September 18, 2012

The Obscenity Police Are Coming (FORBES)

By Susannah Breslin

“They want to put me in jail, basically.”

That’s how porn director John Stagliano responds when I ask him what he thinks of the 2012 GOP platform, in particular one newly added sentence:

“Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.”

Two years ago, Stagliano was sitting in a Washington, D.C., courtroom, charged with seven counts of distributing obscenity.

Today, he’s a free man, after federal court judge Richard J. Leon “dismissed with prejudice” several of the counts and for the remaining counts “granted the defendants’ motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29.”

But an anti-porn crusader says Mitt Romney has vowed if he’s elected president, he’ll ramp up obscenity prosecutions, a task President Obama has shown little interest in pursuing.

According to Patrick Trueman, who ran the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the Department of Justice under President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush and who now runs Morality in Media, an anti-porn organization, Romney intends to launch a war on porn.

In a meeting with Alex Wong, Romney’s foreign and legal policy director, Trueman says Wong told him, “Romney is sincere about this. He’s convinced this has now had a terrible effect on society, and he will enforce the law.”

And that means pornographers like Stagliano could become targets once again.

“I don’t really want to go to jail,” Stagliano says. “I’ve got a two-year-old son. And I have a daughter, as well. I don’t think she’d like that either.”

In 2007, Romney swore that if he were elected president, he would put a porn filter on every computer.

As Stagliano, a Libertarian who plans to vote for Gary Johnson, sees it, an administration that seeks to legislate its constituents’ morality is the real threat.

“My morality would be based on, as long as you don’t harm somebody, anything should be permitted,” Stagliano tells me. “The government can’t solve our problems.”

As Trueman sees it, porn is a scourge, and the current status is “pandemic.”

“When I was at the Department of Justice, we were vigorously prosecuting this, and the reason why is because people were demanding it,” he recalls.

Today, porn is ubiquitous, and “The nature of today’s pornographers have changed,” Trueman says. “What you’ve got are the white collar pornographers. These companies know there’s hundreds of millions to be made.”

X-rated content has proved lucrative for big businesses like hotel chains not typically associated with porn. In his bid for the presidential seat, Romney resigned from the board of the Marriott hotel chain, with which he has close ties, and Marriott has announced its intention to phase out adult content.

Trueman believes porn is eroding the very fiber that holds America together: ruining marriages, altering brains, breaking down inhibitions.

“You’ll never do away with all of it, but we have an untreated pandemic of harm, and you have to do something about it,” he pronounces.

Ask Santa Monica-based Roger Diamond what he thinks of devoting more government dollars to obscenity prosecutions, and he’ll tell you, “Oh, that’s really a waste of money.”

For the last five years, Diamond has represented Ira Isaacs, a Los Angeles-based pornographer the Bush administration’s now-disbanded Obscenity Prosecution Task Force at the DoJ indicted for distributing and producing scat and bestiality videos.

Earlier this year, Isaacs was convicted, despite his arguments, through multiple trials, that his eye-popping videos were not obscene, but art.

What it obscene?

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