MALIBU, Calif.—Meet Morgan Bennett. She's working toward her Juris Doctor degree at religiously-conservative Pepperdine University School of Law—Bill Clinton persecutor Ken Starr teaches there—but despite its close proximity to Porn Valley, Bennett is completely ignorant on the subject... but that hasn't stopped her from penning a polemic on why internet porn should be banned as a "monstrous injustice"—whatever the hell that's suppposed to mean.
(Incidentally, the words "monstrous injustice" are linked in the article to Volume 3 of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, and while we're not about to wade through the 572 pages of that volume searching for the operative phrase, we're gonna guess that "Honest Abe" didn't write much if at all about porn, and certainly not about internet porn—and besides, according to Larry Flynt and David Eisenbach, ol' Abe probably wasn't too interested in pictures of naked ladies anyway.)
Bennett's article, "Internet Pornography & the First Amendment," was published earlier this month in the (religio-conservative, natch!) Witherspoon Institute's "scholarly" journal Public Discourse, and is actually the second part of her attack on porn in general, and net porn specifically. In Part 1, "The New Narcotic," Bennett claims, for instance, that because 40 million people regularly look at porn on the internet, that makes it more addictive that either cocaine or heroin—a view which is supported, oddly enough, by anti-porn shrink Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, who claimed at the 2005 Victims of Pornography Summit that "the driving source for the rise in international sex slavery is pornography" and that "the driving source for sexual slavery around the world is the intense, basically addictive nature of pornography."
Most of the rest of Part 1 is filled with quotes from scientists and pseudo-scientists about porn's effect on the brain, which is allegedly "a visual pheromone, a powerful 100 billion dollar-per-year brain drug that is changing sexuality even more rapidly through the cyber-acceleration of the Internet," and that porn works "through the same neural circuit, has the same effects with respect to tolerance and withdrawal, and has every other hallmark of an addiction." Except, of course, for the actual "addiction" part.
Anyway, non-researcher Bennett, who used to clerk at the (religio-conservative) Heritage Foundation, leaves the medicine mostly behind in Part 2, and goes further off the deep end by becoming mired in the sea of incredibly-poorly-researched, non-peer-reviewed "studies" that can be found in another Witherspoon publication, The Social Costs of Pornography. While AVN hasn't written that piece of crap, we did read it, and every single "study" mentioned therein relies at least in part on unverified anecdotal "evidence," mostly from non-scientists and non-researchers who have little inkling of what the "scientific method" even means.
Still, Bennett, relying largely on Social Costs, states, "The claim that internet pornography 'doesn’t hurt anyone' is patently disproved by years of multidisciplinary studies in the hard sciences and the social sciences. These studies have exposed internet pornography as a massive, paradigm-shifting social harm that undermines the family unit and causes abuse, life-long addictions, infidelity, and unhealthy perceptions and expectations among men, women, and children.
"Likewise," she continues, "the 'no harm' argument also fails to consider the production of internet pornography, which is produced by way of real human beings who are almost always engaged in illegal and dehumanizing acts such as prostitution, rape, sex trafficking, assault, and even murder."
Of course, Bennett leaves out the fact that at least three courts around the country, including the California Supreme Court, have ruled that making a sexually explicit movie involves neither prostitution nor pandering; that her claim that net porn producers "rape" is "bolstered" only by an article about a convicted child molester making child porn in the Philippines; that her claim of "sex trafficking" is taken from an article whose main author is Morality in Media (MiM) founder Robert W. Peters, while her claim of "assault" is from MiM's fightthenewdrug.com website, another pseudo-scientific con job; and as for "murder," her only "evidence" is a UK police investigation into a Russian child porn producer who allegedly murders his child rape victims after he's done with them.
Bennett returns to the pseudo-science later, but pauses for a moment for some philosophy—which comes directly from the Religious Right hymnal: "How people relate to each other in society is important, but how people relate sexually is crucial to the sustenance of a society because it either incentivizes or de-incentivizes the very foundation of society: the family unit."
Guess what, Morgan? In the modern age, there are more people age 18 to 55 living with each other "out of wedlock" than are married, so "the family unit" is hardly the "foundation of society" you and your fellow religio-conservatives would like to think it is. And as for how people relate to each other sexually, you yourself stated that 40 million Americans regularly watch porn, so we're guessing that porn plays some significant role in their sex lives, whether you like it or not.
But in any case, poor research is the name of Bennett's game, such as for her statement that "While many assume that the First Amendment protects internet pornography as 'artistic expression,' that is largely not the case under current statutory and constitutional law," her sources are an article on the Ira Isaacs trial—not exactly anything to do with mainstream porn—and the claims of MiM president (and former Obscenity Unit prosecutor) Patrick Trueman in a letter to members of the U.S. House Judiciary and Energy & Commerce Committees.
Turning from her ignorance of science to her ignorance of history, Bennett claims, after admitting that "The scope and contours of the First Amendment’s speech clause are difficult to decipher by way of 'original intent' due to the scarcity of information in the historical records," that, "Though the Founders had a broad view of liberty, they also recognized the distinction between liberty and license. In other words, liberty does not include the abuse of rights."
But in fact, in stating that the First amendment's original intent is "difficult to decipher," Bennett links to, of all places, the Heritage Guide to the Constitution—and if she'd actually read it, she would have found that as near as anyone can find, there was only one state that had a law against porn, and it wasn't even enforced until 1821, more than 30 years after the adoption of the Constitution.
"What sort of speech would qualify as an abuse of the 'right' to speak freely?" she continues. "Thomas G. West, Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, explains that there were four commonly-recognized categories of injurious speech in the Founders’ era: personal libel, government libel, speech that injures public health or the moral foundations of society, and speech used in the course of, or that promotes, other injurious conduct."
We decided not to pay the six bucks to download West's article, because when one looks at the unambiguous text of the First Amendment—"Congress shall make no law... abridging freedom of speech, or of the press"—it's clear that the Founders weren't at all interested in "speech that [allegedly] injures public health or the moral foundations of society" except that several states did have blasphemy laws until those were declared unconstitutional in the early 19th century.
Hence, Bennett's statement that, "It was uncontested in the Founders’ era and far beyond that speech or conduct tending to injure the public morals was subject to government control. Profanity, obscenity, indecency, and pornography were treated the same as public nudity or public intoxication," is sheer horseshit. Although the First Amendment didn't apply to the states until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, most states had fairly liberal speech laws—and they didn't have laws about obscenity (not then an American legal concept) nor pornography, as legal scholar Eugene Volokh stated in the Heritage Guide.
Bennett claims that our concept of obscenity can be traded to the British common-law misdemeanor of "obscene libel," but that law had little to do with sexually explicit content; the first case charged involved a guy delivering a "profane sermon" from a balcony, while the second case, which did involve a book, was considered so unworthy that the guy was acquitted rapidly. Indeed, although laws targeting pornography became more widespread, leading up to the Comstock Act of 1872, that's a very long way, chronologically, from "the Founders' era"—moreso than modern citizens might imagine, since the main method by which news was spread in the first 50 or so years after the Constitution was ratified was by Pony Express. Indeed, citizens' ability to telegraph others wasn't available until 1846.
Anyway, Bennett gives some "highlights" of obscenity/pornography jurisprudence in the early 20th century, focusing on Supreme Court decisions that some have argued subvert the clear meaning of the First Amendment—like Miller v. California, which sets forth the current law regarding obscenity—a definition that even Bennett finds fault with, who thinks, "perhaps a more reasonable, precise, and workable definition for obscenity would be the following: an explicit image, including video, of a sex act, where the image/video is created (1) primarily for, or (2) with the primary effect of, sexually arousing the viewer, and where the image/video was created by actual sex acts (with 'explicit' meaning clearly showing, even for a moment, the penetration of/by genital organ(s) and with 'actual sex acts' meaning the actual touching of/by genital organs)."
Yep, just as did George Orwell's Big Brother before her, Bennett thinks obscenity is a thoughtcrime: "created primarily for, or with the primary effect of, sexually arousing the viewer." Yeah, that's the trouble with porn: it arouses us! Maybe she'd like to fit all of us with tracking devices attached to our genitals to see what makes our dicks hard, or our nipples stand up!
Oh; and she thanks MiM's Trueman and former Meese Commission executive director Alan Sears for the definition.
But besides calling for increased prosecution of "obscenity-related laws" by all levels of government, she's got what she undoubtedly thinks is a new idea on how to handle internet porn: Top domain level filtering.
"A statutory system of narrowly-tailored, criteria-based censorship would use accurate and effective censorship technology similar to content-control software," Bennett fantasizes. "According to Freedman v. Maryland, prior restraint is not necessarily unconstitutional, especially when restraining 'base pornography' (i.e., hardcore pornography), as long as the statute provides sufficient procedural safeguards to ensure that protected speech will not be restrained. Creating such a system with sufficient procedural safeguards will be the ultimate riddle."
"Riddle"????? Try "impossibility"! If Bennett wants to get rid of all hardcore material that is "sexually arousing" for the viewer, she'll not only have to censor millions and millions of Web pages—many created overseas and out of the jurisdiction of the U.S. government—and many of those non-U.S. governments don't have any problem with sexually explicit material; hell, they allow their citizens to sell it in their gas station convenience stores! (As, of course, do some U.S. station owners.)
But while Bennett doesn't think banning all explicit conduct (and even some simulated conduct) from the internet would "affect the private viewing of pornographic material by way of a DVD or a downloaded file (current obscenity statutes may apply to the production of distribution of such material), ... it would strip two important elements from internet pornography: its affordability and its accessibility."
In other words, now porn fans would have to buy DVDs or trade video files by email rather than download movies and clips from the net—and DVDs cost money. But aside from such a move being a boon for DVD producers, it would do virtually nothing to stop the proliferation of sexually explicit material; it'll just make people use more gas to get to the ever-dwindling number of adult video stores.
So that's her big plan: Filtering. And yet, it's so... 1990s... and, of course, it doesn't work, as anyone who (before the CAN-SPAM Act) tried to get to whitehouse.gov but accidentally typed in "whitehouse.com" well knows.
But Bennett's true thoughts about porn come out in full force in her "Conclusion" section.
"Internet pornography is not only a public harm but also one of the greatest evils of our time," Bennett believes. "It destroys human beings: two-year-olds raped for entertainment; women drugged and then videoed while being raped by a dog; young women, often runaways or adolescent victims of prior sexual abuse or neglect, lured into the pornography industry where they are filmed being gang-raped until their internal organs rip."
And who are her sources for this horseshit? Shelley Lubben, a "my husband sold me into porn" horseshit story from CovenantEyes, and a news story about a Bay Area bust of a pedophile ring that shot videos of their "conquests." (Guess what, Morgan? The adult industry hates child abuse as much as you do. Hell, we even used to give out awards for information leading to the successful prosecution of child pornographers!)
But tell us: What else does porn do, Morgan?
"Pornography undermines civilized society: it erodes the relationship between men and women; it undermines marriage, the family unit, and the well-being and social standing of women and children; it causes sexual addictions that debilitate a person’s productivity, discernment, and ability to form healthy relationships."
As we said: No real research into the science of the effects of sexual imagery was done here whatsoever, since every one of the above statements is patently false. And guess what? She doesn't know much about the First Amendment or its inclusion in the Constitution either.
"But the First Amendment was not ratified to protect the prostitution and exploitation of human beings for entertainment; it was not ratified to restrict government prosecution of 'speech' that causes grave harm to both individuals and to society as a whole. This concept of the First Amendment would have been unthinkable to the Framers, who lauded virtue as the indispensable ingredient of sustainable freedom."
First of all, it's complete horseshit that the Framers "lauded virtue as the indispensable ingredient of sustainable freedom." Many of them kept slaves, used tobacco and opiates, had mistresses, even paid bribes to husbands so they could fuck the men's wives, and did a bunch of other things Bennett would hardly describe as "virtuous." But beyond that, the Framers did indeed understand that there was a major difference between "the prostitution and exploitation of human beings for entertainment" and writing or drawing sexually explicit material, movies having not yet been invented. But the Framers were also well aware of the brothels that flourished in nearly every major city in the country in their era, and bawdy shows by traveling troupes of performers were immensely popular on the frontiers as the country pushed westward—and they knew the First Amendment had nothing to do with those either.
"Surely our current jurisprudence, which protects depictions of prostituted—and therefore criminal—sex acts, cannot be the proper interpretation of the First Amendment," she claims in her penultimate paragraph. "Freedom of speech is certainly a precious liberty, but that liberty does not include its abuse: the freedom of speech is not a license. Nor is it the fundamental social value that should trump all others."
Well, there's no doubt that Bennett will one day make a fine attorney to represent Morality in Media, American Family Association, Family Research Council or any of the myriad other pro-censorship organizations that spread their slime over America's cultural landscape. But beyond being ignorant of what the First Amendment actually means, even she should understand that if everyone spoke and wrote and filmed and posted material that didn't offend anyone, there would be no need for the First Amendment at all—and that's why organizations like the ACLU, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association and many others—even Free Speech Coalition—have gone to court to defend the very speech rights Bennett and her ilk would take away at the stroke of a pen.
So in short, fuck you, Morgan. If you don't like online porn, don't look at it—and if you don't like the First Amendment, there are plenty of places where you could live that don't have one.
"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it."—Judge Learned Hand, 1942