The Presidential Commission On Pornography

By Mike Willis

(On 20 May 1985, Attorney General Edwin Meese III announced the formation of a Commission on Pornography to “determine the nature, extent, and impact on society of pornography in the United States, and to make specific recommendations to the Attorney General concerning more effective ways in which the spread of pornography could be contained, consistent with constitutional guarantees.” The Commission finished its work in the latter part of July. The report is now readily available in a 571-page paperback book entitled Final Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography which is available through our bookstore at $9.95 (plus postage and handling).

The book is not pleasant reading or recommended for everyone. Indeed its cover contains a warning stating, “Contains extremely explicit content. While the Final Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography must be made available, the report does describe and quote from material sold in adult book stores which will be offensive to most individuals. This book should not be purchased or read by minors.” With that warning, I am in agreement. I examined the book and want to call attention to several pertinent points from its contents.

How Extensive Is The Problem?

The Commission surveyed six major cities (Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD; Miami, FL; Philadelphia, PA; New York, NY; and Boston, MA). They randomly selected sixteen “adults only” outlets and found 2,325 separate magazine titles, 725 books titles, 2,370 film titles. Needless to say, pornography is big business, bringing in millions, if not billions, every year. Monthly sales of the ten top selling sexually explicit magazines range from a high of 4,209,825 copies for Playboy to a low of 185,532 copies for Club International (figures given for 1984).’ The top ten magazines average selling 10,617,482 copies per month. These figures not only demonstrate the fact that pornography is big business, they also mirror the moral deterioration in our society.

The Commission Concluded That Pornography Is Harmful

A 1970 Commission on Pornography has frequently been quoted which denied that pornography was harmful; needless to say it has been used by pornographers in defense of their right to sell pornography. Yet this Commission voted unanimously to state: “We believe that an increase in aggressive behavior toward women will in a population increase the incidence of sexual violence in that population, we have reached the conclusion unanimously and confidently, that the available evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that substantial exposure to sexually violent materials as described here bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence, and for some subgroups, possibly unlawful acts of sexual violence” (cf. P. xiv).

In addition to this summary statement, the Commission found that “a disproportionate number of sex offenders were found to have large quantities of pornographic material in their residences. . . . There is a correlation between pornographic material and sex offenders” (p. xv). A former prostitute said, “We were all introduced to prostitution through pornography. There were no exceptions in our group, and we were all under eighteen. Pornography was our textbook. We learned the tricks of the trade by men exposing us to pornography and us trying to mimic what we saw” (p.xv).

The Report also adds, “It is far from implausible to hypothesize that materials depicting sexual activity without marriage, love, commitment or affection bear some causal relationship to sexual activity without marriage, love, commitment or affection. There are undoubtedly many causes for what used to be called the ‘sexual revolution,’ but it is absurd to suppose that depictions or descriptions of uncommitted sexuality were not among these” (p. xx).

Lack of Law Enforcement

Repeatedly the Supreme Court has affirmed that “obscene material is unprotected by the First Amendment” (p. xii). The Commission wrote,

If the laws on the books are sufficient, then what explains the lack of effective enforcement of obscenity laws throughout most parts of the country? The evidence is unquestionable that with few exceptions the obscenity laws that are on the books go unenforced. . . . From January 1, 1978, to February 27, 1986, a total of only one hundred individuals were indicted for violation of the federal obscenity laws, and of the one hundred indicted seventy-one were convicted (p. 53).

There was not one single federal indictment against adult pornographers in all of 1983! There were only six in 1982, but four of them were brought by a single prosecutor in Kentucky.

The Commission says it is “dismayed at the unwillingness of the states to assume the bulk of the responsibility for enforcement of the criminal law” (p. xxi).

Pornography and Organized Crime

“The Commission frankly states, ‘Organized crime families from Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Florida are openly controlling and directing the major pornography operations in Los Angeles,’ where most films and videos are made. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates told the Commission, ‘organized crime infiltrated the pornography industry in Los Angeles in 1969 due to the lucrative financial benefits. By 1975, organized crime controlled 80 percent of the industry and it is estimated that this figure is between 85-90 percent today'” (p. xxii).

Reaction To The Report

Because of the findings of these reports, negative reactions from pornographers and liberal political organizations were expected. The American Civil Liberties Union called it “censorship . . . a national crusade against dirty pictures. “

Surprising to some was the way in which the Commission and Report were treated by the established news media. Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist, wrote the “Introduction” for the report. He covered the Commission’s meetings in New York, NY, Scottsdale, AZ, and Washington, D.C. He was one of the few journalists who followed the proceedings in depth. He wrote,

Frankly, I was shocked to discover that almost the only people I saw at all three sessions were writers for Playboy, Penthouse, and Forum magazines and representatives of the ACLU. The TV networks only showed up to hear a few victims’ lurid testimony. Where were the newsmagazines, the Associated Press, or The New York Times? They were all absent, except for token appearances. . . . On the day the Report was released, NBC-TV had only three sentences on the conclusions of the 1960-page Report, plus one sentence each from Mee and the Commission’s directors. Compared to those rive sentences, three critics, including Christie Hefner of Playboy, each had 4-5 sentences of dissent. . . . It saddens me, as a former Time magazine correspondent, to say it was clear to me that Time’s July 21, 1986 cover story “Sex Busters,” was written by someone who had not read more than excerpts of the Report (p. x).

Later McManus reported that $900,000 was paid to a public relations firm in Washington to undermine the report. He said, “What is frightening to me as a journalist is that the public relations campaign. . . is working (p. xlvi). As evidence of that he wrote,

And when the leaders of denominations representing 150 million Americans stood on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on July 25, 1986 and endorsed the Commission’s top priorities to focus on hard core, sexually violent and degrading pornography and child pornography, they did not get thirty seconds on the evening news of ABC-TV, NBC-TV, or CBS-TV, nor one paragraph in the three newsmagazines (p. xlvi).

Difficulty was even had in getting the Report published. Those book publishers who generally are interested in such reports, shied away from publishing this report, even when one publisher was guaranteed 100,000 copies in advance sales. As a result, the relatively small Rutledge Hill Press in Nashville, TN is the publisher of the Report.


We who are Christians find pornography not only to be a blight on our society but a sin before God. Although this study does not examine biblical teachings which condemn the use of pornography, it does contain many relevant statistics and other pieces of information to help in one’s preaching on this subject. Consequently, I wanted to acquaint our readers with this report and advise them of its availability.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 5, pp. 130, 138
March 5, 1987