NEW YORK CITY—You can tell it's already Election Season 2012, 'cause the anti-porn nuts are coming out of the woodwork with increasing frequency, and many seem to have jumped on Morality in Media's "War Against Illegal Pornography" bandwagon. We think that includes the latest weirdo to use porn to drive traffic his way, Stephen Blackwell.
"I don’t watch much pornography (at the moment—I’m on a diet that forbids masturbation) but the idea pornography should be resurrected as a hot-button moral issue in 2011 is ludicrous," Blackwell, who must have some very strange eating habits, writes on his blog, deathandtaxesmag.com, in an article titled, "Eric Holder Neglects Porn Regulation While Sporting Smooth Porn Mustache."
Whaaa??? (Pictured. Blackwell's caption reads, "Can anyone else picture Eric Holder in a cowboy hat and seatless chaps?" )
And then there's David Baxter, a delegate to the Salt Lake County (UT) GOP organizing convention, who has an important idea he wants incorporated into the state's party platform.
"Baxter wants the party platform to include that the 'God-given sexual power is to be used only between a husband and wife.' He believes this will rule out any possibility of adultery, sodomy or fornication."
And porn, Dave; don't forget about the porn!
Or as Salt Lake City Political Buzz Examiner Alison Peek frames it, "This is from the same party that wants the government out of our lives. The party platform states that government 'must be retrained [sic] from intruding into the freedoms of its citizens.' Who is more than confused? Hopefully, single, straight, gay, lesbian and any other adults out there still have the will and wherewithal to decide what’s right for them. At least it doesn’t include the words 'for the purpose of procreation only.'"
But plenty of others are weighing on "the porn problem," as evidenced by Josh Gerstein's article posted on Politico.com on Saturday.
"The catalyst for a renewed fight over pornography is a recent, little-noticed move by Attorney General Eric Holder to shutter the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a special Justice Department unit set up during the Bush administration under pressure from conservatives upset about the proliferation of obscene material on the Internet," Gerstein wrote, apparently oblivious of the fact that most internet porn is pretty much the same stuff retailers sell in stores.
But after claiming the task force decision was responsible for "an angry reaction in Congress" — 117 mostly Republicans signed onto letters calling on Holder to increase prosecutions, but it's like coming out in favor of kissing babies: There's (sadly) no political down side to supporting it—Gerstein reports that, "Department officials say the administration is not giving up on prosecuting obscenity but that such violations are better handled by U.S. Attorneys' offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Even some who support such prosecutions concede that they are increasingly difficult to pursue at a time when pornography is a multibillion dollar industry whose products are readily available to anyone with a computer—and when the lines between pop culture and X-rated entertainment are seriously blurred."
In fact, prior to the reign of John Ashcroft as Attorney General, that's exactly the way obscenity prosecutions were handled: Federal obscenity cases were handled by the U.S. attorney in charge of the state where the alleged violation occurred, without any need (or instruction) to keep the D.C. branch of the Department of Justice informed, much less give Washington decision-making power over whether to prosecute.
And about that "no political down side," though: California Sen. Dianne Feinstein was one of the signers.
"I have a feeling she's going to be getting a lot of letters from our area," Free Speech Coalition executive director Diane Duke told Gerstein. "It's political season and we're an easy dog to kick, but Dianne Feinstein needs to understand that a good portion of the economy in California comes from our industry, and we pay taxes and we're voting members of the community.”
But: "Asked about her interest in the obscenity issue, a spokesman for Feinstein pointed to her support for several measures targeting child pornography in recent years." (But the letter wasn't about "child pornography," Dianne. In fact, the adult industry itself has frequently targeted child porn, and ASACP has an ongoing battle against it—but that has very little to do with the production and distribution of sexually explicit material made by adults, with adults, for adults.)
But there were a few tidbits to be learned from Gerstein's article that would interest adult industry members.
"The task force never amounted to more than a handful of lawyers, but its impact extended beyond the few cases it handled directly," Gerstein wrote."Gonzales appointed a former U.S. Attorney from Utah, Brent Ward, to head the unit. Ward cajoled local U.S. Attorneys to pursue adult obscenity cases. He did that so aggressively that documents suggest the resistance some prosecutors showed to taking on such cases got them targeted for firing during the controversial round of dismissals the Bush administration carried out in 2006."
Those U.S. Attorneys were Paul Charlton of Arizona, Daniel Bogden of Nevada, and possibly Debra Yang of the Central District of California.
"Ward declined to be interviewed about the closure of the task force or its record," Gerstein continued. "However, in a brief conversation with POLITICO on Friday, he confirmed that he rejoined the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah in December. Court records show him assigned, beginning in January, to a series of federal fraud and tax evasion cases there."
Gerstein noted that the Justice Department had responded to MIM's charges by stating that the department "has charged violations of the federal obscenity laws over 150 times since October 2008, and has recently secured guilty pleas from defendants in several cases involving adult obscenity."
"Several" apparently means one: Barry Goldman pled guilty to mailing obscene material and received six months of house arrest. And as far as MIM CEO Patrick Trueman is concerned, the alleged 150 obscenity cases mean nothing to the conservative/religious anti-porn contingent.
"In various administrations—not just this one—DOJ has tried to sell the notion that it has a vigorous enforcement of obscenity laws underway," Gerstein reported Trueman as having responded. "A look at the cases, however, reveals that what are counted as 'obscenity cases' are in fact child pornography cases where the defendant is allowed to plead down to an obscenity charge. … To suggest that such cases are adult porn cases is just wrong."
Of course, that depends on how you look at it. Since "virtual" child porn (e.g., anime) is no longer a crime, thanks to Free Speech Coalition's Supreme Court victory against the Child Pornography Protection Act, and since some actresses in adult movies may look younger than 18 years of age, the Justice Department has had a more difficult time proving to a jury's satisfaction that the people depicted in sexually explicit fare are indeed minors—perhaps in part because, as Judge Richard J. Leon stated in the Stagliano case, the prosecution's pre-trial investigation was "only good enough for government work." The Justice Department has therefore allowed some defendants whose material it suspected might not pass the "Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition test" to plead to the lesser offense of "obscenity," thus putting more defendants behind bars, not to mention racking up a few more "victory points" for "obscenity prosecutions"—surely a "win-win" in the DOJ's opinion.
It's also probably worth pointing out that ordinary citizens never appear as prosecution witnesses—aka "victims"—at obscenity trials. Complaints are always only filed by FBI agents, postal inspectors or some other government official, for the simple reason that people who watch adult material may like a particular movie/VOD offering or not—but if they don't, the most they'll do is ask for their money back; they never take the material to law enforcement and claim that the reason they didn't like it is because it's "obscene."
But for Trueman to "assert that the rising number of child pornography cases is due in part to the government's failure to take meaningful action against sexually-explicit adult material," is ludicrous.
"Significant numbers [of] adult porn consumers move eventually to child porn because nothing else excites them," Trueman told Gerstein.
What a load of crap. Study after study (the real kind; not the horseshit that Trueman and his ilk like to trumpet) has shown that there is virtually no crossover between fans of adults involved in sexually explicit conduct and fans of children doing the same.
So ... kudos to Josh Gerstein for writing a reasonably fair (if non-analytical) article on the current "porn controversy." Adult content fans may want to think of it as a recognition of the opening shots of what will undoubtedly be a virulent anti-porn campaign that will become more shrill and even less factual as the months go by leading up to the 2012 presidential election. Sadly, it's probably too much to hope that President Obama will go on record as supporting Americans' right to be entertained by sexual materials in their own homes ... but we can always hope!