By Mannix Porterfield
Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final story in a series based on Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s appearance before The Register-Herald’s editorial board.
Not many in Congress seem willing to saddle up and ride with Sen. Jay Rockefeller in his crusade to clean up television programming and guard young eyes from surfing in the murky waters of the Internet.
Even so, the lack of strong support hasn’t deterred the West Virginia Democrat’s feelings that his cause is just.
“It’s sort of seen as a goody-goody issue,” Rockefeller told The Register-Herald’s editorial board. “Well, it isn’t to me. And I think that people’s views toward their communities, their sense of responsibility to each other, the times of crisis, are affected by this.”
Rockefeller opened his campaign against television programming back in June, seeking to expand the Federal Communications Commission’s powers to regulate what broadcast, cable and satellite are bombarding into the eyes and ears of children.
Violent content has a way of desensitizing impressionable minds, he said, alluding more than once in the interview to school shootings, especially the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech.
To buttress his point, the senator told of an 80-year-old World War II veteran who visited him at home and described his wartime experiences, how he helped blow up German troop trains.
“He said that he just got numb, that he lost any feeling,” he said. “One thing was that he couldn’t see them. And that’s also true with troops on the ground. It gives them post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Then the senator borrowed a line from Gen. George Patton’s obscenity-laced rallying speech to troops, about making the other man die for his country — except Rockefeller omitted the salty-tongue warrior’s allusion to the enemy’s paternity.
“That is the point — you get immune to it,” he said.
Rockefeller embarked on a related crusade in September and won endorsement by the Senate Commerce Committee of his bill aimed at directing the Federal Trade Commission to create a national awareness program and provide education promoting safe use of the Internet when children go online.
That measure calls for $5 million in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 to finance the campaign and directs the FTC to report back to Congress.
There has been some sentiment that efforts to clean up the airwaves should be limited to the viewing hours of 7 to 10 p.m., but Rockefeller says this simply no longer washes.
“Kids start watching television at 10 now,” he said.
Rockefeller says he is dismayed at the violent nature of not only television but video games in which children are fed a relentless diet of killing.
“They don’t blow up houses, they assassinate,” he said of the games. “An average kid sees a thousand deaths ...”
Violence isn’t his only concern for that matter. Rockefeller says he also finds it disturbing that children are exposed to sexuality and promiscuity.
“The degrading of American morals, I think, is a huge issue,” he said.
To gather as much input as possible, the senator has consulted with parents, school counselors and psychiatrists.
Critics say the First Amendment allows such programming without government interference and that parents simply can switch channels or turn off their sets if content is objectionable.
“Which is like saying that American parents are just absolutely terrific because they have nothing else to do to make sure that they’ve got the little box on top and block the things out and do all of that,” he said.
“You know they don’t. I think it’s 11 percent at most who do that. Those are darn good parents, but most don’t.”
Rockefeller said he doesn’t think television content has been a contributor to a litigious society, “but sometimes I wish it was,” adding he wouldn’t mind seeing some lawsuits couched in the effects programs have had on some people.
So far, his efforts have made little headway in Congress, but Rockefeller says he intends to keep at both goals — television and the Internet.
“I don’t know whether people are getting too much from cable TV, but the Congress is not in a mood to preach to America any more,” he lamented.
“I don’t look upon it as preaching to America.”