Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Traci Lords

No Porn ODs

Moral finger-wagglers whispered in President Reagan's ear about the porn proliferation, and Reagan directed Attorney General Meese to form a special commission to study the issue.

Ed Meese
Ed Meese

Meese did so with relish, making obscenity a totemic moral issue for the Reagan presidency. The Meese Commission on Pornography held hearings in Washington, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York over six months in 1985. In all, 54 people testified about the inherent evil of pornography. Only four defended sexy films and photographs as constitutionally protected entertainment.

One of the latter, porn actor and impresario Bill Margold delivered a memorable line at the L.A. hearings: "In a society that is drug-infested, violence wracked, and polluted by chemical greed, might I respectfully remind this commission that no one has ever died from an overdose of pornography."

Bill Margold
Bill Margold

The commission's anti-porn report, at 1,960 pages as big as a Bible, made sweeping recommendations for increased enforcement of obscenity laws and establishment of a national computer database of firms and individuals who traffic in sexually explicit material.

The commission recommended that the IRS dedicate staff members to scrutinize sex purveyors; that porn producers be charged under pandering laws, and that adult bookstores be systematically inspected for health code violations. The commission very nearly voted to urge lawmakers to declare obscene sexual devices such as vibrators and dildos.

Playboy editor Hugh Hefner charged the commissioners with "sexual McCarthyism," and First Amendment advocates deemed most of their recommendations unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Hugh Hefner
Hugh Hefner

Unswayed, Meese formed a team of Justice Department investigators and prosecutors that he christened the National Obscenity Enforcement Unit.

The commission recommended that the use of performers younger than 21 be forbidden by an act of Congress, and that producers, retailers and distributors of sexually explicit material be required to maintain records containing consent forms and proof of performers' ages.

That recommendation, like the others, would have had little traction were it not for the revelations about Traci Lords in May 1986. By the time the commission report was released two months later, Lords had become the I-told-you-so case study for Meese's assault on porn.

Lords accepted the role. As she put it, "I have to thank Ed Meese for saving my life."

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