MotherJones SO93: Backtalk

THE LAMBS THAT ROAR

Richard Blow’s article on Tom Foley (“Foley flexes,” July/August) and Stephen Pizzo’s sidebar (“Lions into lambs”) on congressional freshmen purport to demonstrate that Tom Foley waged a “secret war” to hold on to his job as speaker, and this effort resulted in an end to the congressional reform process. We know little about what happened before we got to Washington, but we know that there are many inaccuracies concerning reform.

The article correctly identifies campaign-finance reform as a key element of any reform package. The freshman Democrats, who are so roundly criticized in Stephen Pizzo’s piece, list that as their top priority in their reform package and received strong support for their provisions from outside reform groups. And now we are engaged in the effort to turn these proposals into real legislative action.

Another key element of reform is legislation dealing with lobbyists. We call for the most comprehensive set of new rules ever proposed, including strengthening lobbying disclosure and registration laws, streamlining disclosure requirements, and providing uniform lobbying disclosure standards. True reform ought to be aimed at breaking the financial linkages between the Congress and the well-heeled financial interests, whether they are lobbyists or PAC directors. Importantly, the freshman Democrats took aim at both while the Republicans were silent.

Further, you stated that the twenty-five reforms in the final package dealt mostly with parliamentary matters. We do not count making Congress subject to the laws that it passes a “parliamentary reform.” Similarly, we do not count a 25 percent cut in legislative branch appropriations a minor or “parliamentary” reform.

You state that “committee assignments culled the herd of reformers down to a mere handful.” Although the Freshman Democratic Task Force on Reform had no official membership roster, significantly more than a “handful” of members participated in our efforts. More than fifty members (out of sixty-four) attended one or more of the task force meetings. The vast majority of the meaningful work of the Congress is done within the committees, and for that reason we demanded seats on every important House committee, including the party’s powerful Steering and Policy Committee. We were successful in nearly every case, putting a record number of women and minorities on several committees.

We weren’t bought out. In fact, we have made a difference, both in bringing about congressional reform and in advancing a long-neglected domestic agenda. We acknowledge that we haven’t accomplished everything we have set out to do, but what would you have us do? Simply not move forward at all?

Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah

Rep. Eric Fingerhut, D-Ohio

Stephen Pizzo responds: If voters go to the polls in 1994 angry at members of Congress, it will not be because Mother Jones has misrepresented their actions. Instead it will be because the members– particularly the freshmen–failed to deliver the tangible reforms that matter to voters. The 110 freshmen elected in November promised during their campaigns to salvage the ship of state. So far, they’ve just rearranged the deck chairs.

Of course, Congress measures itself by its own yardstick. When viewed from the Washington perspective, the incremental changes that were proposed in March can be mistaken for victory. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of real changes to be made. For example:

* The speaking fees are gone and gifts limited to $250. Now go the rest of the way: eliminate anything that can smack of a bribe. In April, ABC News cameras caught a small herd of congresspersons cavorting on an all-expense-paid island junket thrown by the electronics industry. Congressional reformers should declare the acceptance of such free trips a clear violation of House ethics. That’s the kind of clear-cut reform voters want to see.

* Campaign finance reform: the White House has put forth a solid campaign-reform plan that calls for public financing and severe cuts in political action committee contributions. Without unyielding support by the freshman Democrats, the White House plan will be nibbled to death as it was in the Senate, where public financing was stripped out and replaced by a “poison-pill” provision intended to get the law struck down by the courts. Self-styled freshman reformers should have the courage to stand by the president’s public-financing plan.

Voters care little about the intramural rivalry between the two parties that found its way into the letter (“Freshman Democrats took aim at both while Republicans were silent”). To voters such talk sounds like the kids in the back seat arguing over whose foot is on which side of the hump.

If Congress fails to enact meaningful change, Ross Perot might well end up in the White House next time around. Bitter over being misled in 1992, voters might view Perot not so much as a president, but as a hand grenade tossed into the lap of a self-absorbed and calcified Congress.

TAKING BACK YOUR TV

Thank you for publishing “Honey, I warped the kids” (July/August), which is one of the best pieces on TV violence I have seen. I am circulating it widely and believe it will have great impact.

Television is not simply a mirror held up to society, as some in the industry argue. Television can be part of the problem of violence, or it can be part of the solution.

In a free society, self-restraint is an unwritten obligation of those who control major institutions. We have a window of opportunity for self-regulation under the antitrust waiver of the Television Violence Act, but the window is beginning to close; the law expires in December.

Senator Paul Simon, D-Illinois

I once made my living as a makeup artist. I did work on horror films, helping to create graphic portrayals of violent, sadistic acts. I took pride in solving the various technical problems involved in smashing skulls, dismembering, and impaling.

Having read “Honey, I warped the kids,” I can no longer lie to myself regarding the true nature of what I did in those years. Carl Cannon wrote that Mark Branch, killer of an eighteen-year-old woman, had ninety horror movies in his apartment, as well as a machete and goalie mask like those used by the killer in the Friday the 13th films. Eleven years ago, I worked on one of the films in that series.

The half-dozen violent films I “crewed” on have been viewed thousands of times and will doubtless be viewed thousands more. I have blood on my hands, and it is not fake.

David E. Smith, New Rochelle, New York

When I was a child and my parents wanted to protect me from something on the thought-vampire, they simply said, “No, you cannot watch that.” Why is it that when we have a problem in our society we immediately look to the government to put a Band-Aid on it? Can’t we fend for ourselves anymore?

Julia Chaffe, Bryan, Texas

For several decades, the ABC Television Network has maintained a Department of Broadcast Standards to review every entertainment program. Among our long-standing policies are guidelines that limit depictions of dramatized violence. There are obviously many people who may disagree with where ABC, as a network, decides to draw the lines on issues such as violence, sex, and language. The fact that no one can deny is that detailed oversight by ABC was exercised. We are often frustrated that our numerous new competitors are not required to meet even this minimum standard, but will not allow this to blind us to our own responsibilities.

Christine Hikawa, Vice President

ABC Broadcast Standards & Practices

New York, New York

The harmful effects of televised violence were acknowledged by the networks when they agreed to air parental advisories on graphically violent programs. This is a good first step, but we need to go further.

I have proposed a two-part plan: 1) give parents the information, through an industry-initiated ratings/coding system, to make informed decisions for their young children, and 2) with that information at hand, give parents the technological ability to block programs with a remote control, even if they are not in the room to supervise.

In this high-tech age of proliferating video channels, we must give parents more sophisticated control over their televisions than the crude, horse-and-buggy on/off button.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts

In answer to your question, “How would you resolve the conflict between excessive violence in entertainment and the protections guaranteed under the First Amendment?”: Easy! Same answer I’d give those who ask, “How would you resolve the conflict between antigovernment sentiment as expressed in publications such as Mother Jones and the protections guaranteed under the First Amendment?” Obviously, the First Amendment wins out.

Allen Pasternak, Houston, Texas

I’m the mother of three young boys and not only work but attend the local university full time, so communication in our household often takes place in ten-second superficial blips, i.e., “Did you have a good day at school?” This lack of “quality time” often makes me feel guilty and inadequate as a parent. One thing I refuse to do, however, is to blame anyone except myself for my children’s emotional states. My children were brought into this world by my choice, and how they relate to others as adults is primarily being formed by the examples set for them by my husband and myself.

Unfortunately for many children in today’s society, the women and men who elected to bring them into the world have failed them miserably. We cannot continue to blame a piece of electronic equipment with an on/off button for our own failings as parents.

Karen French, Flagstaff, Arizona

The problem with violence in entertainment is that there is not enough of it. Not enough accurately depicted violence, anyway.

In the real world a fistfight might last all of a minute, just long enough for one frenetic party or the other to land a couple of awkward, sickeningly dull thuds with hand or foot. It is a scene quite distinct from the choreographed athleticism in which we typically find the good guys and the bad guys rolling over stage props onto unseen cushions and breaking balsa-wood chairs over each others’ backs. In the real world, more often than not a shooting or a stabbing results in pumping, spurting blood. Engored organs. Urination. Defecation. The epitome of abject brutality and absolute terror.

If we need another law or regulation–and I don’t think we do–let it be that no violent act of any sort will hence be depicted in anything less than realistic and graphic terms.

J. Amos Van, Tinton Falls, New Jersey

Investigating a secondary amplifier of violence like television isn’t useful unless we are also investigating the fundamental source of violence in our minds: our intense anger at God (or a godless, mechanical universe, depending on your point of view) for apparently abandoning us in a world where our bodies are vulnerable to damage and destruction.

If we want to solve this problem, we need to investigate whether our deep, murderous anger is justified. Do we actually want to heal our root suffering, or keep looking for scapegoats to blame for its multitude of symptoms?

D. Patrick Miller, Encinitas, California

It is easy to cluck over why “they” make such horrible stuff. But we are the ones who buy the tickets, and then the lunch boxes and bedsheets and stuffed toys. That is the only reason “they” make them- -because we buy them.

The kids might complain when you turn off the Turtles, but that is our job as parents. You don’t like it? Turn it off. It’s that simple, and it’s that important.

Stephen Harris

Publisher/Editor, Full-time Dads

Cumberland, Maine

FOSTERING CONCERN

“Only $22 per month” (July/August), by Cecilia Rodriguez and David Schrieberg, is a moving account of their love and unwavering commitment to helping improve the quality of life of two young girls and their family in Colombia, through Childreach sponsorship.

The authors’ disappointment at our inability to materially improve the prospects for a more promising future for Martha Isabel and Maria Mariana is justified. Childreach and our global program partner, PLAN International, share their disappointment. Nonetheless, the authors can and should take satisfaction in knowing that their sponsorship has enabled the children’s community to begin significant progress toward improving their living conditions. PLAN has assisted the squatter families in obtaining title to their land, and is now helping them develop a potable water source and build sanitary latrines and a community center.

My own experience when I visited my sponsored child overseas, as for most Childreach sponsors, was uplifting. But that does nothing for Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Schrieberg, whose experience, I believe, is not unique. I deeply regret their experience and hope that on reflection they will elect to try again. The potential victory is worth the effort.

Eugene B. Mihaly, Ph.D.

Chairman, Childreach

Warwick, Rhode Island

As I read [“Only $22 per month”], I became incensed at the tone of the article and very resentful of David Schrieberg and people like him. The plight of Martha and her family broke my heart. I’ve been where Martha is, and I know when you are poor how hard it is to hold onto anything (a dress, a pair of shoes, love, your soul). And I know how desperately you grab hold of anything that might make your life even a little better (a man, a baby or two, etc.).

I grew up very poor in southern Appalachia. As a child, there were many times when I didn’t have enough food to eat, or sometimes enough coal to keep warm. Unless you’ve really been there, you can’t understand what it does to you, how it diminishes you. Like Martha, I dreamed of being something more than I was. And, like Martha, I had two children by the time I was eighteen.

David’s article is so full of condescension for Martha and her family. How dare he ask her why she got pregnant three times, and how sad that she answered him. Because people are poor, and out of that poverty make bad judgments, doesn’t mean their lives are without redemption. As long as I live and breathe, I will never stop trying to make my life better. I pray Martha doesn’t either.

Sharon Garner-Pratscher, Austin, Texas

CHEAP SHOT?

Eric Alterman just called to apologize for a cheap shot at me in the July/August Mother Jones. He said [Mother Jones editors] rewrote portions of his “Thumbs down” piece, equating me with the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot as purveyors of “conventional wisdom,” without showing him the edits. Alterman also admits simply lifting Gigot’s out-of-context quote from my essay on Clinton in The American Prospect, without bothering to read what I actually wrote. In fact, my full discussion of Bill Clinton’s purported liberalism was far more complex than either Gigot’s characterization or Alterman’s.

A sloppy reporter and a sloppy editor deserve each other. The subject and reader deserve better.

Curiously, the last time I wrote for Mother Jones, more than a decade ago, the editors also bowdlerized my own article without asking my approval of the changes. I have never written for you since, and this latest experience confirms the wisdom of that decision. Kindly have the decency to print this entire letter.

Robert Kuttner

Coeditor, The American Prospect

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Eric Alterman replies: Robert Kuttner doth protest too much and far too intemperately. What’s more, he seems to be having some trouble with the English language. I tried to set him straight on the phone, but he called me names and hung up in my face. I also gave him the opportunity to withdraw his nasty letter, thereby sparing me the unhappy task of this reply. He declined. So here it is:

1) There were no “cheap shots” taken at Bob Kuttner. We were both wronged by an error in the copyediting process, whereby one word in one paragraph was garbled to make it appear as if I were accusing Kuttner of calling Clinton “progressive” without supplying any evidence. I called him not to apologize, but to explain. (It is for the editors to apologize.) In my previous dealings with him, he had been a decent enough fellow, and I expected him to laugh it off once the record had been set straight. Obviously, this time, I really did make a mistake.

2) Kuttner insists that his “full discussion of Clinton’s purported liberalism” was “complex” and, hence, the quote in question was taken out of context. This is a transparent dodge. The quote in question was wholly unambiguous and is fully supported by the text. (If Kuttner wants to disown it today, that’s another matter.) Anyone with the slightest question on this point is invited to write to Mother Jones, and the staff will provide you with a copy of both the quote and Kuttner’s original.

3) So what this boils down to is that Kuttner is all in a tizzy because, as he said to me on the phone, he thinks I wrote a piece implying that he was a suck-up to Clinton and a mouthpiece for Washington conventional wisdom. That I did not write such a piece is, I think, obvious to everyone but Bob Kuttner. If I had wanted to write a Bob-Kuttner-is-a-suck-up article, I would not have taken the indirect route he attributes to me. Such subterfuge is hardly necessary when writing about a person who, when given the opportunity to speak directly to Bill Clinton before national TV cameras at the president’s now long-forgotten economic conference, provided the following hard-hitting analysis: “Mr. President, words fail me in describing what an extraordinary event this is. This has to be the defining moment of your presidency. It is the president as teacher, as leader, as explainer, as synthesizer. This is a magical moment, and I thank you for including me and for offering this to the country.”

To paraphrase the late, great I.F. Stone: A journalist capable of uttering sentiments like these need never lunch alone.

Editor’s Note: Mother Jones apologizes to Eric Alterman and Robert Kuttner for the error. Alterman never implied that Kuttner hadn’t supplied evidence for his characterization that Clinton is progressive. But we didn’t alter Alterman’s critique of Kuttner, which still seems accurate.

In his American Prospect article, Kuttner summed up Clinton’s first months in office: “He has a knack for going over the heads of the interest groups to the people, he has enlisted Congress to support a surprisingly activist agenda, and he has even induced business to accept a surprisingly liberal one.”

After twelve years of Reagan/Bush, such wishful thinking is understandable. We fundamentally respect Kuttner and the magazine he coedits.

ANIMA

[Regarding “Anima,” July/August], to compare man with apes is really an insult to apes. Even if apes had televisions, do you think they’d watch members of their species murder and maim as entertainment?

Why malign higher orders than us?

Mendelson Joe, Toronto, Ontario

GOOD COP, BAD COP

While I suppose that the New York City Police Department should be grateful for a three-donut rating from Mother Jones (“Bad cop, no donut,” July/August), I wonder how and when your survey was done.

The New York Police Department adopted community policing as its dominant style of delivering services in 1990. Since then, all twenty-eight thousand-plus officers have been trained in problem- solving. The city has been divided into beats, and every beat is the responsibility of one or more officers.

There are no roadmaps for us to follow since we are the first. But there is no question that the eyes of the policing world are on us, irrespective of Mother Jones’s donuts.

Suzanne Trazoff

deputy commissioner, public information

New York City Police Department

It really surprises me that you put Tucson on your good-cop list. While I have certainly observed improvement during the past two decades, conservative influences keep a lot of bad cops on the force.

What used to be out-and-out beatings are still manifested as harassment of the downtrodden and periodic shootings of the unarmed. I’d hate to live in a city that gets your bad-cop rating.

Soaring Bear, Tucson, Arizona

MOJO’S MEMORIES

I am very disappointed with the MoJo Update entitled “MoJo’s memories online” (July/August).

Look at how the second sentence begins: “Participants include ‘adult survivors,’ psychologists, counselors, Survivors of False Memories support group members, and curious onlookers . . .” By placing “adult survivors” inside quotation marks, you imply that there is something false or not legitimate about them: that they are either not really survivors of child abuse (they were never abused), or they are not really adults (they are immature).

By choosing to use an unbalanced wording, you have crossed the line from covering the backlash against the adult survivor movement to participating in it.

Steve Chessin, Mountain View, California

WE ARE NOT A CULT, NOT A CULT, NOT A CULT . . .

After we ran a 250-word article about the introduction of the Church of Scientology into Russia (“L. Ron’s Russia,” March/ April), our office was inundated by letters, the majority coming from within a ninety-mile radius of our San Francisco offices. Following is a sample of the thoughts expressed in the letters:

Mother Jones reached its journalistic bottom with “L. Ron’s Russia.” It appears that you are using propaganda from either Interpol or Eli Lilly as your news. To spread this distortion on your part is a countersurvival act.

L. Ron Hubbard, as history will someday show, was the world’s greatest philosopher. Out of his works, numerous miracles occur daily, worldwide.

Robert Black, San Mateo, California

Did Mother Jones miss the story, that upon hearing how well the Russians were receiving Mr. Hubbard’s study, Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, sent a team of execs to Russia on a black propaganda mission against Mr. Hubbard and Scientology? This is a retaliation for Scientology’s exposure of Prozac and its explosive side effects, which hurt Eli Lilly in its most vital target area, its profit margin. The Russians, however, are very hip to propaganda and sent the Eli Lilly boys packing, back whence they came.

R. Lance Whalin, San Francisco, California

I understand that Eli Lilly is opening in Moscow in order to continue with the emotional straitjacket psyche drug operations working in the United States, which turn us all into noncaring, no-action individuals instead of people helping others.

Sharyn Runyon, Los Angeles, California

It has just gotten a bit clearer to me why you wrote the anti- Scientology article that you did. Perhaps you are in a better position financially if there are people addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Judith Fisher, Mountain View, California

Nazis don’t write favorable stories on Scientologists either. I guess you guys have something in common.

T. Belanger, San Francisco, California

Don’t confuse “facts” with the truth. The fact is, Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Americans through his conduct of the Civil War. The truth is, he saved the Union. The fact is, Mr. Hubbard and the organizations which utilize his teachings are controversial. The truth is, the principles he taught, when applied, better the human condition.

David Kocharhook

Chairman of the board

Narconon of Northern California

Santa Clara, California

Narconon has effectively rehabilitated more drug-addicted persons than any other, shown in independent studies to have an 80 percent success rate.

Anne Gollert, Mountain View, California

[Hubbard’s] technology is being applied around the world with a great deal of success; Narconon has the highest success rate, in the 70 percent range.

Bob Del Chiaro, Sacramento, California

Narconon can claim an 87 percent cure rate. No other treatment modality comes near it.

Marlene Hamerling, New York, New York

Your writer Sander Thoenes’s obvious bias against the Scientology religion has no place in a news story. The Church of Scientology is, and has been for more than twenty years, at the forefront of exposing the IRS’s abuses against American citizens and in taking effective action to reform the failing tax system. This is but one aspect of the Church’s long history of government and social reform.

The Church has exposed and campaigned hard against a wide variety of ills, from psychiatric slave-labor camps for South African blacks to CIA mind-control experiments to Interpol’s Nazi past and drug- trafficking present.

Scientology is unique in that it contains no dogma and its adherents are not told or forced to “believe” anything. In Scientology, what is true for the individual is only what he has observed and knows is true for him. Scientology is a technology that one can use and through its use discover its workability for oneself.

Millions of people around the world have discovered for themselves the workability of Scientology, and it is today the world’s fastest- growing religion. No wonder it is expanding into Russia and a whole lot of other places.

Jeffrey G. Quiros

Director of Special Affairs

Church of Scientology of San Francisco

Correction: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee requests that we correct an error in “Foley flexes” (July/August). The $4,135,428 that the DCCC contributed to congressional candidates during the last election was actually “hard money” and not, as we reported, “soft money.” The DCCC did, however, give $4.3 million in soft money to nonfederal election campaigns.