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web posted July 15, 2002

Parent group retracts charges against WWE

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has won a resounding victory over the advocacy group Parents Television Council (PTC), forcing it to publish a detailed retraction of charges that the "WWF Smackdown" series on the UPN network led to the deaths of four children, Variety reported last week.

As part of an out-of-court settlement, the PTC paid the WWE $3.5 million in damages and acknowledged that it had made false statements, not only about the WWE's supposedly deleterious influence on roughhousing children but also about the identity of advertisers who supposedly yanked their spots from WWE shows like "Smackdown."

In the retraction statement issued July 3, L. Brent Bozell, president of the PTC, said he "was incorrect and wrong to have blamed WWE or any of its programs for the death" of children such as Tiffany Eunick. Eunick died from injuries inflicted by another child, Lionel Tate, who went on trial for murder in Florida, charged with imitating the moves of WWE wrestlers.

Bozell said in the retraction that "false information" from parties to the Tate case led the council to charge that Tate was watching wrestling on TV when he killed Eunick. Instead, the PTC said subsequent facts proved that Tate was actually watching "The Flintstones" and the cartoon series "Cow & Chicken."

The PTC used the "bogus" information about Tate to lobby advertisers to pull their ads from the WWE's TV shows, Bozell said, "passing along accusations which we now know were false."

Bozell went on to say, "Because I feel a simple retraction is not sufficient, I have personally extended my apology to Vince McMahon," chairman of the WWE.

"Through this letter," Bozell continued, "I now make this apology public, and specifically direct it to the advertising community that has in the past, is currently, or may in the future consider advertising or sponsoring WWE programming."

The PTC has signed additional statements promising "never to interfere with WWE business relationships again ... never to urge boycotts of WWE products or of the products of WWE advertisers" and to "remove" from the PTC Web site "all references to child deaths and all references to WWE advertisers."

The retraction letter from Bozell must remain on the PTC Web site for six months.

Poll: Half of Americans willing to suspend freedoms

Living under the continuing threat of terrorism that might prove worse than last September's attacks, Americans are faced with the dilemma of how much to sacrifice in civil liberties for safety.

A new poll showing that almost half of 1,000 surveyed are willing to curtail basic freedoms to protect their country evokes concern among some civil libertarians, while others assert that a wartime mentality of survivalism has evolved over the nine months since the terrorists struck.

Former Sen. Gary Hart, co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, said it would be very difficult to find a balance when a pendulum was swinging between security and liberty.

"A lot will depend on whether there are more attacks. If there are, we will suspend a lot more liberties," he predicted.

Christopher Edley, a Harvard law professor who is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, believes that familiar safeguards of civil liberties might not be up to the current challenge. He suggested that the proposed Homeland Security Department should include an office of rights and liberties that would report to the public as well as to the president.

Neil Livingstone, president of Global Options, a Washington-based anti-terrorism consulting group, said, "We have to try to preserve our security without eroding civil liberties, but they will take a back seat to security, especially in our dealing with foreign nationals who have no constitutional rights in this country."

The Williamsburg Foundation survey of 1,000 people nationwide showed that 49 percent took the position that "if we need to relinquish some of our personal freedoms and privacies to protect our country, we should be prepared to do that." Another 53 percent agreed that the FBI should be allowed "greater monitoring powers."

Colin Campbell, foundation president, said, "the critical question is how Americans are willing to go in giving up freedoms that they now take for granted. That is my concern."

Campbell is worried that people are not aware enough of the significance of those liberties they are willing to surrender. He suggested that a "national dialogue" was needed to make sure people were not being "cavalier and unaware of vulnerabilities that would be exposed if they lost some basic freedoms."

"We don't want a situation where people are not paying attention until it is too late," he said.

But Robert Turner, a professor of international law at the University of Virginia, said, "What limitations may be placed on civil liberties is a hard call. I don't like it, but we also have to remember that to err on the wrong side can put lives at risk."

Turner, who said he had been lecturing on terrorism around the country, said the findings of the Williamsburg poll troubled him but did not surprise him.

"I have a 9-year-old son who plays in the front yard, and if there were a deranged person roaming around, we would have to take all kinds of precautions we would not normally take. That is what we are looking at here." he said.

Study: Guns no safer when locked up

Trigger locks and gun safes don't reduce the number of gun accidents, and they actually put gun owners and their families in greater danger, a new report says.

"What happens is it makes them more vulnerable to crime," said John R. Lott, Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has published the study Safe-Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicide and Crime. "Criminals become more emboldened to attack people in their home."

Lott cited a Merced, Calif. family whose guns were put away because of the state's safe storage law. John Carpenter, who lost two children in an attack in 2000, said a gun would have stopped the man who broke into his home with a pitchfork.

"If a gun had been here, today I'd have at least a daughter alive," Carpenter said.

For several years, gun control advocates have been quoting a study that reached a very different conclusion. University of Washington doctors claimed that in a dozen states which had safe storage laws, 39 children's lives were saved.

But the study has been widely discredited because the researchers never factored in that accidental gun deaths have been falling everywhere for decades.

Nevertheless, 18 states have passed safe storage laws. Lobbyists who fight for the legislation call Lott's research nonsense.

"He's argued after the tragedy at Jonesboro, Ark., the school shooting, that if the teachers had been armed, they could have prevented the shooting. This is an extremist, someone who believes that everyone in society should be armed at all times," said Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety Foundation.

But Lott counters that the number of gun accidents among law-abiding citizens is remarkably low given that about 90 million Americans own firearms. Far more children die each year from drowning and poisons.

And when tragedy does strike, Lott said, it usually happens in a home where there is a criminal history.

"You're having these law abiding households lock up these guns where the risks of accidental gun deaths is essentially zero," he said.

Still, gun locks enjoy wide support. President Bush has said that if Congress passed a bill requiring them, he would sign it. But this latest study provides opponents with a new weapon in their arsenal.

Klamath Basin copycat case pits fish vs. farmers

Nevada farmers are finding themselves caught in an increasingly familiar battle that pits their survival against that of some favored fish.

Farmers in the Fallon area northeast of Carson City have been able to keep crops alive by siphoning off water from the Truckee River, which is fed by the Stampede Reservoir.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe claim the farmers are taking too much water from the Truckee, forcing the reservoir to refill the river and diverting water intended for the Pyramid Lake, where the endangered cui-ui suckerfish live.

Stampede, which is a 120,400 acre-feet of water reservoir, is at 53 percent capacity, its lowest level since 1994.

The standoff is reminiscent of last summer's situation in Klamath Basin, Ore., when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off the irrigation headgates to farmers fighting total drought devastation on 220,000 acres of farmland. Officials said that the water was needed to protect the endangered suckerfish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

But this time, representatives of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation say they are trying to create a proper ratio of water for the two rivers during the drought, and have tried a new system in which they release the water in stages, keeping some in storage while sending the rest out to help farmers downstream of the Truckee River and to help spawning of the endangered cui-ui suckerfish and Lahonton cutthroat trout.

Opponents of the new system say it has given the farmers too much water. Tribal and Fish and Wildlife officials have complained that the farmers took 12,000 acre-feet more than they needed, and that farmers should be pulling their water from the Lahontan Reservoir on the Carson River, which is also way below normal levels.

Lisa Heki, fisheries complex manager for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, added that with less than the expected rainfall this year, Stampede has less water in storage than expected.

But farmers and local officials say that while water is low, the complaints are overblown.

Less water than normal was released from Stampede in April and May for the cui-ui, but a spawning run of about 40,000 fish was still possible, officials said. They added that farmers have every right to pull water into the Truckee Canal from the Truckee River when necessary.

The case is expected to continue to get nastier as the dry weather continues in the west, but the farmers so far have not lost crops the way Klamath Basin farmers did. The federal government provided $20 million to the farmers who lost last year's crops. President Bush also formed a Cabinet-level advisory group to figure out how to balance water needs in the area.

Frustrated Canadian gun owners sign plywood petition and plan to take it to Ottawa

A new association formed by gun owners frustrated with the national firearms registry has begun collecting signatures on sheets of plywood with the intention of nailing the oblong petitions to the doors of Parliament, 24 Sussex Drive and Rideau Hall next January.

It's the latest in a long list of stunts organized to protest Liberal gun-control laws, which require all weapons to be registered in a national database by 2003.

"The nuts and bolts of the whole thing is that it's just a bad law," said Jim Turnbull, one of the founders of the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners' Association, an offshoot of the Law-abiding Unregistered Firearms Association.

He said the plywood protest, dubbed Operation Nail-it-to-the-Door, will be peaceful, but everyone involved is willing to be arrested to prove a point.

"If they want to take a 67-year-old man, put him in jail and make a criminal out of him on this, well they can go right ahead," Turnbull said. "I will martyr myself to that point and, if they never let me out, well then I believe I am doing something for the Canadian people."

Passed in 1995, the Firearms Act has triggered protests by numerous gun groups who say the registry is just a bureaucracy and does nothing to protect Canadians.

"If it made you safer I would follow the law," said Ed Hudson, a Saskatoon veterinarian and another founding member of the association. "I follow all the laws that deal with safety.

"But there is so much in Bill C-68 that is just absolute garbage and does nothing to make you safer."

Most of the dissent lies in the West.

Earlier this year, a man from Manitoba successfully registered his soldering and heat guns in the national data base to point out how registrations are not pre-screened.

In June, the firearms processing centre in New Brunswick had to be shut down for almost a week when someone mailed two packages full of white powder to the building. Local police have said the packages came from Alberta.

"They are making noise and they are trying to draw attention to themselves, but I guess you could call this their last desperate measure," said David Austin, with the Canadian Firearms Centre in Ottawa.

"The average owner out there disassociates themselves with these groups and, you are going to find now, that the majority of Canadian hunters in the field this fall have already done everything they have to, to comply with the law."

Turnbull and Hudson said they have been gaining support for the plywood petition at gun shows across the Prairies.

Hudson said that 125 people have signed it in the first two months and the association now has about 120 dues-paying members.

"I have already burned my firearms licence as a protest and I've sent the prime minister and the firearms centre pieces of it," Hudson said. "But, I've been totally ignored."

Hudson said he believes civil disobedience is the only way to get the message across.

"Registration does nothing to make you, your wife, your daughter or your son safer, so there is no reason to register," he said.

"We're tired of writing letters."

Candice Bergen agreed with Quayle remark

Turns out actress Candice Bergen really did agree with Dan Quayle.

Ten years ago, then-Vice President Quayle criticized Bergen's "Murphy Brown" TV character for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice."'

"I never have really said much about the whole episode, which was endless," Bergen said July 9. "But his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did."

In May, Quayle touted the moral value of "The Osbournes," MTV's hit series about the profanity-filled home life of rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family.

Quayle liked that the offensive words are bleeped and the show features what he called two "loving parents."

"That Dan, you just can't predict him," Bergen said, laughing. "I think that all of us feel that family values have to sort of come back front and center. I don't know if he watched 'The Osbournes' because he certainly never watched 'Murphy Brown,' which didn't stop him from talking about it."

Bergen met with the Television Critics Association to discuss her new Oxygen series, "Candice Checks It Out," in which she visits with non-celebrities in their own environment.

She rejected a proposed idea of interviewing Quayle, whom she's never met, on her show.

"I just thought it was better to take the high road there," Bergen said.

NPR apologizes to Christian group

National Public Radio president/CEO Kevin Klose dramatically apologized on July 10 to a conservative Christian lobby for a news story mentioning the group in connection with the anthrax investigation.

The mea culpa came during a Capitol Hill hearing on public broadcasting, with one Republican member after another accusing NPR of having a liberal bias. They said such leanings were evidenced in the Jan. 22 "Morning Edition" story referencing the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC).

The coalition's executive director, Andrea Lafferty, testified that an NPR reporter called her in January to ask if the coalition was being investigated for the anthrax mailings to two Democratic senators whom the coalition had earlier singled out for criticism on a different topic. Despite her denials, the story aired.

"Ms. Lafferty and TVC, you have my personal and professional apology. I'm sorry about our mistake, and I hope we can move forward from here," Klose said.

But Lafferty would have none of it.

"A simple apology today is not enough. Eight million people heard this libelous, slanderous report," Lafferty said following the hearing before the House Subcommittee on Telecom & the Internet.

Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, influential chair of the full House Commerce Committee, said incidents such as this leave lawmakers conflicted about public broadcasting, which receives government funds.

In the coming months, Tauzin said he and other solons will take an extensive look at the fate of public broadcasting. Also, the politicians want assurances that PBS and other public programming isn't commercialized through sophisticated underwriting spots.

For the most part, the hearing was split down party lines, with most Democrats extolling public broadcasting and most Republicans raising the issue of a liberal slant.

Lafferty thanked the telecom subcommittee for seeking to "expose the anti-Christian, anti-conservative and anti-traditional values behavior of NPR."

On Jan. 30, "Morning Edition" ran a correction, with editors agreeing with TVC that it was "inappropriate" to mention TVC in the story about the anthrax investigation. The correction also is posted on NPR's Internet site.

But Lafferty termed the correction "pathetic" and said all NPR staffers must have "graduated from the school of anti-Christian bigotry."

TVC says it is the largest nondenominational, grassroots church lobby in the country, representing more than 43,000 churches.

"With an emphasis on the restoration of the Judeo-Christian values needed to maintain strong, unified families, TVC focuses on a range of moral and social issues such as education, homosexual advocacy, parental rights, family tax relief, pornography, the right to life and religious freedom," Lafferty said in her testimony.

Last August, TVC roundly criticized Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for dropping "so help me God" from the oath witnesses take before testifying.

Leahy and Daschle both received letters contaminated with anthrax last winter.

Lafferty said the NPR reporter suggested this made TVC a possible suspect. The TVC would never commit such an act, she said.

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