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A Lion In Any Season

With his mane of white hair, penetrating stare, and an eloquence that befitted a founding father, Jack Valenti at 85 was a force of nature and his memory will be a joy forever.

Even had the FCC's congressional bosses–John Dingell, Ted Stevens, Daniel Inouye–not all been in the same demo, he was the perfect choice to try and preserve, protect and defend a TV industry faced with hefty criticism of its ratings system, a criticism that was at the center of the FCC's just-released TV violence report.

As head of the Motion Picture Association of America–looking for all the world like that MGM lion come to life–Valenti had turned the censorship tide from the movie industry by creating its ratings system in the wake of a wave of regulatory fever on the Potomac, driven by films like the very violent, very good, Bonnie & Clyde.

It was only six weeks or so ago that I talked to Jack (that's what he asked me to call him, though our relative weights in Washington were not even on the same scale), and he was just as passionate about favoring parental controls over government regulation as the first time I talked with him.

"I think most Americans don't want somebody in Washington or an anonymous person at the Parents Television Council telling me how to raise my children," Valenti said.

Valenti continued to say that "most Americans by overwhelming majorities believe that some programs on television are unsuitable for their children, but by an overwhelming majority they think that viewers should make that decision, not the federal government."

He said the TV Boss campaign promoting the TV ratings system was only in its ninth month. "It will take time to reshape social decisions."

The media industry have lost a powerful and eloquent champion at time when they really need it, but they have also lost a good friend and one of the courtliest humans on the planet.

Jack Valenti treated the lowliest of scribes as well as he did the highest of potentates, which was one of the secrets of his effectiveness. He was passionate and principled and available at 85 to talk at length about his love of freedom, which he defended as a pilot in the war.