Me and Valenti Down By the Schoolyard

I've been feeling very #nostalgic these days in the midst of the legislative fight around SOPA/PIPA (http://www.fightforthefuture.org/pipa). So I went back and unearthed the audio cassette recording of my interview in 2002 with former MPAA President Jack Valenti (http://soundcloud.com/derekslater/jack-valenti-interview).

In terms of amount of knowledge taught to me per minutes spent in the same room with him, Valenti was one of the best teachers I ever had. It included choice quotes, like "What is fair use? Fair use is not a law. There's nothing in law."

A 19 year old me was no match for him (listen to how absolutely nervous and not-subtle I was!). I doubt a 28 year old me would be much better.

Valenti was a master with words, a verbal gymnast. He could turn up into down, censorship into freedom. And he had a good soul: he had clients who he believed in and he did everything he could to represent their interests effectively. He was an ideal lobbyist.

In fact, my favorite part of the interview is when I was forced by my editors to shut up about copyright and instead ask about politics. Valenti says, "I think lobbying is really an honest profession. Lobbying means trying to persuade Congress to accept your point of view. Sometimes you can give them a lot of facts they didn't have before. Money, however, is negative--it's corrupting the body politic. Even though money might be the most self-conflicting force in politics today, there are too many loopholes in this McCain-Feingold bill. All these lobbyists in town who are callous to what the bill stands for are going to exploit it. They'll turn to state parties and special interest groups and the money will keep pouring in. It's a tragedy."

The tragedy continues, and the bias it creates lives on. We see that in the battle over SOPA and PIPA. There are the same old tired lines claiming that the bazooka they want to use to kill a gnat isn't a bazooka at all. The rhetoric is still basically the same, and the game we play is still basically the same.

What's different is that, first, the entertainment industry has started to admit that the Internet is creating incredible opportunities for artists to find an audience and make money. Just look at iTunes and YouTube and Soundcloud and other platforms. Second, they lack a Valenti -- to be clear, they still have some amazing people who I respect quite a lot, and being the homeless man's Jack Valenti is nothing to be ashamed of. But they are more verbal contortionists than gymnasts.

Two sidenotes:

1. the only other interview I did for the Political Review was with Bill O'Reilly. I don't have that recording any more, but suffice it to say that I was way more of a combative prick. I disagreed with everything Valenti stood for just as much if not more, yet he was totally disarming.

2. When I did this interview and then started my blogspot blog, I wrote it to be read by two people. +Donna Wentworth and Frank Field, two of my other favorite teachers and friends.
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