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CNN Live Event/Special

Valenti and Rove Hold News Conference

Aired November 11, 2001 - 15:47   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association is now speaking at that news conference. We go to it live.

JACK VALENTI, PRESIDENT OF THE MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION: ... all unified that was in that room, all the major studios, all of the three guilds, representing actors, directors and writers, the presidents of those guilds and the executive directors of those guilds. There were theater owners and all the networks.

Now, I don't have to tell you that from time to time this is an antagonistic group. We have conflicts. We have differences of opinion, and sometimes they are passionately expressed. But in this meeting, there was a seamless web of unity that was really quite affectionate to behold because this was about contributing Hollywood's creative imagination and their persuasion skills to help in this war effort so that one day Americans can lead normal lives again.

That's what it was all about. I will say up front there was no mention of content. The White House and its representatives did not say anything about that, because they knew that that was not the subject. It was up for either debate or suggestion. Content was off the table. Directors, writers, producers, studios will determine the kind of pictures they choose to make and compelling stories they want to tell.

What this was, was this wonderful and I must say to me, heartwarming experience of every single element in the motion picture and television business coming together, joined together. What can we do and how soon can we do it? I'd like to ask Mr. Karl Rove if he'd like to say something. I know he's got a plane that he wants to get on to get back to Washington.

Mr. Rove is the senior adviser to President Bush and was very helpful and do a little briefing on what was going on in the war and also he might want to go over it -- and I'll be glad to do it later -- the sort of seven points that he made which I thought were both valuable and explanatory. Mr. Rove.

KARL ROVE, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Jack. I want to express appreciation of the administration for this opportunity to brief the leaders of the entertainment industry on the contributing to the war effort and to discuss with them some of the opportunities for involvement. I was impressed by the fact that in one room were all the studio heads and all the leaders of the guild -- it was a wonderful conversation. It's clear that the leaders of the industry have ideas about how they want to contribute to the war effort, and we certainly want to encourage that. These, like -- these people, like every other American, feels strongly about the events of September 11th and the need to see this war through to its victorious conclusion and we appreciated the opportunity to visit with them today.

I want to deal quickly with the question that I'm sure I'd be asked if we allowed questions, and so I'm getting it out of the way beforehand. The world has changed since World War II, and a lot of people's attitudes about how the movie industry and the government relate in time of war are formed by what we think.

We think we know about how the movie industry and the government interacted in World War II. On examination, relationship was like the relationship that we hope exists today. That is to say, the industry decides what it will do and when it will do it. The actual involvement of the movie industry in the war effort began at the direction of the industry itself in 1939 before the war even began.

There's a wonderful piece in "The New York Times" saying, Warner Brothers declared war on the Nazis last night with the release of their film "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" at the Strand. And contrary to the expectations that most people have or the recollections that most people have, the government did not direct the movie industry during World War II.

There was an Office of War Information and an Office of Film Production that existed for less than a year, from June of 1942 to June of 1943, but it had very little influence over the industry, and the industry sort of set its own course and its own direction. And we certainly are in a country that prizes freedom above all else, would certainly encourage that in this climate, in this situation.

But again, it was a great meeting. I appreciate so many important people taking time to come here on a Sunday morning. I thought it was a -- it was an interesting note that we met on Sunday, Veterans Day, in order to discuss how the industry saw its role in helping win this war on a day where we honor the sacrifice of others who have come before us to protect our freedoms. Thank you.

VALENTI: Thank you Mr. Rove. On behalf of Sherry Lansing (ph) and John Dogen (ph), our co-hosts, I want to say that every single major studio was in that room. Every single network was in that room. And again, all three guilds representing the creative community were in that room.

So, it was a gathering of kindred spirit who have come together. And some of the people standing behind me were there representing networks and studios and theaters, so -- and guilds -- so I suppose the time that I most reluctantly say is, are there any questions?

QUESTION: Mr. Rove, Mr. Valenti mentioned the seven points.

VALENTI: Yes. Well, Mr. Rove probably can do better than I. I wrote them down in my illegible handwriting, but I think ...

ROVE: Jack, I can't read your notes here.

VALENTI: I'll be glad to...

ROVE: We discussed with him the themes that are sort of the performing art message efforts in the administration. One is that this is a war against terrorism, not Islam, that America respects all religions. This is about a terrorist element that's attempted to hijack a religion.

Secondly, that this is an opportunity for call -- to issue a call for service. People want to know how they can help in this conflict, and we want to call them to service, not only in things that directly affect the war effort, such as the effort of health care professionals and emergency people and first responders, but we also want Americans to understand that they can serve in the war effort by helping their -- in their communities. Say, if they can feed a neighbor or help somebody in need, they're making America stronger and better for this conflict.

Thirdly, that we need to offer support for our troops and their families. We have a terrific fighting force of men and women, but it's a changed military. If you've been to a military installation you'll know what I'm talking about. Ft. Stewart, Georgia from which elements of the 24th Division are being deployed. You'll see a lot of families and you'll see lots of husbands and wives left behind their spouses as they are deployed abroad and you'll see lots of -- lots of children, and we need to think about supporting our men and women in uniform and their families.

Think about the stress that you have in losing a loved one to a military conflict, having them go abroad for a -- for a deployment. Now think about the conflict -- think about the stress that the family feels, for example, in the middle of Missouri when your husband would get up in the morning, go to the air base, suit up, fly off to Afghanistan and return home 18 hours later.

At least when your son or daughter goes or your husband or wife goes off to conflict and is deployed for six months or a year, at least you go through the pain of departure once. But these are military families that go through the pain of departure every day that their -- that their pilot husband or pilot father goes off to fly a B- 2 bomber to Afghanistan. So we need to think about supporting our military in these new circumstances.

Fourth, we need to understand that this terrorist attack was a global attack, which requires a global response. This is not simply an attack on two structures in New York City. This was an attack upon the fabric of civilization itself. It was an expression by people who say no rules, civilized rules govern their behavior.

Fifth, that this is a war against evil. We've got to be clear about this. This is not a mild disagreement between two diplomatic regimes. This is a fight against evil, against people who absolutely are intent upon undermining the foundations of our nation and upon spreading terror around the world.

Sixth, that this is a -- that we have the responsibility to reassure our children and our families. I don't know about your children, but I know about mine and I know about those of my friends and colleagues, and children are concerned. This is -- this is a war not in a distant place, but war brought home in a very personal way to our country, and we need to reassure children.

And finally, we talked about no propaganda. I mean, the world is full of people who are discerning, and we need to -- we need to recognize that concrete information told with honesty and specificity and integrity is important to the ultimate success in this conflict.

We talked about these themes and it was -- we had a good exchange about them.

QUESTION: What do you think Hollywood can do (OFF-MIKE)?

ROVE: Well, we talked about lots of things. I'm going to leave it up to the studio heads and the writers' guilds and the directors and the producers to talk -- to come to closure about what they want to do, but there are lots of good specific ideas that we talked about.

They arranged (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I read them in e-mail from the captain of the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt, the Big Stick, as they affectionately call themselves, where they said, look, we'd like some first-run movies for our -- for our -- for our ship. We've got -- we've got a lot of people and we've got good movies, but they're all old and we've seen them a lot of times. Can we please get access?

But we talked about other ideas. I'll leave it up to them to talk about the ideas that they -- that they brought up and the ideas they're going to adopt and follow. But we had a wonderful session about that, and I'm confident a lot of action will come as a result of it.

QUESTION: When are you meeting with them again?

ROVE: We haven't set a time to meet specifically, but I'm confident Jack and I will be in close communication. We've set up some -- Jack has set up a means for communication within the industry. We'll arrange for similar contact within the administration.

I'm also confident that there's likely to be several different efforts that emerge from this, one is through the MPAA, but there may be others that individuals launch for specific purposes and specific goals. I -- there was a lot of enthusiasm I sensed in the room for a lot of activity, and we'll see where it goes.

QUESTION: Is there going to be a committee of industry representatives for these kinds of (OFF-MIKE)?

VALENTI: Let me answer that. I think that there will be an organized structure. Remember, this was the beginning of the beginning. This is the first time we've met, and there was a lively exchange of ideas that were lofted by people in that room. Together with my colleagues and the studios and then the guilds and the networks, we're going to try to put some structure here, some discipline so that what we can do can be done with brisk efficiency.

But that's still to come yet. We have not done that. The means of distribution, we talked about, for want of a better phrase I'll call it public service announcement messages, not only here domestically but abroad. And as Mr. Rove said, messages to our armed forces, to the people of this country, and then abroad where we can try to tell people how America has been the most generous country in the world.

We have fed and clothed and sheltered millions and millions of people without asking anything in return. We have educated hundreds of thousands of people. And as he also pointed out, one of the big thrusts that we will try to use our skills is to make it clear to the millions of Muslims in the world that this is not an attack on Muslims. This is an attack on people who murder innocent people, which the followers of the Prophet Muhammad find to be violation of their own beliefs.

So this is a war against a small group of terrorists who have no remorse and who have no affiliation with the Muslim religion, because they violated when you kill people. This is the sort of message we hope we can get out.

CALLAWAY: Affectionate, wonderful, heartwarming -- the words of Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association describing the meeting with White House officials including Senior Adviser Carl Rove. He called it "a gathering of kindred spirits," saying -- Valenti saying that the content of movies certainly will not be changed, that that was not on the table, that producers will make what they want to make when they want to make it.

Let's go back now to Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" joining us from Washington. Now, did we learn anything from this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, yes. I mean, I think that, you know, Valenti made the point very clearly that what, you know, what they're interested in talking about are additional messages, supplementary messages and not really negotiating or discussing with the administration the underlying content of movies.

But you know, it was really striking to watch that room and think of Jack Valenti in the White House under Lyndon Johnson as Hollywood became a leading force against the Vietnam War in the late '60s and early '70s, and just how much times have changed. Karl Rove, quite the amateur historian, history buff, and giving a little lesson there on World War II.

The word I got yesterday was that the White House does not want to set up any kind of formal structure inside the government. They're hoping, as Valenti said, to have, I think, sort of informal, maybe a committee or some kind of an organization that would be quasi-private, that would work with Hollywood to encourage it.

And as we also heard, they're looking at both domestic and international messages. One kind of a fly in the ointment, as a reporter, an empirical question I'd like to know is: Hollywood has an enormous global reach, but how much reach do they really have to the people we want to reach the most, that is sort of fundamentalist Muslim countries, often low-income folks. I'm told, for instance, there is not a single movie theater in Afghanistan, and that may not be the only audience we're looking at.

But the question would be: Can we really reach the mass in countries like that through Hollywood.

CALLAWAY: But certainly could be productive in keeping the coalition together and providing some type of -- and making sure, it seemed to me, that everyone was on the same page and thinking the same way is what I got from this.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, yeah, and that there is a lot of genuine enthusiasm. You have that many high-level people in a room, something is going to come out of it. And again, the challenge will be to funnel this in constructive ways, because we've seen even in the telethons and other activities so far, there is almost a boundless desire to do something, really in all elements of the society now, and Hollywood is not exempt from that, and I think they can expect extraordinary cooperation. The hard part will be figuring out something productive for people to do.

CALLAWAY: And we'll be following it. Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times," also the author of the book "The Power and the Glitter." Thanks for joining us and staying with us through the news conference.

BROWNSTEIN: Good to see you.

CALLAWAY: Good to see you.