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Bush discusses TV decency standards

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Weighing in on the debate over decency standards for television, President Bush said the government must “call to account” programming that “gets over the line.” But, he said, making such a distinction would be a problem.

In an interview with C-SPAN to be broadcast Sunday, Bush also made clear his view that there is an excess of inappropriate programming on television and called on parents to form “the first line of responsibility.”

“Look, we are a great society because we’re a free society. On the other hand, it is very important for there to be limits, limits to what parents have to explain to their children,” he said. “Nevertheless … the parents’ first responsibility is to pay attention to what their children listen to, whether it be rock songs or movies or TV shows.”

Brian Lamb, the network’s chief executive, interviewed Bush on Thursday. In discussing decency standards, Bush declared himself “a free-speech advocate” and noted that he often had told parents publicly: “They put an off-button on the TV for a reason – turn it off.”

But Bush quickly added that the government “can, at times, not censor, but call to account programming that gets over the line. The problem, of course, is the definition of ‘over the line.’ “

The president praised outgoing Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael K. Powell, saying he did a good job of balancing free speech and policing the airwaves.

In searching for a new chairman, Bush said, he would ask prospects: “Please tell me where the line is.”

Powell’s four-year tenure was marked by controversy over indecency battles.

Bush said he rarely watched television, and when he did, it was almost always sports.

Bush said he currently was reading “His Excellency: George Washington,” by Joseph J. Ellis, and not long ago finished Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.

“I can’t remember all the books I read, but I do read a lot of books,” he said. A history major at Yale, Bush said that reading biographies “helps me better explain and understand exactly what we’re seeing (today).

“On a good night,” he said, the president reads 20 to 30 pages before turning in.

As for work, Bush said, he reads “maybe” 10 memos a day.

With the history of the White House in mind, Lamb asked Bush if he ever felt the “ghosts of past presidents.”

Bush quipped: “Well, I quit drinking in ‘86.”

Turning serious, he added that he had “tried to empathize” with Abraham Lincoln, “but it’s just really hard to project back into somebody else’s shoes. So, no, I guess I don’t see ghosts.”

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