A War Too Many

Everyone else seems to be weighing in on the War on Pornography story.

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO’s long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Department officials say they will send “ripples” through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.

I must say, this one baffles me. I grant that the Administration–and, indeed, much of the country–is more puritanical of these matters than I am. But even leaving aside the question of whether this is an appropriate thing for the federal government to do, this hardly seems a proper time to devoting resources to yet another unwinnable “war.” The FBI is currently in large-scale hiring mode to beef up its counterterrorism resources and, surely, DOJ has enough to do in this arena as well. It’s bad enough that we’re devoting resources that could be used to catch terrorists to locking up drug users; surely, we don’t need to add people who watch HBO to the list?

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    I heard about this one yesterday and it’s definitely a head scratcher. Seems that the FBI has too much time on it’s hands if this is where they’re spending their resources.

  2. – So you think we shouldn’t enforce the law because we are fighting terrorism?
    – The point isn’t to “win” a “war” but to enforce the law and hoepefully tamp down the escalating nature of the problem. The war on drugs has been effective in many ways – people do less drugs – but the arguement is about the cost. I don’t think the “porn war” is similar. They are not prosecuting individual porn consumers but obscenity producers and distributors.
    – Do you really think we are at the point where every single FBI agent must be working on terrorism? What about other non-terrorism crimes, should the FBI lay off those as well? There is no real context for the resource allocation in the story.
    – It has long been the beleif that Bush would enforce these type of actions that Clinton refused to. It just took longer for the issue to bubble up. Ask anyone in the porn business and I am sure they will tell you that they knew this was coming.

  3. bryan says:

    The problem isn’t necessarily that they are trying to fight this war, but it’s that the war they are fighting may be unwinnable. The Supreme Court has held the internet and cable to different standards of indecency than broadcast television and radio. One of these cases ends up at the Supreme Court and the government will lose all of them.

    cf. U.S. v. Playboy, Denver area Cable v. FCC, and Reno v. ACLU.

    As someone who’s just spent a semester wading through these cases, I can say that the court has never really bought the government’s side of the argument re: obscenity except in the case of broadcast.

    In U.S. v. Playboy, the court had every opportunity to “tone down” the obscenity, but denied the government ability to restrict access. They didn’t even broach the subject of prosecuting the producers.

    The Internet is an even more difficult case for the government to make, because it’s a medium that requires technological skill to access and can be made and distributed from anywhere in the world.

  4. “Obscenity producers and distributors” are mostly just people trying to make a buck. I don’t really have a problem with this unless people are trying to market it through spam. (In particular, spam with ugly subject lines that gets sent to my niece.) Those who use legitimate means of distribution should be left alone.

  5. Sarcastic says:

    This is not so ridiculous a venture if you remember that the adult industry is really sustained by only 10 people, each spending a billion dollars a year. Obviously, those 10 people have enormous assets and are probably tax cheats, too.

  6. McGehee says:

    Are those the same 10 people who are funding all those anti-Bush 527s?