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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


Going Sexy at “60”
What the “60 Minutes” Report on Pornography Forgot

[Carol Platt Liebau] 12/1/03   

Whenever California is referenced on 60 Minutes, it’s rarely the harbinger of good news for either the state or its residents. And last week was no exception. America learned that Chatsworth, California, is the “porn capital” of the U.S.A.

The piece reinforced just how integral pornography has become to American culture. According to CBS, pornography accounts for 70% of in-room hotel television viewing, and the porn industry itself brings in $10 billion per year, as much as professional sports or (non pornographic) movies. And the influence of pornography is clearly evident in fashion, music and television – whether it’s bondage-inspired clothes, the rise of Britney Spears, or even the debut last fall of television drama “Skin,” featuring a main character who was (surprise!) a pornographer.

Some of the most interesting portions of the 60 Minutes report involved the relationship between pornography and technology. Clearly, the rise of the internet has a great deal to do with the rise of pornography; people sitting safely at home can now view material that used to require a furtive trip to areas quaintly known as “dives.” And the notion that some material might offend local “community standards” – the charge that used to lie at the heart of obscenity prosecutions – has become a quaint artifact. Today, the relevant “community” for purposes of internet pornography may well have become America as a whole.

But what was most provocative about the report was what it didn’t discuss – morality. Nowhere in the entire piece was there the suggestion that the use of pornography could be considered wrong – much less any interview with someone who (gasp!) might think so. Nowhere was there any consideration that the influence of pornography has led not to the enrichment of American culture, but to its debasement. Nowhere was there more than just a passing reference to the feminist critique of pornography as constituting an assault on women.

The report revealed that pornography – like many other aspects of sexuality – is most widely accepted among the 18-25 year old age group. The reason for this phenomenon seems clear. Young people tend to want to suspend judgment – to adapt a libertarian-style of morality that simply ignores anything done in the privacy of one’s own home, as long as it’s not “hurting” anyone.

Make no mistake – the government has no business serving as the “sex police” of consensual behavior between consenting adults in private. But there is a place for a reasoned critique of sexual mores and behavior – not by the authorities, but by ministers, by the media and by thoughtful people in general. In fact, the rise of technology, and the wonderful freedom that has come with it, has made such discussion more important than ever before.

In its decision to forgo the “tough questions,” 60 Minutes undermined its own mission as a journalistic enterprise. There’s nothing wrong with asking a young person whether the fact that one can access pornography cheaply and easily should mean that one should do so. In its reluctance even to approach such an issue, 60 Minutes revealed its preference for titillation over education. And worse of all, it abandoned journalism’s primary responsibility: To seek the truth – or at least to ask the questions that might inform such a search.


CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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