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Ashcroft’s porn crackdown on Nightline Wed.

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Nightline is scheduled to do a show on John Ashcroft’s renewed crackdown on porn Wednesday. The newsletter on the show is below. Last year Frontline‘s documentary American Porn included a segment on Extreme which since been indicted and is the focus of tonight’s Nightline. Frontline has transcripts of interviews with Extreme owners Rob Black and Lizzie Borden. You can watch the entire documentary online and there is extensive background material.

Subject: In the Extreme

Nightline Daily E-Mail

August 27, 2003

TONIGHT’S FOCUS: The movies are truly offensive. But there’s clearly a market for them. And now Attorney General Ashcroft is beginning an obscenity prosecution, the first major one in about a decade. But with the Internet, VCRs and DVDs, the whole environment is different. What are community standards these days?

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It used to be something of a right of passage for young men. Going off to a dingy theater to see an X-rated movie for the first time. But the theaters were generally pretty disgusting, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t walk out after that experience feeling like they needed a shower. But things have changed. The Internet has brought porn, however you want to define it, into the privacy of the home. Porn actually helped drive the VHS/VCR revolution in the 80s, and it’s doing the same thing for the Internet. For the most part, pornography websites are among the most profitable.

Now the legal yardstick has always been community standards. And those standards vary dramatically around the country. What might be greeted with a blas√© yawn in one community might generate shock and outrage in another. But if there really is no public display anymore, if all of the viewing takes place at home, is “community standards” realistic any more? But community standards certainly play a role in determining where these prosecutions will be conducted. A jury in a rural area may view these films far differently than one in a big city. Now John Ashcroft’s Justice Department has filed charges against a movie production company based in California, but the prosecution is to take place in Pennsylvania. Going after the pornography industry has been on his agenda for a while, but the attacks on 9/11 delayed it. The Justice Department has now decided to go forward.

And in this first case, they chose an easy target. The films made by this company are not what might be considered “mainstream porn.” They are violent and offensive, featuring scenes of rape, violence, and murder. It’s going to be very hard to defend them. But what about the First Amendment? It really exists to protect the fringes, under the belief that once you start to whittle away at freedom of speech, once you weaken that protection, how or where do you stop? And as the movie producers point out, scenes similar to what they do show up in our movie theaters and on our television screens all the time. Where do you draw the lines? Or do you draw any lines at all?

After the snickering, after the jokes and all, there is a very serious issue here, one that in the end, affects all of us, whether you have ever viewed an X-rated movie or not. But go into any major hotel and you can order one up on the cable system and pay for it with your credit card and the hotels even say the movie title won’t appear on your bill. Porn is mainstream, whether anyone likes it or not. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, involving some of the biggest corporations in this country. ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper will introduce you to the U.S. Attorney in charge of the prosecution, and the movie producers. Ted will anchor, and yes, we’ve had a tough time editing all this so we can actually show it on network television.

Leory Sievers and the Nightline Staff
ABCNEWS Washington bureau

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About Steve Rhodes

  • http://www.makeyougohmm.com/ TDavid

    TiVO is set, thanks for the head’s up, Steve ;) Will be interesting to see where Ashcroft intends to go with this and at what cost to the First Amendment.