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Porn Jitters 

Maybe W. can’t spell “pornography”

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
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In one of the salient moments during testimony to the Meese Commission, porn sage William Margold remarked wryly to the commissioners that they need not worry about, or waste taxpayer dollars investigating, the adult-entertainment industry.

”Just leave us alone,“ Margold noted ruefully, ”and we‘ll destroy ourselves.“

Well, not quite.

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In the 16 years since Margold faced what many considered to be a McCarthy-like inquisition designed by the Religious Right to degrade the First Amendment, porn hasn’t exactly committed suicide.

In spite of Margold‘s sarcastic prediction, the L.A.-based industry survived the ReaganBush years and has grown into a thriving enterprise, an octopus with multibillion-dollar tentacles that reach deep into traditional media such as video, cable and print as well as new tech formats including DVD and the Web.

A common cry among the groups opposed to the adult industry has been that ”porn is as readily available in this country as fast food.“

That’s not too much of an exaggeration. Consider that an estimated 25,000 video outlets across the nation stock adult material, with more than 10,000 new porn-video titles released each year. The Internet seems to have multiplied all of that exponentially.

Yet the blue skies and bulging bank accounts that came with the Clinton era are now over, and major porn companies are sounding general quarters for what they are sure will be their first major firefight in a decade. Obscenity busts and trials are looming large on the horizon, they worry, with the only questions being when, where and how.

If the previous two Republican administrations are any indication, veteran First Amendment attorney Jeffrey J. Douglas says, the industry can expect at least 30 or more companies to be targeted by the Justice Department. That was the approximate number of companies that were put in the cross hairs under both Reagan and Bush.

”Some people are predicting that as many as 80 or more companies will be targeted, but I don‘t think they have the staff to handle that,“ Douglas says, adding that the real question confronting the adult industry is how the expected prosecutions will take shape.

If they seek a pure political appeasement of the Religious Right, Douglas says, prosecutors will be less likely to bargain and will push hard for prison sentences. This was the tack they took against adult mail-order companies during the Reagan years, Douglas notes. Yet they could also seek to cripple financially a slew of companies instead, angling to force additional changes upon the industry without seeking to lock up its producers. According to Douglas, that was the approach taken by the previous Bush administration against porn manufacturers more than a decade ago.

Douglas says a new era of Justice Department prosecutions could hammer some companies into oblivion, noting that in 1990 the department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Unit milked more than $23 million out of more than two dozen companies. Essentially it is the porn equivalent of a drug raid that nets a baggie full of weed in a mansion and -- presto! -- the mansion becomes a trophy in the Drug War. The porn seizures were euphemistically titled ”liquidated forfeiture.“ On average, companies were forced to pay $1.2 million each.

Yet the fact is, the porn industry didn‘t just survive those dark days, but thrived in the aftermath and even pushed the sexual envelope further.

So it is surprising -- given the depth, breadth and financial clout of the industry -- that top production and distribution companies are scrambling as if the very industry itself may not survive Hurricane Dubya.

The scope of their angst, which has been slowly building ever since George W. Bush fought off Senator John McCain in last year’s primaries, has reached something of a zenith in recent weeks with the inauguration of Bush and the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general.

The highlight -- or nadir -- of this collective hand wringing emerged in mid-January in a 24-point list of guidelines that producers and directors are expected to follow when making a porn flick.

Dubbed the ”Cambria List“ after the lawyer who crafted it, First Amendment attorney Paul J. Cambria, the guidelines effectively put to an end a host of sexual acts that range from the bizarre to the basic.

Suddenly verboten are scenes in which the models seem to be experiencing ”unhappiness or pain,“ as are scenes that put female models on the receiving end of some of the vitriolic tirades that have become a trademark of such porn trailblazers as Max Hardcore.

Carrots, cucumbers and other phallic-shaped produce have been spared degradation as well, as food is no longer fair game as sex toys.

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