."
Then, Kerry decided to internationalize the problem: "And I think it has an impact, frankly, on how America is viewed in the world. I think part of our struggle with those of other religions who object to American culture needs to be thoughtful and sensitive to some of what we export abroad." That's a new twist. As part of his outreach to build alliances to the Islamic traditionalists of the Middle East, he's going to demand the export of milder popular culture from Hollywood?
Don't bet on that. Kerry quickly added: "But I've never been in favor, and I'm not now, of an overreach by the government that has a chilling effect on the First Amendment or that seeks to have a kind of censorship of some kind."
Kerry's problem is that his Hollywood supporters don't even want "thoughtful and sensitive" evaluation of lewd sexual content and graphic violence in their TV, movies and music. With a "Princess and the Pea" level of hypersensitivity, Hollywood insists that the "chilling effect" begins in the very first moment when the public begins to object. The First Amendment begins to crumple when the first citizen speaks up and demands an explanation from the entertainment elite.
John Kerry could walk a long way into the center of American politics by having the courage to ask his Hollywood friends to explain why pixilated nudity and bleeped obscenities are so crucial to television; why sewage has to be pumped into our "PG-13" movies; why the radio has to be a three-ring audio circus of lust, violence and greed.
George W. Bush has left the field wide open. He's done nothing about this issue for four years -- a true mystery given his personal beliefs -- and shows no signs of wanting to touch it in the next four should he be re-elected. So the spotlight's on Kerry: What will he do?