Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — When former President Bill Clinton was introduced as the keynote speaker at Variety’s media and entertainment conference Tuesday, he was described as being the first president of the Information Age.
But Clinton could hardly agree.
“I was so technologically challenged that Al Gore almost refused to join the ticket,” recalled Clinton, who spoke for an hour to a packed house of journalists and investors at the Grand Hyatt here. “I thought chips were things you ate, and discs had to do with your back.”
In addition to Clinton, the day-long conference featured media heavyweights such as Rupert Murdoch, chief executive officer of News Corp.; Barry Diller, chief executive officer of USA Networks; Howard Stringer, chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Corp. of America, and Mel Karmazin, president and chief operating officer of Viacom.
Clinton, whose speech was titled “The Role of the Media in a Capitalist Democracy,” was also described by Peter Bart, vice president-editor in chief of Variety, as “having a unique talent in making news.”
“I was good at making news and apparently still am,” he said. “But I’ll try not to make news today.”
Clinton, who is enmeshed in his own trials and tribulations concerning the last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, among others, didn’t make any reference to that particular situation. Instead, he used this platform to talk about the role of the media in educating Americans in how they should relate to the rest of the world. He urged journalists to be concerned about issues such as child labor practices, global warming, world hunger, infectious diseases and the treatment of AIDS.
He said free press and the global media is something that is taken for granted, but is not something everyone has. He noted that only 20 percent of the world has an entirely free press; 40 percent of the countries have a partly free press, and another 40 percent have no press at all.
Clinton urged the reporters to write about issues that don’t have entertainment value. For example, he noted that last year there were 24,528 stories written about “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” but only 835 stories on the global-debt initiatives. He said there were 12,476 stories written about the hit TV show “Survivor,” but only 2,567 stories about the thousands who are surviving with AIDS in the former Soviet Union.
“There were more stories that had to do with Kathie Lee Gifford, than the global divide,” said Clinton and there were more stories about the hot, new razor scooters, than about global warming, which he said “was probably OK” because the people-fueled transportation helps the global warming situation.
Clinton only had time to field two prepared questions from the audience — one about cameras in courts (he believes in some camera access for cases of immense public interest) and another about violence in the media.
He said he doesn’t favor censorship, but said he can’t walk away from the impact violent movies have on highly impressionable children who act out their fantasies.
“I love Chuck Norris movies and I love cheap thrill movies,” said Clinton. “But I’m 54, and too old to harm anybody.”

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