Unlikely allies unite in 'values' campaign

July 08, 1995|By Marlene Cimons | Marlene Cimons,Los Angeles Times

Washington -- When C. Delores Tucker gets up to speak, she represents a lifetime of left-wing social action and dozens of black, feminist, liberal organizations that stand behind her.

"When I get up to speak," says William J. Bennett, adviser to Republican presidents, "I don't represent any of those groups."

Yet these two very disparate people have formed an unlikely alliance based on an underpinning of shared concerns. Together, they have launched an assault against what they see as the hate and sexism in some of today's rock and rap music, as well as against its corporate sponsors. They condemn the lyrics in question as "sleazy, pornographic smut," dangerous to children because the words degrade women and promote violence.

Their teaming up explains a lot about a growing wave of anxiety about the state of American values.

People from very different places and perspectives -- indeed, people who agree on little else -- are separately concluding that something is destroying the nation's moral core. More amazing still, they agree on remedies.

Liberal activists are saying many of the same things as Christian conservatives. Small-town preachers find themselves in sync with university intellectuals. Forces are at work here that are replicated nowhere else.

"There is this growing malaise in the country that reflects a widespread collapse of moral values," said Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

"People of all persuasions are very troubled. They are troubled by the fact that a million teen-age girls get pregnant every year, that somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 kids bring guns to school every day. Those things strike at the very heart of who we are as moral people. There are certain basic consensus values we can all agree on, recognizing that they are essential to building a decent society."

In one of a series of episodes around the country, five Greenwich, Conn., high school seniors recently inserted a hidden, racist message in their yearbook. The Greenwich community reacted with outrage, and the students were not allowed to graduate with their classmates.

Rabbi Yoffie, who has added his voice to the growing number of those attacking the controversial rap and rock lyrics, acknowledges the "bizarre nature" of the coalition forming around the issue of values.

"We're not speaking as politicians," he said. "We're not building a coalition around political issues. We speak to values, and we will take that in whatever direction it leads us."

It has led Ms. Tucker and Mr. Bennett, who are far apart politically, to join forces against corporations and musicians responsible for the controversial music.

Ms. Tucker, a liberal black woman who spent much of the 1960s participating in marches and protests led by Martin Luther King Jr., now heads the National Political Congress of Black Women. Mr. Bennett, a white male college professor and former education secretary-turned-conservative politician, is the author of "The Book of Virtues," a best seller.

"We may disagree on politics, but when it comes to children, we are together," Ms. Tucker said.

"Delores Tucker and Bill Bennett are terrific politicians," said Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, who has known Ms. Tucker for more than a decade.

"They know how to build strategic alliances," Mr. Neas said. "In this world -- whether it's the world of values or the world of politics or the world of government -- those who forge strong coalitions win more often than not. They both understand they have a common goal, and they are pursuing a common strategy."

Ms. Tucker and Mr. Bennett havesingled out Time Warner Inc. as the chief corporate villain, the purveyor of lyrics so offensive that, as Ms. Tucker said, "you can't even print it in your newspaper."

She holds up a large poster board of a comic strip-like foldout that depicts scenes of extreme and degrading violence against women. This, she says, comes with an album recorded by rap artist Snoop Doggy Dogg.

"Time Warner produces this pornographic smut, which black children embrace as role models," she said. "Children want to dress like them, walk like them, talk like them and use language that you wouldn't believe. This is the filth that children are buying. This is the biggest hit with kids. Yet nobody can show it. Nobody can print it. This is pornography, and every kid is saying these words now."

Ms. Tucker purchased Time Warner stock so that she could participate in a recent meeting of stockholders meeting. She delivered a 17-minute tirade against violent and misogynistic lyrics in songs performed and recorded by Time Warner groups.

"If corporate responsibility dictates that we protect the whales, protect the rivers and protect the envi

ronment, then the most important of all Earth's resources should be protected," she said. She would not necessarily ban the offending material but perhaps restrict it to adults-only shops.

Since the stockholders meeting, Ms. Tucker and Mr. Bennett met with company executives in what was described as a testy session, with especially confrontational exchanges between Mr. Bennett and the executives. "I'm louder, but they're probably more afraid of her," Mr. Bennett said.

A spokesman in the Washington office of Time Warner did not return calls seeking a response to the Tucker-Bennett campaign. But several weeks ago in New York, Gerald M. Levin, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, promised that its music division would launch an industrywide effort to develop standards for lyrics.

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