Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) and his wife, Tipper, told top entertainment industry executives in a private peacemaking session in Los Angeles last week that the controversial hearings on rock music lyrics in which they participated were "a mistake" that "sent the wrong message."
The entertainment industry, which generally denounced the congressional hearings in 1985 as an attempt to censor music, plays a significant role in Democratic presidential politics, particularly fund-raising, but a spokeswoman for the Gore campaign said the session was an attempt to "clear the air" and not to tap into the industry's money-raising ability or contribution coffers.
Television producer Norman Lear, songwriter and former Eagles member Don Henley and MCA music entertainment head Irvin Azloff hosted the meeting. Daily Variety, a Hollywood entertainment newspaper, published a detailed account Tuesday of the two-hour luncheon under the headline: "Gores Polishing Showbiz."
Tipper Gore, along with Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, and other Washington women, founded the Arlington-based Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in 1985 as part of an effort to have warning labels placed on covers of record albums that include "explicit" lyrics. In a September 1985 hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, star musicians including Frank Zappa and John Denver argued that such controls would be a form of censorship. Sen. Gore serves on the committee.
Paige Crossland, a Gore campaign spokeswoman, said yesterday that Tipper Gore never favored censorship and that the Los Angeles meeting was requested by "California supporters" of Gore to "clear up misperceptions about Mrs. Gore's position."
The effort to make peace with the entertainment industry could affect Gore's fund-raising in California, where wealthy and politically active actors, recording artists and business people often lend glamor -- and money -- to a campaign. Concerts by well-known performers have joined receptions as popular fund-raising tools. Actress Sally Field recently held a fund-raiser for Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D). Henley is a friend of ex-candidate Gary Hart.
"For Democrats, there are three money centers -- New York, Chicago and L.A.," said Robert Beckel, a political analyst who ran former vice president Walter F. Mondale's 1984 campaign. "In L.A., the backbone of that is the entertainment industry. The entertainment network is extensive, and it's a place where if you don't have to make enemies, you don't."
Crossland said that the Gores' meeting was lively and helped to create a more favorable impression of the candidate's wife. Tipper Gore, she said, will continue to speak out on the issue of obscenity in popular-music lyrics but seek to erase "the specter of government intervention" that was raised with the hearings.
"The hearing put me in an awkward position because my husband . . . was a freshman member of the Commerce Committee," Gore wrote in her book "Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society," published earlier this year. "Some critics mistakenly assumed that he had asked for the hearing when in fact he and I both had reservations about it."
The Los Angeles meeting, by some accounts, was even more awkward. The Daily Variety story, which quoted extensively from a tape or transcript of the meeting, reported that participants described the PMRC effort as a variation of 1950s blacklisting.
But there appeared to be mixed opinions yesterday on whether the Gores' efforts succeeded. Danny Goldberg, president of Gold Mountain Records, said he contributed to Gore's 1984 Senate campaign but said he is now seriously concerned about Tipper Gore's effect on the music industry.
"Maybe there's some feeling that you can attack rock music in Washington on a Monday and then come and be nice to the entertainment community on a Wednesday," Goldberg said.
But Betsy Kenny, a political aide to producer Lear, said that the meeting was "very helpful" despite "some rather heated exchanges."
The session was organized by Los Angeles attorney and Gore ally Mickey Kantor and by liberal activist Lear.
"It was our view that once everybody was in the same room, there would be more agreement than disagreement," said Kantor. "People were very frank and candid," he added. "There was not complete agreement by any stretch of the imagination. Neither was there complete disagreement.
"Obviously, I didn't expect a lovefest," he said.