Why did he need to know? And can you fight evil with a credit card? Readers face off over Pete Townshend.

Published January 22, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

[Read "For Pete's Sake," by Joey Sweeney]

Pete Townshend is a writer and author as well as a musician. As a novelist, I find his account believable and chilling. Artists have always explored the nature of evil in its many facets, and in this case he apparently was trying to jog a personal demon for his autobiography (and, to that end, far more valuable to confront than to imagine). Let's hope this is a case of "nabbing a big fish" to show one is doing one's job. As Joey Sweeney notes, Townshend is better equipped than most to weather the storm.

-- M.E. Hirsh

I'm a criminal defense lawyer in Southern California who's worked on cases involving possession of child pornography. Prosecutors will tell you that in these cases, "where there's smoke there's fire." The fire being, of course, molestation. It's my sincere hope that supporters of Pete Townshend don't get burned as more facts come to light.

-- Scott Pactor

Joey Sweeney is probably right that Pete Townshend is telling the truth about why he was looking at child porn.

Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with his guilt under the U.K.'s outrageous laws. As someone who is concerned about both child abuse and censorship, I am, like most researchers, curious about just how much child porn is really on the Net and how easy it would be to find it. But because my work has made me so aware of the law, I know better than to think that having purely academic motivations for looking could protect me. For the last nine years, whenever I've wanted to know the answers to those questions, I've asked people who live in countries where the law does not prevent it to do that research for me; so I have the numbers, but I've never looked for the pictures. For a researcher, it's a great handicap not to be able to do primary research, but that's the price of living in a country where merely looking is illegal.

Pete Townshend is one of the most brilliant musicians of our generation, but he has admitted to looking. He has not denied that he went to paid sites where he saw what he at least believes to have been child pornography. According to his public statements, he did not understand that to look was to download.

The original child porn laws in this country included two separate offenses, one for possession and another for creating child pornography. Since these pre-Internet laws presumed that to create child porn one had to abuse a child, it's quite clear that the latter was not about looking.

But that law has since been reinterpreted for the Internet, and it is presumed that since downloading means to create a new and separate copy of an image, one can legitimately be said to have "made" child pornography.

So, outrageous as this is, Peter Townshend has unknowingly admitted to something he is certainly not known to have done: to have actually been a child pornographer.

And there is no defense. Under U.K. law, there is no legitimate reason for any private citizen to possess, let alone make, child pornography.

The very fact that Townshend's case has been covered in the press means that the taint will stick to him always. But if the Crown Prosecution Service decides to press charges against him, there is no alternative to convict, with the result that he will receive the minimum sentence and will be placed on the Sexual Offenders Register.

Moreover, regardless of whether Townshend is telling the truth, it should be remembered that what he did harmed no one and that no one is protected by what is being done to him.

-- Avedon Carol, Feminists Against Censorship

As one who has deeply admired Pete Townshend since the '70s, news surrounding his alleged use of child pornography is tough to accept. Not tough, painful. So I appreciate Joey Sweeney's balanced and thoughtful defense in "For Pete's Sake."

But, ultimately, I don't think Townshend is a victim of puritanical mass-hysteria or a morbidly sensationalized media. As Sweeney states, there are other ways to face and fight the evils inherent in such an industry. But you can't battle those who assault and exploit by providing a credit card number and adding to their financial resources.

Fans such as I would love to give Townshend the benefit of a doubt. But even if investigators find no other traces of pedophilia, he has already admitted to a damaging lapse in judgment and ethics.

Townshend doesn't need our opinions and judgments, or shouldn't. But longtime fans shouldn't feel the need to prove their loyalty by blaming the way others combat the social ills that angered and obsessed their hero. Others didn't open up his account.

-- Bill Chace

The one incomprehensible thing about all this is how everyone seems to think, "What? Child porn is self-explanatory! Why would anyone need to do research?" Therefore, of course, Pete Townshend is lying.

This is so patently simpleminded and false it's astounding. Anyone can murmur, "Terrible ... terrible ...," but seeing what people have actually done to the body of a child, even hearing it described, that is what's necessary. I haven't seen it, but I have heard specific examples described, and no, I couldn't have imagined someone would do that to a child. I needed someone to have the courage to look because I don't. Someone who doesn't get off on the pain and degradation of children but who had the courage to look. Because if you don't know you cannot possibly know. It's a good thing that the degree of evil some people are capable of is incomprehensible to most of us. Except when we have to fight it. You can't fight what you can't see or understand. We do need to know.

-- Kate Eisenhauer

My most sincere thanks to Joey Sweeney for his article. After seeing the worldwide media try to completely destroy Pete's reputation and entire career, it gives me hope to see that not all journalists resort to such biased and sensationalized tactics.

After seeing how CNN and major networks have handled this, I will never again watch any television news. Perhaps I should subscribe to Salon. If there's any other fair or decent reporting left in the world, I've yet to see it.

-- Kim Ryan

I agree with the author that Townshend at the very least deserves the benefit of the doubt. If I remember correctly, we live in a country where one is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and yet sadly all it takes is an accusation to destroy people's public credibility. This is a particularly horrible accusation as well. I can only imagine Townshend's pain and distress as his guilt is recklessly assumed and his innocence is at best debated. I choose to believe in Pete.

-- Terry Morgan

I don't want to believe this.

I've always had a place in my heart, and my gonads, for Pete Townshend. He is on the top of my list of sexiest man or woman alive. If you gave me a choice: Pete Townshend, Ice-T, Aidan Quinn, or k.d. lang, I'd choose Pete. What I'd do with him in that case, I have no idea. Probably just sit in awe and say "huffa-huffa" every once in a while, and try to come up with something incredibly intelligent to talk about.

When I was my freakish teenager self, I listened to "Quadrophenia" whenever I could, and that record spoke to me in a way that nothing else did. In fact, every once in a while I take it out and listen to it (20 years after I discovered the Who) and I'm still amazed at Pete Townshend. The fact that most of the lyrics were written by a guy with a nose that took up most of his face (at the time) was important to me. This was a guy who understood adolescent high jinks, and I could feel his pain. Not only that, but he wrote things in a way that articulated what I was feeling as a total reject, but that I couldn't find in poetry. Here was a rocker who knew what it felt like to be completely rejected and who was able to write incredible songs about it.

In a way, the guy saved me. I realized I wasn't the only nut case that thought these things, and that alone was enough to keep me going from day to day sometimes. And, frankly, Townshend has explored sexuality in a way no rocker really has, and with such style. "Rough Boys?" What other people, especially men, articulate such feelings in rock 'n' roll? Pete puts it out there, saying things in a way that no one else ever has. I can't believe that he could be so articulate about the minutia of sexuality and would prey on children at the same time.

I don't want to find myself wrong, but in this world of naming people "alleged" as a loophole, I must feel that Pete Townshend is not a pedophile. He seems to be just too decent of a person.

-- Keiran Murphy

By Salon Staff

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