U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, a former Black Panther who is now an ordained Baptist minister and a leading liberal Democrat, launched an investigation into sex and violence in hip-hop lyrics and videos on Tuesday. At the hearing—entitled “From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images” witnesses scheduled to testify included Take-Two Interactive Chairman Strauss Zelnick, Universal Music Chairman Doug Morris, Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, and Warner Music Chairman Edgar Bronfman.

This hearing is just going to backfire on Congress, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. “To believe that there is no potential downside to the relentless misogyny and violence celebrated” by some hip-hop artists “is to believe that words have no value at all.” But interest in gangsta rap has been declining. “If anybody can make this genre seem edgy and dangerous once again, it’s an official denunciation from the U.S. Congress.”

If I were a rapper, said the Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy in StarTribune.com, I’d be worried about declining record sales, not a Congressional hearing. “For the first time in five years, no rap albums were among the top 10 sellers in 2006.” But nobody is talking about this because it’s “been all but obscured by anti-rap protests and misguided calls for censorship.” Why is Congress wasting its energy on this? “The message couldn’t be clearer: Leave gangsta rap alone. Let it die on it’s own.”

“Everyone is concerned about violence in entertainment, yet we give our highest artistic awards—our Oscars and Emmys—to The Sopranos and The Departed,” said Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. But artists have tremendous power to influence, so they need to “take responsibility for their words and images.” That’s why artists should have been invited to this hearing. “If Rush is really looking for answers, he should be picking the brains of the artists who create our culture, not the middle-aged white guys who simply try their best to exploit it.”

“We’ve got troops still dying in Iraq, global warming, gas prices going way high and Congress is worried about hip-hop?” said rapper Twista in the Chicago Tribune. Rappers rap about what they’ve experienced, so “if Congress is worried about rap music it’s time for them to go to the ghettos in this country and fix the problems.” And what about all the ridiculous things President Bush has said over the years? “Maybe it’s time he took a little trip to Congress and was asked a few questions as well.”