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Powell to engage youth in MTV 'global discussion'

Eight years ago, President Clinton made headlines on MTV, not with some sober policy initiative, but an infamous reply to a 24-year-old’s impertinent question about whether he preferred “boxers or briefs.” (Mostly briefs, came the answer.) Tonight, MTV offers a new political forum – for a more world-conscious post-Sept. 11 age – in what’s billed as a “global discussion” with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Experts say the session is a smart “brand-building” tool that helps the cable network solidify its status as an outlet for political expression – and not just music videos – among the nation’s youth.

“Teens have a serious side, too. They’re not dumb,” says TV historian Tim Brooks. “MTV is saying, ‘If we ignore it totally, we’re less important to them.’ ”

Rachel Rodriguez, for one, is appreciative. The 17-year-old from Burbank, Calif., plans to watch tonight, welcoming Powell’s willingness to hear what’s on the mind of her generation. “Just because we’re teens, sometimes we’re looked down upon because our ideas aren’t as important as adults.”

Says MTV executive producer Dave Sirulnick: “Looking back over the last 10 years, our audience has responded to this kind of program. In every way we can measure – ratings, feedback, involvement – these shows have an impact.”

Scheduled to be taped in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning, the Powell special (8 p.m. ET/PT, and on overseas MTV channels later this month) includes a studio audience of about 75 teens and young adults. Smaller groups of questioners will be linked via satellite from six other cities – Sao Paulo, Milan, Cairo, Moscow, New Delhi and London – in video diplomacy directed at an important younger audience.

Even before Clinton’s underwear revelation, he appeared as a candidate in 1992, fielding queries about gays in the military and admitting to youthful marijuana use.

Since then, MTV has logged Q&A sessions with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Al Gore and, in October, Rudy Giuliani, then-mayor of New York City.

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