Porn in the U.S.A.
November 23, 2003
By Steve Kroft
"Just because this material is available, and citizens tolerate it, doesn't mean that they accept it," says Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney for the Western district of Pennsylvania, and the point person in the Justice Department's campaign to rein in pornography.
When John Ashcroft was appointed attorney general among his first acts were to hang blue drapes in front of a topless statue in the lobby of the Justice Department, and to promise a crackdown on smut.
Buchanan's prosecution of a California company called Extreme Associates is the first major obscenity case brought by the federal government in more than a decade.
"We have just had a proliferation of this type of material that has been getting increasingly worse and worse. And that's why it's important to enforce the law, and to show the producers that there are limits. There are limits to what they can sell and distribute throughout the country," says Buchanan.
She believes that three films produced and distributed by Extreme Associates by mail and over the Internet contain coercive and violent sex, along with other material that is vile and degrading.
Rob Black, president of Extreme Associates, considers that a compliment.
One film, called "Forced Entry", includes shots of women getting raped and murdered. It also includes suffocation, strangulation, beatings and urination. Black calls "Forced Entry" a slasher film with sex, loosely based on the Hillside Strangler case. But 60 Minutes couldn’t find enough plot to show anything beyond the opening credits.
"They made absolutely no attempt to comply with federal law. In fact, it was probably their intent not to," says Buchanan. "Because what they wanted to do was to make the most disgusting material available on the market. And they succeeded."
What is federal law on pornography? The only explicit, hard-core sexual material that is absolutely illegal by law in the U.S. today is child pornography -- all other material must be put before a jury.
The Supreme Court last defined obscenity as material appealing to a degrading interest in sex, depicting it in a patently offensive manner, and lacking any serious artistic, literary, or scientific value. But this was way back in 1973, before the VCR and the Internet were in existence.
In California vs. Miller, the Burger Court recognized that individual communities had different values and opinions on pornography, so it allowed localities to make their own judgments, based on contemporary community standards.
But since 1973, standards have changed, and so has the definition of a community. Today, with the Internet, cable, and satellite television, most pornography can be transmitted directly into someone's home without ever disrupting the community, or its standards. And that will be Extreme Associates’ argument in court.
"It’s not involving the community. It's involving a private individual, who purchased these videos, and downloaded the images from the Internet into their home. So, where does that community standard apply," says Black. "You can't apply a community to it if only one person is viewing it. They didn't go to a local video store. It was purchased privately by an individual at home, and sent to them in the mail. And that is the debate. And so, where is the community? Where do you apply it?"
How do you apply community standards when you're talking about something that is just downloaded into somebody's home?
"I think that is precisely the question that the court has to answer. The original purpose of the Miller test was to give communities the opportunity to regulate what came into their borders, what was displayed on Main Street, what kids were actually seeing as they went around the community," says Lane.
"Obviously, if something's downloaded into the privacy of one's own home, it doesn't have that kind of impact on the community. So the question is, does the community still have the right to determine what people look at?"
Buchanan says she’s doesn’t have to convince the entire community, just the jury: "We're focusing our resources on the most egregious offenders. So, we're looking at the producers and distributors who are producing the worst material, the largest quantity of material, the largest area of distribution."
Buchanan says it is not the Justice Department's intention to shut down the adult entertainment industry or eliminate all sexually explicit material, even if it could. The point is to enforce some standards.
As for the big corporations that are now distributing pornography over cable, satellite, and the Internet, Buchannan says they need to exercise discretion. The Justice Department is currently investigating 50 cases across the country.