A new book called "The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the
Media's Effect on Our Children" is written by a liberal professor and
features an afterword by a member of the Clinton family. So should
conservatives consider it radioactive? At times it's wrongheaded -- even to
the point of shrillness -- but it does have some superb moments. In the
final analysis, it's a provocative read.
First, let's dispense with the Clinton angle. Young Chelsea took
classes at Stanford from "The Other Parent" author James Steyer, helped
research the book and now contributes a two-page afterword to it. Clearly
it's meant to sell books, because what she has to say is wholly innocuous.
Still, I wish Steyer hadn't included Chelsea, because he
unwittingly undermines a key lesson of his book, one which too many
political junkies have not accepted: The issue of media sleaze is simply not
As a conservative, I can applaud much of what this liberal
writes. For example, I wholeheartedly agree with Steyer when he states, "The
loss of innocence at too early an age is perhaps the highest price that
American kids pay in [the current] media environment ... Our kids are
bombarded with language, messages and images that far exceed the most
outrageous forms of pop culture we experienced ... Innocence is priceless.
It's an essential element of childhood and growing up. But today,
[preserving it] is virtually impossible."
Likewise when he notes that "the media industry's practice of
repeatedly calling [its] critics 'censors' is a bogus and irresponsible
defense ... It's ironic to see ... criticism slammed as 'censorship' by
those who always run for cover to the First Amendment."
Some of his recommendations sound simplistic ("Do not put a
television in your child's bedroom. TV's should only be ... where you can
supervise what your kids are watching"; "Get children to think of media not
as a constant presence but as an activity that they do 'by appointment
are simplistic. But when surveys show
that 97 percent of parents think television is too violent and raunchy, yet
almost half of them allow their children to have TV's in their bedrooms --
they need to hear the obvious.
As long as Steyer sticks to commonsensical, non-ideological
insights, he's fine. Alas, he slips into the political. A strident,
anti-free-market bias mars "The Other Parent." For example:
"Let's be very clear here. Every time you as a parent or citizen
are disgusted by what you see on television or hear on the radio or view in
a video game, remember where it all started to go downhill. It began with
these contemptuous, misguided policies that deregulated media in the 1980s
... Remember how the Reagan administration sold kids and families down the
river. Remember that our national values and many longstanding traditions of
public interest and civic responsibility were totally sullied by greed and a
mad rush for profits."
Agree with the policy or not, it's true that under Ronald
Reagan, the federal government deregulated the broadcast industry
considerably. It's also true that further large-scale deregulation took
place under Chelsea's dad. But Steyer ducks under the higher pertinent
truths, namely, that the salient reasons the airwaves are awash in vulgarity
aren't economic, they're moral, and that those reasons are rooted in a
philosophy that isn't liberal or conservative; it's libertine.
In a free economy, choices result from both internal leanings
and external influences. In terms of, say, sexual behavior, it is clear that
absent a grounding in a moral code, human beings are prone to indulge
themselves. The media's shallow, sensationalistic treatment of sex -- a
treatment that easily predates the deregulation Steyer bewails -- feeds, and
thus intensifies, that tendency.
If Steyer is going to introduce the political, he must
acknowledge that as a practical matter, increased cultural permissiveness
was, in the pre-Reagan, pre-broadcast-deregulation 1960s and '70s, a cause
that found its advocates primarily on the left, not on the right.
"A free, unregulated marketplace," Steyer writes, "will (SET
ITAL) never care about kids. [Emphasis in original.] ... Kids
need special rules, special protections and strong, mediating forces that
will place their interests above the ruthless imperatives of short-term
profit margins. The last time I checked, that was supposed to be the role of
government in our democratic system."
On one level he is, of course, correct. But government
regulation by itself will never be the solution and will in fact open a
Pandora's box of new problems. Before the public surrenders its freedoms --
and that is what regulation does -- it should exercise its responsibilities.