The Return of the Porn Prosecutions

I’ve been reading reports over the past few months that the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were going to begin increasing the number of investigations and, presumably, prosecutions of pornographers.

Many of the articles I’ve read included appropriate slaps at the FBI and Justice Department to the effect that it must be nice that they’ve finally eradicated all the terrorists so they can focus on something like pornography.

Which is certainly a deserved criticism, especially given that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said he wants to make prosecuting obscenity a major priority. But Congress also deserves a major share of the blame as The Washington Post noted in September,

Congress began funding the obscenity initiative in fiscal 2005 and specified that the FBI must devote 10 agents to adult pornography. The bureau decided to create a dedicated squad only in the Washington Field Office.

Also, many of the articles critical of the focus on pornography wrongly assume that it will turn into little more than tilting at windmills, assuming that First Amendment case law exempts pretty much everything between consenting adults. In fact, by targeting the right venues and the most extreme pornography, the Feds are likely to achieve a number of successful prosecutions.

As the FBI notes in a memo quoted by the Washington Post,

“Based on a review of past successful cases in a variety of jurisdictions,” the memo said, the best odds of conviction come with pornography that “includes bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior.”

As the Washington Post hints at, one interesting difference between the Reagan administration’s obscenity prosecutions and the current attempt to crack down on pornography is that pornography has become a much larger part of the popular culture in the intervening decades. Ron Jeremy has appeared on a number of mainstream programs and Jenna Jameson is still slated to appear in her own reality television show. A song that is little more than a list of sexual positions can be played on mainstream radio today, and major companies such as General Motors and Time Warner Inc. make large profits off their involvement in pornography.

Source:

Recruits sought for porn squad. Barton Gellman, Washington Post, September 20, 2005.

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