Clean up the porn industry, that's the ticket...

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by ARogueTrader, Apr 6, 2004.

  1. Administration wages war on pornography
    Obscenity: For the first time in 10 years, the U.S. government is spending millions to file charges across the country.

    By Laura Sullivan
    Sun National Staff
    Originally published April 6, 2004
    WASHINGTON - Lam Nguyen's job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other "computer forensic specialists" like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department's operation to rid the world of porn.

    In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

    Department officials say they will send "ripples" through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.

    The Justice Department recently hired Bruce Taylor, who was instrumental in a handful of convictions obtained over the past year and unsuccessfully represented the state in a 1981 case, Larry Flynt vs. Ohio.

    Flynt, who recently opened a Hustler nightclub in Baltimore, says everyone in the business is wary, making sure their taxes are paid and the "talent" is over 18. He says he's ready for a rematch, especially with Taylor.

    "Everyone's concerned," Flynt said in an interview. "We deal in plain old vanilla sex. Nothing really outrageous. But who knows, they may want a big target like myself."

    A recent episode of Showtime's Family Business, a reality show about Adam Glasser, an adult film director and entrepreneur in California, had him worrying about shipping his material to states more apt to prosecute. It also featured him organizing a pornographic Internet telethon to raise money for targets of prosecution.

    Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the division in charge of obscenity prosecutions at the Justice Department, says officials are trying to send a message and halt an industry they see as growing increasingly "lawless."

    "We want to do everything we can to deter this conduct" by producers and consumers, Oosterbaan said. "Nothing is off the table as far as content."

    Money and friends

    It is unclear, though, just how the American public and major corporations that make money from pornography will accept the perspective of the Justice Department and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

    Any move against mainstream pornography could affect large telephone companies offering broadband Internet service or the dozens of national credit card companies providing payment services to pornographic Web sites.

    Cable television, meanwhile, which has found late-night lineups with "adult programming" highly profitable, is unlikely to budge, and such companies have powerful friends.

    Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, which offers "hard-core" porn on the Hot Network channel (at $11.99 per film in Baltimore), was co-chair of Philadelphia 2000, the host committee that brought the Republican National Convention to Philadelphia. In February, the Bush campaign honored Comcast President Stephen Burke with "Ranger" status, for agreeing to raise at least $200,000 for the president's re-election effort. Comcast's executive vice president, David Cohen, has close ties to Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

    Tim Fitzpatrick, the spokesman for Comcast at its corporate headquarters in Philadelphia, declined to comment on the cable network's adult programming. But officials at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which Roberts used to chair, said adult programming is legal, relies on subscription services for access and has been upheld by the courts for years.

    "Good luck turning back that clock," said Paul Rodriguez, a spokesman for the association.

    Ashcroft vs. consent

    In a speech in 2002, Ashcroft made it clear that the Justice Department intends to try. He said pornography "invades our homes persistently though the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and the Internet," and has "strewn its victims from coast to coast."

    Given the millions of dollars Americans are spending each month on adult cable television, Internet sites and magazines and videos, many may see themselves not as victims but as consumers, with an expectation of rights, choices and privacy.

    Ashcroft, a religious man who does not drink alcohol or caffeine, smoke, gamble or dance, and has fought unrelenting criticism that he has trod roughshod on civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, is taking on the porn industry at a time when many experts say Americans are wary about government intrusion into their lives.

    The Bush administration is eager to shore up its conservative base with this issue. Ashcroft held private meetings with conservative groups a year and a half ago to assure them that anti-porn efforts are a priority.

    But administration critics and First Amendment rights attorneys warn that the initiative could smack of Big Brother, and that targeting such a broad range of readily available materials could backfire.

    "They are miscalculating the pulse of the community," said attorney Paul Cambria, who has gone head to head with Taylor in cases dating to the 1970s.

    "I think a lot of adults would say this is not what they had in mind, spending millions of dollars and the time of the courts and FBI agents and postal inspectors and prosecutors investigating what consenting adults are doing and watching."

    The law itself rests on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, which held that something is "obscene" only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. But until now, it hasn't been prosecuted at the federal level for more than 10 years.

    Since the last time he faced Taylor, Flynt's empire has grown into a multimillion-dollar corporation with a large, almost conservative-looking headquarters in California, where he and executives in dark suits oversee the company's dozens of men's clubs, sex stores and more than 30 magazines.

    "He's basically crusaded against everything I've fought for for the past 30 years," Flynt said. "This is for consenting adults. They have the right to view what they want to in the privacy of their own home. And even if they don't enjoy these materials, they still don't want to be looking over their neighbors' shoulders."

    Cases and results

    Taylor, who has been involved in the prosecution of more than 700 pornography cases since the 1970s, including at the Justice Department in the late 1980s and early '90s, declined to be interviewed. But he did talk to reporters for the PBS program Frontline in 2001, when he was president of the National Law Center for Children and Families, an anti-porn group.

    "Just about everything on the Internet and almost everything in the video stores and everything in the adult bookstores is still prosecutable illegal obscenity," he said.

    "Some of the cable versions of porno movies are prosecutable. Once it becomes obvious that this really is a federal felony instead of just a form of entertainment or investment, then legitimate companies, to stay legitimate, are going to have to distance themselves from it."

    The Justice Department pursued obscenity cases vigorously in the 1970s and '80s, prosecuting not necessarily the worst offenders in terms of extreme material, but those it viewed as most responsible for pornography's proliferation.

    Oosterbaan said the department is employing much the same strategy this time, targeting not only some of the most egregious hard-core porn but also more conventional material, in an effort "to be as effective as possible."

    "I can't possibly put it all away," he said. "Results are what we want."

    The strategy in the 1980s resulted in a lot of extreme pornography - dealing in urination, violence or bestiality - going underground. Today, with the Internet, international producers and a substantial market, industry officials say there is no underground.

    Obscenity cases came to a standstill under Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general, who focused on child pornography, which is considered child abuse and comes under different criminal statutes. The ensuing years saw an explosion of porn, so much so that critics say that Americans' tolerance for sexually explicit material rivals that of Europeans.

    That tolerance could prove to be the obscenity division's biggest obstacle. Americans are used to seeing sex, experts say, in the movies, in their e-mail inboxes and on popular cable shows such as HBO's Sex and the City. There is no real gauge of just how obscene a jury will find pornographic material.

    The majority of defendants indicted in federal courts over the past year have taken plea agreements when faced with the weight and resources of the Justice Department. More than 50 other federal investigations are under way.

    In 2001, though, one interesting case emerged from St. Charles County, Mo., the heart of Ashcroft's conservative Missouri base. First Amendment lawyer Cambria defended a video store there against state charges that it was renting two obscene videotapes that depicted group sex, anal sex and sex with objects.
     
  2. "so much so that critics say that Americans' tolerance for sexually explicit material rivals that of Europeans."

    "which held that something is "obscene" only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. "

    not sure how you can have tolerance (and acceptability by both consumers and corporations) and then the government claims the average person would find it obscene.


    definition
    Offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty.
    Inciting lustful feelings; lewd.
    Repulsive; disgusting: “The way he writes about the disease that killed her is simply obscene” (Michael Korda).
    So large in amount as to be objectionable or outrageous:


    so is fear factor obscene when it shows people eating disgusting and repulsive "foods"
     
  3. Looks like Ashcroft will have to go after the big time cable operators like Time-Warner who make a ton of revenues off of piping porn into Hotels, Motels, Homes, etc.

    This ought to be interesting.
     
  4. Let's see exactly what he wants to go after. If it is cable tv porn, Ashcroft is barking up the wrong tree. If it is unsolicited porn spam, he may make some headway.
     
  5. I tend to agree. There is a clear difference in seeking something out and having it shoved in your face.

    I think this Ashcroft crusade is a big mistake on numerous levels. It simply plays into the hands of those who want to label conservatives or Christians as prudes who want to intrude into people's privacy and force adherence to their views. Also, in this day and age, is this really the most vital use of government resources? Shouldn't that task force be chasing al-Qaeda operatives instead of porn merchants?

    I am also troubled by the vagueness of the charges. As this guy Taylor says, all this stuff that is in common circulation can be prosecuted. Under the generally accepted definition, it's obviously obscene. But it hardly seems fair to tolerate something for 15 years, then start putting people in jail for it. I think what is needed is a very explicit statute that spells out in medical terms what will get you in trouble. You have to wonder about a legal system that can find a constitutional right to have gay sex but will put you in jail for watching a video of it.
     
  6. sex is bad let's ban it
     
  7. This is what religion breeds. Let's ban god. Then Ashcroft will be the criminal.
     
  8. Magna

    Magna Administrator

    Coming from John Ashcroft's Justice Dept this doesn't surprise me in the least. It's another in a long list of things I truly dislike about the man and why he is my least favorite of all Bush appointees. And I'm sure this has nothing to do with being an election year (just in case OBL isn't surprisingly captured/killed around mid to late October). In fact, as conservatives like to do every couple of years, maybe there will also be time between now and election day for Mr. Ashcroft to attack the despicable evils of rock 'n roll.
     
  9. thank goodness bush is fighting those evil terrorists that want to take away the freedoms Americans enjoy.
     
  10. I think Ashcroft was confusing porn and iraq.

    JT
     
    #10     Apr 7, 2004