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BUSH'S WAR ON PORN TARGETS HOLLYWOOD, THE INTERNET, AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN '06

Posted in the database on Thursday, December 29th, 2005 @ 18:38:49 MST (1316 views)
by Doug Ireland    Direland  

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Not since Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese (left), made a crusade against pornography a top priority has there been such a broad-scale attempt to destroy First Amendment protections for sexual expression and sexual privacy as the one currently being mounted by the Bush administration and congressional Republicans.

And just in time to make it an issue in the 2006 election cycle, the U.S. Senate will take up early in the new year a House-passed bill that, disguised as anti-child pornography legislation, poses a serious threat to both Hollywood and to millions of American Internet users. The legislation is called the Children’s Safety Act of 2005. Already passed by the House, it has now been introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orin Hatch (right), the Utah Republican, and fast-tracked for speedy passage.

Current law requires that producers of material containing actual sexual conduct keep documentation—known as 2257 records after the section of federal statute governing them—of the names and proof of age of all actors shown in video and online material they distribute. But the House-Hatch bill would expand those requirements to include “simulated” sexual conduct; any tiny error or omission in keeping these 2257 records—which must be available to federal government inspectors upon demand according to the law—could result in stiff fines and two years’ imprisonment.

That’s part of what has the creative community scared. “We are extremely concerned that this measure is overly broad and violates the constitutional protections of free speech,” Erik V. Huey (right), a Washington lawyer for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “Mainstream film and television productions are being lumped in the same category as hard-core pornography.” The Motion Picture Association of America is also lobbying hard against the House-Hatch bill for the same reasons.

Real child pornographers, of course, don’t keep such records—and the 2257 requirements have been used primarily to harass and close down producers of videos showing sex between consenting adults on the basis of minor technical violations. Indeed, as Adult Video News—the video sex industry’s online trade publication—has reported, the adult video industry (mostly based in the Los Angeles area) has been very active in tracking down and exposing real child pornographers. So extending the 2257 requirements to include Hollywood and cable TV appears to be just another Christian-right driven measure designed to intimidate producers into curtailing or eliminating sexual content.

Another Republican proposal to come up for Senate consideration in 2006—this one from powerful, octogenarian Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska (left), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation—would extend a censorious House-passed “indecency” bill regulating radio and TV broadcasters to cable TV and to the Internet. Stevens proposes sharply increased fines—just the sort of thing designed to frighten many timid, profit-bottom-line-minded Internet service providers, such as AOL, which has exhibited frighteningly censorious tendencies in the last couple of years—and a government-imposed ratings system. In particular, Stevens’ proposals—which, if adopted, would have a decidedly chilling effect on creative and artistic freedom on both cable TV and the Internet—seem motivated by advances in technology that have facilitated the downloading of movies and videos.

But the effect would be much, much broader than simply curtailing the availability of online sexual content. The Federal Communications Commission has defined “indecency” as everything from Howard Stern’s broadcasts to certain four-letter words. (Poor Howard (right)—he fled broadcast radio for the freedom of the Internet‘s Sirius Radio, but if Stevens has his way even that haven could be taken away from him.) Extending those FCC “indecency” standards from broadcast to the Internet and cable TV, as Stevens wants to do, would drastically change the audio-visual landscape—from stand-up comics such as Whoopi Goldberg to cable offerings like “Queer as Folk” and the gay cable networks Logo and QTN, sexually charged verbiage and portrayals would be threatened.

More far-reaching still, explicit science-based sex education on the Internet, or safe-sex videos on the Web featuring graphic instruction on how to use a condom, could potentially be covered by this new indecency bill. The photos of the sexual humiliations at Abu Ghraib inflicted by U.S. torturers, which first saw the light of day on the Internet, could also have been covered by the Stevens proposals, civil liberties lawyers say.

Many private Internet users could be targeted as well under the Stevens proposals. For example, a well-known gay professor in New York City of my acquaintance has an amusing annual Christmas tradition—he harvests and distributes X-rated gay photos and videos with Christmas motifs and sends them out to his friends and to subscribers to the Yahoo group he created for that purpose. He, too, could be covered by the Stevens amendments. There are at least two million Web sites and blogs which offer some sort of pornography, many of them run by private individuals from their homes—targets all under the proposed new laws.

This Pandora’s box of Republican legislation would give new weapons to President George W. Bush’s aggressive new war on porn, which is spearheaded by Attorney General Albert Gonzales (left). An electronic memo from FBI headquarters to all 56 field offices described the push against porn as “one of the top priorities” of Gonzales and, by extension, of “the Director”—FBI chief Robert S. Mueller III. U.S. attorneys all over the country are making sure their troops get the message. In May, Gonzales established an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force under the office’s criminal division. The Task Force, headed by the deputy chief for obscenity Richard Green, will work closely with Bruce Taylor, senior counsel to the criminal division’s assistant attorney general. And the FBI has just begun recruiting anti-porn agents for obscenity units in all of its field offices.

Taylor (right) was one of the founding members of the Justice Department’s National Obscenity Enforcement Unit under Attorney General Meese back in the Reagan ‘80s. He reportedly has prosecuted more than 100 state and federal obscenity cases and is the prosecutor who went after Hustler publisher Larry Flynt in the early 1980s. Taylor won that case and Flynt spent six days in jail, but the verdict was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court—a major free speech victory portrayed in the 1996 movie, “The People Vs. Larry Flynt,” starring Woody Harrelson as the scrappy publisher. But with a hard-line conservative, “family values” majority on the Supreme Court under strict Catholic Chief Justice John Roberts, there won’t be any Flynt-style victories from the high court on sexual issues in the foreseeable future.

Gonzales has already more than quadrupled federal obscenity prosecutions. In the entire Clinton presidency, there were only four such cases brought by the feds—during the eight months since Gonzales succeeded John Ashcroft as attorney general, there have already been 20. Christian right groups including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family—all of which have pressed hard for the new Republican legislation—have appointed themselves sex vigilantes who report what they perceive as obscene or pornography to the authorities and press for prosecutions. A well-funded and well-connected new group pushing the anti-porn crusade is the Alliance Defense Fund, whose president, Alan Sears (left), served as executive director of Meese’s Commission on Pornography during the Reagan years.

When, as expected, the skein of new Republican anti-porn and anti-indecency laws pass—few Democrats up for re-election in 2006 or ‘08 will oppose them—one can expect that Gonzales and his minions will initiate a raft of new prosecutions under those laws. Texas has become a favorite venue for judge-shopping federal anti-porn prosecutors. Defense attorneys preparing for pending cases expect Dallas to be the venue of choice for feds keen to fatten their conviction record by doing legal battle in one of the most socially conservative areas in the nation. Already, the Northern District of Texas has been chosen as the venue for an upcoming trial of Eddie Wedelstedt (left), a Colorado man who has earned the distinction of being the country’s largest operator of adult video stores, with 60 located in about 20 states. Wedelstedt’s bust included the seizure of videos that were sexually explicit, but included no sexual torture, rape, or underage exploitation.

Gonzales told the Associated Press in September that he’s ordered the Justice Department to offer resources to, and cooperate closely with, local prosecutors in making obscenity and anti-porn cases. That’s why one of the most closely-watched pornography prosecutions in the country is the case Florida prosecutors—in close cooperation with the FBI and Gonzales’ Obscenity Enforcement Unit—brought against Christopher Wilson, whose Web site, nowthatsfuckedup.com, offered free pornography to soldiers in Iraq in exchange for graphic photos of the war’s dead casualties, a barter which drove conservatives crazy. Wilson has been charged with a whopping 100 counts of distribution or transmission of obscene materials, 100 counts of offering to distribute or transmit obscene materials, and 100 counts of possession of obscene materials. If Wilson is convicted and that conviction upheld on appeal, it will set a draconian standard for harsh prosecutions of porn providers. Not only has gay consumption of pornography skyrocketed in the age of AIDS—as a safe alternative to sexual promiscuity—but obscenity and indecency laws have historically been used to disproportionately persecute gay people, who therefore have particularly strong reasons to be concerned about the Republicans’ new, electorally-motivated anti-porn crusade.



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