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Media violence off the hook

In the weeks following the violence in Littleton, it was the media in the crosshairs of Congress, the White House and various interest groups connecting staged violence to the real violence that unnerved a nation.

Among the would-be fast fixes were legislation, demands from the Rose Garden, calls for boycotts, and a few network schedule changes aimed at reducing the on-air mayhem and the political heat. CBS pitched in, shelving its behind-the-scenes Mafia drama Falcone.

A year later, the rhetoric has quieted, the threatened laws have been tabled, the boycotts are forgotten, and the networks are back to their old ways. CBS will introduce Falcone this week, less than three weeks shy of the Columbine anniversary, airing nine episodes over eight nights.

"Some of the sense of urgency has dissipated," said Dan Gerstein, an aide to longtime media violence critic Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). "Much of the momentum has been lost."

Lieberman and other congressional media watchdogs had proposed amendments to last year's Juvenile Justice bill. They would have authorized the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the marketing of violence to children, directed the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of media violence on children and exempted TV networks from antitrust law so they could collaborate on codes of conduct.

"The media violence provisions passed overwhelmingly [in the Senate], and they would pass again," said Gerstein. "The problem is that the bill got stuck in conference because of its gun-control provisions."

Nonetheless, Gerstein said, the patience of Lieberman and like-minded lawmakers is running thin. Although there has been some "quiet progress"-some directors and producers have sworn off gratuitous violence-Lieberman continues to believe regulation is necessary and may try to resurrect the amendments as stand-alone legislation this spring.