Choose Or Snooze

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Where are Ed Lover and Doctor Dre when you really need them?

Maybe the erstwhile clown princes of MTV could have saved Al Gore from proving he can make even MTV boring.

The vice president trudged through a town hall meeting for college students Tuesday at the University of Michigan, affirming his support for abortion rights, sticking to his guns on violent entertainment and defending Napster, sort of.

The Q&A with Gore was part of MTV’s Choose or Lose programming that reports on the presidential campaigns and promotes voter registration. The high watermark for Choose or Lose came in 1992 when interviewer Tabitha Soren put the “boxers or briefs” question to candidate Bill Clinton. [Viacom is the parent company of both MTV and CBS.]

No such headlines were made Tuesday.

Call this one "Choose or Snooze." The biggest scoop was Gore’s disclosure that Lenny Kravitz is on the short list to play at his inauguration.

Apparently college kids are still fascinated with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Three students asked Gore questions about abortion, one asked about medical marijuana and four wanted to talk about Napster and Gore’s call for voluntary music labeling by record companies.

At least Gore didn’t try to be cool. Although he didn't discourage two clever youngsters who addressed him as "Al," he held the line on Eminem.

“What we listen to, enjoy and spread around in our culture does have an affect on us,” Gore said in response to a self-described "typical college student" who asked skeptically if Gore believes that musicians like Eminem and Marilyn Manson have a “definite negative influence” on listeners.
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“Young children are not just miniature adults,” said Gore, who likened some record companies’ marketing practices to the “false and deceptive advertising” of makers of defective automobile tires.

On Napster, technophile Gore said the Internet music downloading program is “great technology” but a compromise needs to be worked out that protects artists’ rights.

On gay rights, he stated his support for “civic unions” that some local governments extend to same sex couples. But he ducked MTV reporter John Norris’ follow-up question about whether a Gore administration would extend the same immigration protections to gay couples that husband-and-wife teams get when an American citizen marries a foreign national. Gore said “our nation should debate the difference" between traditional marriage and same sex unions.

Gore boasted of an endorsement he’s received from former Nader aide, and talked about his record on environmental issues and support for public financing of federal elections. But it wasn’t clear if he won over the Nader supporter who said he is “worried “ that a “vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.”

Challenged on racial profiling by a young man who recounted a “driving while black” experience where he was stopped and surrounded by six police cars, Gore pledged that if elected he will sign the executive order as the “first civil rights act of the 21st century.”

Also interesting for Gore-watchers, the vice president’s tacit acknowledgment that he’s considered his life after politics. Having first laughed off a young man’s question about what he will do if he loses as a “purely hypothetical question,” the author and onetime journalist admitted he would “probably” return to writing.

Gore had to sit still for a brief biographical video produced by MTV that described him as “originally a pro-life, gun-rights supporter,” who “changed his stripes” later in his career. Tracing Gore’s path through Harvard, Vietnam and the Seventies, the voice-over said Gore “even smoked the herb,” while on grainy video, a dark-haired, young white man (not Gore) exhaled smoke. (Memo to journalism students: Don’t try this at a stuffy, old-fashioned “news” organization).

Clearly, Choose or Lose doesn’t command the same kind of budget as MTV's The Real World, where angst-ridden new college grads lounge on designer furniture under good lighting. The town hall was conducted on a cheesy set that was more Wayne’s World than House of Style, with whiplash stage direction that had the three co-hosts prompting a lost Gore to look around for his next question.

Medicare, which is Gore’s issue focus this week, did not cme up with the young audience.