Alberto Gonzales' Net-porn advice: Be graphic

The attorney general wants the cops to describe child porn in vivid detail.

Published July 30, 2007 8:17PM (EDT)

Alberto Gonzales, miraculously still the attorney general of the United States, had some advice for a group of police officers and prosecutors in Springfield, Ill., on Friday. In discussing the dangers of child porn on the Web, he said, officials should aim for lurid detail.

"We have to be very, very graphic in describing what we're discovering over the Internet, for example, the images that we see," Gonzales said. "Not just young teenage girls in bikinis, but these are images of crimes being committed against our children, of dads having sex with their young daughters, oral sex, defecation. I mean, just, we've got to be extremely graphic about what we're seeing because all these images mean that a child has been molested."

One can't argue with Gonzales' effort to fight online child porn. But this is as blatant an attempt at juicing public emotion -- in a really ugly way -- as one can imagine; does Gonzales really think he needs to drag us by the ears through the sewer to teach us what filth is?

Besides, as Kim Zetter points out in the Threat Level blog, isn't there something possibly counteractive in Gonzales' advice? Namely, doesn't vivid public description of every graphic sex act committed online "play to the prurient interests of pedophiles and, in a sense, become its own version of child porn?"

You have to wonder, too, if such descriptions would have violated the guidelines of the Child Online Protection Act, the antiporn law that Gonzales' Justice Department supported in court. (Civil liberties groups and several media firms, including Salon, sued successfully to strike it down.)

COPA would have barred "any communication, picture, image, graphic image file, article, recording, [or] writing" that "the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taking the material as a whole and with respect to minors, is designed to appeal to, or is designed to pander to, the prurient interest." Surely that covers oral sex and defecation, no?

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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