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Rob Black: We’re Going to Win

The Justice Departmnet’s war on obscenity was a topic on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 this past week with Rob Black having his say. Also on the show were First Amendmenty attorney Paul Cambria and Robert W. Peters, president of Morality in Media.

COOPER: Well, tonight we continue our look at the Justice Department’s war on obscenity. In a moment you’ll hear from those who support it and condemn it but first let’s look at the exact criteria the government is using to define what is obscene.


COOPER (voice-over): In 1973, in the landmark case Miller v. California, the Supreme Court came up with a three part test for obscenity that still applies today.

Does the average person applying community standards find that the work appeals to the prurient interest? Does the work depict or describe in a patently offensive way sexual conduct? Does the work taken as a whole lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value?

Community standards may differ from place to place and change over time but the Supreme Court’s three part test is still used today, though administrations have differed in how vigilantly they’ve enforced obscenity laws. During the 1980s the Attorney General Ed Meese began the National Obscenity Enforcement Unit. Adult magazines like “Playboy” and “Penthouse” were removed from thousands of convenience store shelves.

In the Clinton era, obscenity prosecutions decreased 86 percent according to a Syracuse University report but today the crackdown on porn is very real. The Justice Department has prosecuted 25 obscenity cases in mostly conservative communities. They won them all.

They targeted small hardcore porn producers. One company, currently facing prosecution, makes movies with extraordinarily graphic portrayals of sex, rape, and murder. Its founder Rob Zicari could face up to 50 years in jail.

ROB ZICARI, CO-FOUNDER, EXTREME ASSOCIATES: I think without a shadow of a doubt we’re going to win. I have a lot of faith in the people out there that this is not necessarily an adult entertainment issue. It’s not a pornography issue. It’s an issue of this administration telling you what you can and cannot see.

COOPER: Obscenity, however, is not protected by the First Amendment. The Justice Department has some 50 cases currently under investigation. That means juries across the country may soon be asked to determine what porn does and does not violate their community standards.


COOPER: So, is the porn crackdown on the right course or going too far? Joining me here is Robert W. Peters, President of Morality in Media. Thanks for being on the program and it’s an organization, of course, working to combat obscenity.

And, in Buffalo, New York, Paul Cambria, a lawyer for the adult entertainment industry. Among his clients, “Hustler” magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Paul thanks for being on as well.

Let me start off with you, Paul. Why shouldn’t a community be able to determine that they don’t want someone like Mr. Zicari selling his extraordinarily extreme and disturbing pornography in their community?

PAUL CAMBRIA, LAWYER FOR ADULT ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY: Well, I think the community can determine that. That’s not a problem at all. The people who are fueling the fire, if you will, with Attorney General Ashcroft want to wipe out all adult material and not just the material that the average adult would find to be unacceptable in the community and that’s really the problem.

They’re trying to reach in and eradicate anything and everything that would be adult, as opposed to just that which exceeds the community standard and that really is the problem.

COOPER: Robert, is that what they’re trying to do?

ROBERT W. PETERS, PRESIDENT, MORALITY IN MEDIA: Well, you begin with the law of obscenity, which the Supreme Court has set down and the obscenity definition is limited to hardcore pornography, not “whatever the heck adult material is.”

COOPER: But it does seem the Justice Department may widen their scope or it’s unclear at this point whether they may go after more soft core pornographers.

PETERS: If they follow the law they’re limited to obscenity and ultimately it’s up to the community. If Mr. Cambria is right that the American people love most hardcore pornography, then Mr. Ashcroft is going to lose all the cases. Personally, I think Mr. Cambria is wrong.

CAMBRIA: Well, that’s what the juries are determining as well.

PETERS: I think most people support enforcement of obscenity laws. Now does that mean we won’t lose a case, no. We will but so will Mr. Cambria. We’ll both win and lose cases.

CAMBRIA: Yes. I’ve tried many cases to juries in the heartland of American and very graphic adult material but I’m talking about adults, made for adults the juries have no problem with. And this gentleman, if he had his way, and if Mr. Ashcroft had his way, there would be no erotic material whatsoever and, if he’s honest, he’ll admit that.

PETERS: Well, I’ll tell you it isn’t true because I really in my own personal life I distinguish between my personal morality, which happens to be based on my religion and what I consider a social morality, which has to depend in large measure on what the people of this country and of this city determine. It’s not up to me.

And, by the way, this is not Mr. Ashcroft’s war. He was appointed certainly in part by President Bush to carry out the president’s policies and, I would add, in the 2000 year election both Gore and Bush came out in favor of obscenity laws. So did Bill Clinton when he ran for president in 1992. Ashcroft will probably never see any of this material. He is not going to be making the decisions here.

COOPER: Paul, you have the final word, a few seconds.

CAMBRIA: Yes. The determination is whether or not the federal government should be spending FBI agents and prosecutors on something like this which billions of dollars are being spent on, meaning people want it and acquire it and think it’s acceptable or whether or not they should be protecting our country and really siphoning off this talent for something that the adult, average adult does not find to be offensive unless it’s at the extreme fringe.

PETERS: If you’re right you’ll win all the cases, Mr. Cambria.

CAMBRIA: And I have so far.

PETERS: And you know you’re not going to.

CAMBRIA: And I have so far.

PETERS: You have not won all your cases.

CAMBRIA: Well, yes, well you don’t think so but you’ll find out.

PETERS: OK, we’ll find out.

COOPER: Gentlemen, appreciate you being on the program. Paul Cambria thanks very much and Robert Peters thank you very much.


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