(Printed in The Daily Review on 8/5/96.)
Editor: A New York Times editorial (June 14) called it "an eloquent decision that honors free speech," referring to the recent decision by three federal judges in Philadelphia who declared the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional. Their decision was reached after they did something most commendable -- they took the time to understand the scope of what they were about to decide. Their subject was the internet, a world wide network of computers.
Conversely, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act with little understanding of the subject or seemingly even Constitutionallaw, and based its legislation on misrepresented information from the Christian Coalition who used a totally inaccurate study often attributed as an official study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
In a Review column (July 9), Don Feder committed that same sin by citing the CMU study, also known as the Rimm study, from its author, Martin Rimm, who wrote it while an undergraduate at CMU. Rimm is also the author of, "The Pornographer's Handbook: How to Exploit Women, Dupe Men & Make Lots of Money." He obviously knows his "duping", because he not only did it to Feder and Congress, he also got Time Magazine, which devoted a cover story (7/3/95) to the inaccuracies in the so-called CMU study by Rimm.
According to two of Rimm's most vocal critics, Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak, of Vanderbilt University:
I will give Mr. Feder the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he was merely misinformed rather than intentionally deceitful. I give no such benefit to Congress and Mr. Clinton for passing and signing such legislation; their actions were for reelection purposes only. Rimm and the Christian Coalition, however, should retract their positions since both he and they were not only misleading and deceitful, they did so intentionally.
- Rimm "was the sole author; no others have taken any credit for the intellectual content of his study."
- CMU "has since publicly distanced itself from the Rimm study. To just say 'a university study' gives it credibility it clearly does not deserve."
- Rimm's own study documented that only 0.5% of traffic on the internet can be considered as pornographic. His often quoted figure of 83.5% refers to the content of adult BBS's (Bulletin Board Services) that specialize in pornography. However, they are not part of the internet, and require a credit card and age verification to access.
- "Time Magazine . . . subsequently printed a retraction (of their July 3 cover story), and the author of the Time story publicly admitted that the study should have first been reviewed by experts in the field."
- Hoffman and Novak also referred to the Rimm study as one-sided reporting, cheap sensationalism, outrightly inaccurate, superficial, and incomplete.
As for the 0.5% of pornography still in cyberspace, parents have the obligation to censor their minor children. Adults can decide for themselves.
John L. Ferri
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