Our opponents profess extreme devotion to free speech, yet in reality many of them freely employ debate-killing tactics such as disrespect, ridicule, misrepresentation and intimidation. Tactics like these have a history in this debate that stretches back for nearly half a century. They have been effective at skewing the public dialogue over issues of love, sex, relationships and the rights of communities, even as the evidence of the harm of porn and adult enterprises piles up into a mountain.
Mary Whitehouse details this process in Whatever happened to sex?, as she helped lead a campaign in the 1960s to criticize the media in the United Kingdom…
In the event, the support was overwhelming. But what we did not bargain for, in those early days, was the speed and aplomb with which a handful of elitist media men–and women–would seek to present this public outcry as the voice of a tiny group of eccentric busybodies. Neither did we anticipate the intensity of the counter-campaign which would turn common sense into the least common of virtues, and virtue itself into an unacceptable social gaffe.
The controversy deepened and unreality increasingly prevailed. Morality was stood on its head; rationality and compassion were discarded; truth was converted into perfidy and love into a mockery. The progressively illiberal establishment of the avant garde achieved all this through a process of inverted censorship. Exclusion, ridicule, mispresentation are very effective censors, and they were applied ruthlessly to the values which, right through the centuries, had been accepted as basic to a stable and responsible society, and to the people who fought to maintain them.
The neophyliacs’ success was due, at least in part, to the deep and natural humility of the ordinary man. A humility which forbids confidence in his own instincts and judgment, especially when confronted with “better” (informed, educated, clever, even “good”) people who appear to give the seal of approval to ideas and aspects of human behavior which to him have always seemed wrong, particularly when these ideas are presented to him in his home and via a medium that appears to have the imprimatur of everything authentic…
The truth is that there was nothing at all exceptional about what we were saying–we were exchanging the currency of words and ideas which characterized the common people. We were saying what, in their terms, was an affront and what was not an affront. What was exceptional, in our whole history, was the power of that small fanatical group who were obsessed with a determination, at the very least, to become notorious; at their most sinister, to reshape the cultural and ethical values of our society, not through the extended processes of exchanged thought and experience, through trial and error, but through instant prejudiced “expertise”. It matters not whether their motivation was (and is) political or monetary. With staggeringly effective sleight of ahnd, they perpetrated the greatest confidence trick of our times. They landed blows to the body politic which it is only now beginning to appraise, let alone recover from.
The whole debate on censorship has taken place in a climate of unreality. Can one imagine anything much less real and rational than John Calder’s declaration that he “refused to believe that one can make people better or worse” and that books do not affect behaviour! Strange that, as a publisher, he had not apparently heard of the Bible, Mein Kampf or Das Kapital. And that in an Oxford University debate! The truth is that no movement, with the exception of Communism and Fascism, has practised censorship more rigidly than those who bellow, in and out of season, for the abolition of all controls. The organized lobby, with its adherents in the media, did not hesitate to suppress, particularly in television, the voices of those who hold opposing views–that is why the sixties was such an illiberal decade. Monopoly, authoritarianism, exploitation, those bogies of the “progressive” left, formed the bedrock of its own strategy. No views could be seen, heard or given publicity unless they advocated permissive humanism. The rest must be censored out by ridicule, denigration or exclusion so that the age-old mechanism by which new ideas are filtered through the sieve of experience, or refined through conflict with respected values, was sabotaged…
…[A]ny question of personal responsibility or common sense tends to get swept away in the great liberal tide of “no proof” doubts. So does all change become progress, social stability mere stagnation, laws ipso facto repressive, all faith superstition, and the riches of the past mere blockages to the liberated “now”.
Catharine MacKinnon: Mass Media Reflexively, Subtly Protect Pornographers
Until the publication of [In Harm’s Way], the public discussion of pornography has been impoverished and deprived by often inaccurate or incomplete reports of victims’ accounts and experts’ views. Media reports of victims’ testimony at the time of the hearings themselves were often cursory, distorted, or nonexistent. Some reports by journalists covering the Minneapolis hearings were rewritten by editors to conform the testimony to the story of pornography’s harmlessness that they wanted told. Of this process, one Minneapolis reporter assigned to cover those hearings told me, in reference to the reports she filed, “I have never been so censored in my life.” Thus weakened, the victim testimony became easier to stigmatize as emotional and to dismiss as exceptional. Its representativeness has been further undermined by selective or misleading reports of expert testimony on scientific studies…
Testimony in Minneapolis: Prostitutes and Porn (explicit language)
It is very amazing to me what happens when a group of ex-prostitutes get together in one room and tell stories. One of the things we discovered was that the men we had serviced were very powerful men in this community. Especially interesting to us are the amounts of men involved in the media in this community that use prostitutes and pornography.
Harvard Law Professor Frederick Schauer’s “The Boundaries of the First Amendment”; Government Regulates Many Kinds of Speech
“Although the First Amendment refers to freedom of ‘speech,’ much speech remains totally untouched by it. Antitrust law, securities regulation, the law of criminal solicitation, and most of the law of evidence, for example, involve legal control of speech lying well beyond the boundaries of the First Amendment’s concern. It is not that such regulation satisfies a higher burden of justification imposed by the First Amendment. Rather, the First Amendment does not even show up in the analysis. The explanation for lack of First Amendment coverage lies not in a theory of free speech or in legal doctrine, but instead in an often serendipitous array of political, cultural, and economic factors determining what makes the First Amendment salient in some instances of speech regulation but not in others. Because the First Amendment’s cultural magnetism attracts a wide variety of claims, nonlegal factors, far more than legal ones, determine which opportunistic claims to First Amendment attention will succeed and which will not. Legal doctrine and free speech theory may explain what is protected within the First Amendment’s boundaries, but the location of the boundaries themselves–the threshold determination of what is a First Amendment case and what is not–is less a doctrinal matter than a political, economic, social, and cultural one…”
Journalists understandably are particularly vigilant about freedom of the press. Claiming a threat to freedom of speech is therefore an effective way to get sympathetic media coverage of your issue.
Testimony in Los Angeles: Peter Bogdanovich on Porn and Hollywood
The pornographers and their supporters are so powerful, and the connection between the pornography industry and the legitimate entertainment industry is so intimate, that directors and producers and writers and creative people of all kinds do not feel able to take a stand against pornography because they’re going to be blackmailed by legitimate studios, distribution houses, etc. Some say, “Just wait till I get this distributed, then I’ll be free to go down and tell you what I know,” or “I’m waiting to sell a TV show…” The real story is that people are intimidated out of speaking by those in power over their lives…