Remarks of Senator at the Brad Davis Wdrc listener lunch

Thank you, Brad, for the opportunity to speak with you and hundreds of your fans today.

Next year Brad will celebrate his 30th anniversary as WDRC’s morning host, and he’s never been more popular.  In this particular election year, it is very encouraging for me to see a guy become more effective and more popular as he gets older.  Brad, I’m just lucky you never decided to run for Senate!

I’d like to talk with you today about a subject on the minds of a lot of people in Washington and Connecticut alike, the Mark Foley scandal, and some of the larger implications for our country and, in particular, for our children.

Let me start by stating the obvious.  Congressman’s Foley’s behavior was inexcusable, and the fact that he was co-chair of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus on Capitol Hill makes his actions even more perverse.

The fact is, we in Congress are personally responsible for the well-being of the young men and women in the Page Program, and for a Member to prey on them is absolutely reprehensible, one of the worst violations of the public trust imaginable.

Foley has brought shame not only upon himself, but on the Congress.  He must be fully investigated and prosecuted for any crimes he has committed.

I am also deeply disturbed by the reports suggesting that some in the House leadership ignored or even covered up Congressman Foley’s predatory behavior.  This case demands a full, immediate, and independent investigation, which is underway in the bipartisan House Ethics Committee.

Right now we have a lot of damning statements, insinuations and rumors, but we need to get the truth and quickly.  And once we do, if it shows that House Speaker Hastert or anyone else in the House leadership knew about Foley’s behavior and did not act to stop it, then they should resign and be replaced.  End of story.

What we don’t need is for this case to descend into another partisan political fight.  That would just compound the shame of Foley’s immorality.  And worse, it would divert our attention from where it should be, which is on the teenagers who were preyed on by an adult in a position of power over them.

Sadly, my opponent in the Senate campaign, Ned Lamont, could not resist the urge to politicize this awful incident.  He spent much of last week twisting my statements and launching more false political attacks against me.   And as usual, he offered no constructive ideas to address the larger problem here of keeping kids safe online.

If there were ever a time to put people ahead of politics, this is it.  We are talking about an outrageous breach of the public trust.  We are talking about the health and safety of children who are directly under Congress’s care.   And not least of all, we are talking about every 21st Century parent’s worst nightmare – that their child will become the victim of an Internet predator.

This is a real and dangerous threat, as parents here in Connecticut well know.  You’ve probably seen the headlines. . . the 27-year-old man in Chaplin who was arrested for an alleged sexual assault committed against a 13-year-old girl from Hebron, whom he had met on the web site called MySpace. . . . and the arrest of two men who used MySpace to lure and assault two girls from Fairfield County, just 11- and 14-years-old.

Those two examples, along with the Foley case, represent just the tip of an iceberg of indecent activity spurred on by the Internet.  One study reported that about one out of every six children online receive a sexual solicitation.  That is a frightening statistic – and an even more frightening reality for today’s parents.

I have been thinking and talking a lot about the stresses and strains middle class families are feeling these days.  And I can tell you from my conversations with parents across the state that few things worry them more than the challenge they face in raising their children and giving them good values and keeping them safe in today’s digital culture.

This is a problem I have been focused on for most of my 18 years in the Senate.  I have tried to use the platform I have to be a voice for parents who work so hard to teach their children good values and protect them from harm.  I have pushed the leaders of our various media industries to act responsibly, to help give parents more control of the influences affecting their kids’ lives.

I got into this fight back when my youngest daughter was about four, and she happened to be watching a particularly raunchy TV show with her older brother.  I heard some of the crude jokes on the show and was amazed it was on in the “family hour,” when a lot of small children like our youngest were watching   And my chief of staff at the time had a similar experience with his young son and violent video games like Mortal Kombat

That was back in 1993.  Soon after, I began working with Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo, and others to fight the rising tide of violence in children’s video games.   In the end, we got the video game industry to adopt a meaningful rating system.

Lots of games are still extremely violent and sexually explicit, and with advances in technology, some of them are more gruesomely realistic than ever.  But at least parents have a fighting chance because they know right on the package whether a game is okay for their children – and they get to make the right choice for their family.

Now a group of us in Congress are pushing the retailers to help meet parents another step of the way and stop the sale of adult-rated games to kids without their parents’ permission, much like the movie theaters do.   We would impose penalties on the retailers if they don’t.

On another front, we worked across party lines to push back on the big corporate record companies for the deeply offensive, violent, and hateful lyrics in too many records being sold to children. We fought for and got the V-chip, which gives parents an easy-to-use tool to block their children from viewing inappropriate programs on TV.

And working with Senator John McCain and others, we got the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on the deceptive marketing of adult-rated video games and movies to children, and pushed the big media companies to adopt tougher industry standards against this irresponsible practice.

Some in Hollywood want to make this issue about censorship.  That’s nonsense.  The truth is, I don’t want to put the government in charge of what you and your children watch – nor do I want to leave those decisions to big corporations who create much of our culture.  I want to put that power back in the hands of parents.

In this age, information is power.  And that is why, in addition to arming parents with ratings to make informed decisions day-to-day, I have worked to spur more research on the impact of the electronic media on children.

Just last month, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill I wrote with Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Hillary Clinton of New York to do just that, and deepen our understanding of the positive and negative influences of new and old media alike on the development of our children.

I am proud of that victory, which, as in most cases, came because we stood up for what is right and reached across party lines to find common ground.   I am equally proud that in this larger fight for a more decent culture, I have had the support of the people of Connecticut every step of the way.

My opponent, on the other hand, seems disinterested and even disdainful of this issue.  To our knowledge, he has said nothing in this campaign about the culture of sex and violence that is harming our kids.  And his supporters in Hollywood and elsewhere have regularly attacked me for my work.

In fact, according to the Washington Post, Ned Lamont’s campaign asked rap artists to call into radio stations in Connecticut to attack me for protesting against violent and offensive music lyrics, some of which celebrate the beating and raping of women.  Can you believe that?

Well, let me reassure you.  Over the years, I have stood up to a lot of powerful political interests to defend the families of Connecticut, and I am not about to back down now.  Not when the risks to our children and our values get worse, both in the popular culture and across cyberspace.

The Internet is a wondrous, revolutionary medium.   But there is too often a thin line between the awe-inspiring and the simply awful, and with each new technological breakthrough, it seems that the opportunities for our children to fall into that awful gap grow greater and graver.

Because of Mark Foley’s use of instant messaging to prey on young Pages, more parents are now familiar with that particular risk.  But they must also know that kids can get access to the most horrific web sites imaginable, displaying the worst possible kind of imagery.  We just read last week about how graphic videos showing terrorists killing American soldiers are showing up with increasing regularity on the popular video site called You Tube.  Accessible to anyone, of any age.  On any computer.

And of course, parental supervision is becoming ever-more challenging now that the Internet is accessible on many kinds of devices, including cell phones.  It’s one thing for a parent to turn off the TV, like I did when my daughter was watching that raunchy show more than a decade ago.  But today, kids have access to a whole new hidden world of entertainment through a wide variety of devices, many of them small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.

Let’s face it:  technology is changing more rapidly than our ability to protect our kids.  I believe the time has come to fight back.  Not to stop the march of progress – but to help parents keep pace.

We’ve spent years trying to make sure that parents have the information they need to decide what entertainment products are right for their kids via ratings and TV controls, but what are we doing to make sure parents have the same information and tools when it comes to Internet content?

Let me outline some simple steps we can and should take.

First, we need to demand more corporate responsibility.  The people who run MySpace and You Tube and all the other big, popular web sites where we know millions of our children are visiting each and every day, should do more to clean up their sites and help prevent kids from having access to the kinds of content and the kinds of people who can do them harm.

The big corporations should also do more to clean up their own act on the Internet.  One major film studio put an animated video game on a movie site in which the user could manipulate the male character into performing an unmentionable act on the female character.  That must stop.

Today I call on the largest businesses involved in the Internet to hold a summit to develop industry standards for protecting children from inappropriate content on the web.

These businesses already came together to talk about other issues all the time.  Google just had a “think tank” summit with the heads of major networks, media conglomerates and other big Internet businesses last Thursday.  A “think tank” summit is fine, but it would be more important for them to have a “think kids” summit now.

Now, here’s some ideas they should pursue at their “think kids” summit:

The big Internet companies should fund a national campaign to educate parents about the online risks faced by their children, and how they can best protect their families.

That campaign should also focus on teaching kids to be careful about sharing personal information.   Too often kids who think they are keeping things private are actually divulging revealing information – such as the name of the mall they like to go to – that makes it easy for predators to find them.

Those big Internet companies could also finance a major research and development program to come up with more effective software to keep children away from unsafe Internet sites, and to keep predators away from them

I also believe that major websites frequented by children should pursue new approaches to block child sex offenders from logging onto them.

There are some signs of corporate responsibility on the Internet.  News Corp, which owns MySpace, is appointing a safety czar to watch over the site and it will be initiating an education campaign to help young people protect themselves from predators. It also plans to help block and filter parts of MySpace to discourage kids from finding inappropriate material and to keep predators from tracking children down.

We also have to demand more parental responsibility.  Parents have the first duty to protect their kids and are usually the last line of defense.  Now, given the omnipresence of the Internet and the unique challenges that presents, parents need to be more vigilant than ever.

It’s no longer enough to keep the computer in the family room when most parents have no idea what chat acronyms mean.  Parents need to tell their kids not to share personal information and to tell them when they receive online sexual solicitation.

But we know that parents can’t do it all on their own.  There are some things that the government can and must do to help make this hard job a little easier.  And there are some things that only the government can do prevent crime and keep kids safe.

With that in mind, I have been working with a bipartisan group in the Senate on a plan to strengthen online protections for children, called the Internet Safety and Child Protection Act.   This bill would:

  • Require adult websites to conduct online ID checks using age-verification software.
  • Tax online pornography to fund an Internet Safety and Child Protection Trust Fund.
  • Create a cyber tip line in the Office of Juvenile Justice
  • Establish Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in each state
  • Fund research into new filtering technologies
  • And support education programs on child Internet safety.

With children now spending more time on the Internet than with any other form of entertainment, we have to change the way we think and act about how to protect them from being exposed to too much sex and violence and predators like Mark Foley and thousands of others who are lurking online.

For example, in Australia, they have decided this is such an important priority that they now provide every family with free Internet filtering software.

I was just reading that Google is about to spend $1.6 billion to buy You Tube.   Maybe we can convince them to spend a fraction of that money to arm parents with software to monitor their children’s online travels.

At the end of the day, we have to realize that there is no one solution.  The Internet is a constantly evolving, totally global network.   It’s hard to imagine a way to control it or tame it or make it fully child-friendly.

But if we work together – not just across party lines, but across public-private divides – and harness the genius of American ingenuity, I am confident that we can dramatically reduce the harmful risks to our children and make the most of this amazing medium.

I pledge to do my part. I’ll never forget an experience I had soon after I started speaking out about TV and video game violence years ago.  I ran into a woman outside a Stop & Shop in New Haven, and she told me to keep up the pressure on the television networks.  She said she felt like she was in a struggle with the TV to raise her kids and she was losing.  The TV networks won’t listen to someone like her, she told me, but they might listen to me.

As long as I have the honor of representing you in Washington, my voice will be your voice and I will keep fighting for a safer, saner culture.   Thanks and God bless you.

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