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With The Stagliano Case, The Porn War Heats Up

Porn Valley- Maybe no one should have been surprised that the War on Pornography still continued, although assumptions that it was on hold were all too easy to make.

Alberto Gonzales was replaced last November by Michael Mukasey as Attorney General of the United States, and the low-profile Mukasey appeared to be doing very little at the Department of Justice beyond attempting to provide smokescreens for the various illegalities of the Bush administration, defending everything from waterboarding to wire tapping.

Rumors even circulated that rank and file FBI agents were less than keen on being assigned to the bureau’s Washington-based Adult Obscenity Squad, preferring instead to tackle terrorism or organized crime rather than a Bush bouquet to the decency-obsessed religious right.

The outward appearance was that attitudes had mellowed since Janet Jackson, at the 2004 Superbowl, ignited the indecency witchhunt that drove Howard Stern to satellite radio and aided George Bush’s reelection.

Unfortunately for those to whom pornography is a free speech issue rather than a moral blight, enough federal prosecutors – mainly appointed under John Ashcroft and Gonzales – retain the less-than-mellow mindset that porn is an evil to be eradicted from the downloads and DVD players of the nation.

The Department of Justice’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force is still looking to take down the adult smut peddlers, even to the point of allegedly diverting funds from kiddie porn investigations to do it.

These DOJ porn fighters may have been lying low since October of last year, when they failed to obtain a conviction against JM Prods and company owner Jeff Steward for distributing the movies Filthy Things 6, American Bukakke 13, and Gag Factor 15 & 18.

But a few weeks ago, on April 8, they rejoined the fight as a Washington D.C. grand jury handed down federal indictments against porn producer John Stagliano and his companies Evil Angel Productions and John Stagliano Inc. for “using a common carrier for the conveyance of DVDs containing obscene films in interstate commerce,” “to sell and distribute DVDs containing obscene films” and “using an interactive computer service to display an obscene movie trailer in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age.”

The videos cited as “obscene” were Jay Sin’s Milk Nymphos, Joey Silvera’s Storm Squirters 2 and a trailer for Belladonna’s Fetish Fanatic 5.

Stagliano faces maximum jail terms of five years on each obscenity count, while his companies could be hit for multiple fines of up to $2 million – in what can only be described as a selective prosecution.

Neither the films of Steward nor Stagliano are the most extreme to come out of Chatsworth, the center of the U.S. adult entertainment industry, but they are quite capable of shocking a provincially minded jury, even if Evil Angel’s Karen Stagliano excuses them with calculated coyness in an interview with Adult Video News (AVN) as merely “girls having fun doing things that maybe you don’t always do in your normal bedroom.”

The material chosen for this case suggests the underlying agenda of the DOJ’s Pamela Satterfield, who leads the prosecution, might be to use a conviction in the Stagliano case as a federal benchmark for what is acceptable pornographic content and what isn’t. If other convictions of porn producers were to follow, they could create a restrictive framework of legal boundaries inside which the adult entertainment industry is forced to work.

This would, of course, represent ad hoc federal censorship and a total violation of the letter and spirit of the First Amendment. But the defenders of decency have always exhibited a cavalier, if not cynical, disregard for the Constitution.

One also has to wonder if Ms. Satterfield and those like her at the DOJ truly believe they can eradicate an industry with an estimated annual gross of between $10 and $14 billion, in an environment where porn, especially on the Internet, is omnipresent in contemporary culture. Or is their real goal to control the porn industry by becoming the ultimate Orwellian authority that actually regulates content?

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