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GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; 6:24 AM

Since the election, the e-mails from readers have poured into my mailbox. The common theme from conservatives has been that Nov. 2 was a triumph of values -- embodied by the GOP heartland over the heathens of the coastal elite.

Typical of the comments was this one from Arizona: "I do think the Democrat Party is identified -- justifiably -- with much of the vulgarization so prominently displayed by many celebrities, particularly those in the entertainment industry. Hey, we pick our friends."

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In this case, the Democratic Party's "friends" are the expletive-spewing Whoopi Goldberg and her Hollywood pals, whom conservatives demonize. But Republicans have their friends, too. While not as obvious as the Goldbergs of the world, this corporate elite also profits from the peddling of lowbrow entertainment and, in some cases, outright smut.

In fact, just as the Democratic and Republican elites both profit from creating and selling popular entertainment, red states and blue states don't differ much in their consumption of it.

In my recent Yahoo Political Players interview with Tucker Carlson, the conservative writer and CNN Crossfire co-host asserted that the red/blue divide is rooted in the dismay many Americans perceive in the vast social and cultural changes happening in the country and the fact that the masses of people in middle America blame a distant, coastal elite for fostering those changes.

"The people who run the Republican Party are elites just like any other elite, and they don't share the same cultural concerns as the center of the country," said Carlson. "They don't -- they're all pro-choice on abortion, they're all pro-gay rights, they're all thrice married, you know what I mean? And they summer in the Hamptons, too. And so they don't have anything in common, that's true, with evangelicals who make up the bulk of their party."

In this world of irony, corporate leaders at companies as diverse as News Corp., Marriott International and Time Warner can profit by selling red state consumers the very material that red state culture is supposed to despise. Those elites then funnel the proceeds to the GOP, which in turn has used the money to successfully convince red state voters that the other political party is solely responsible for the decline of the civilization.

Community Values

There was never any doubt how the good people of Utah County, Utah, would vote on Nov. 2. It has long prided itself as a bastion of conservatism and family values. And so when voters were given the opportunity to choose between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, 86 percent of them went for Bush, making Utah County the second most Republican county in the most Republican state in the country. Utah County has a population of roughly 370,000. Its largest employer is the Mormon-run Brigham Young University.

But Utah County is also the home of a mid-1990s court case that demonstrated some of the ambiguity about "values," even in the reddest of the red states. Randy Spencer was the attorney that the court appointed to defend a the Movie Buff video store in American Fork from local prosecutors who had charged the store's owner with 15 counts of pornography for renting tapes such as "Jugsy," "Young Buns II" and "Sex Secrets of High-Priced Call Girls." The prosecutors claimed the store was violating the community standards of suburban Provo.

Spencer, who describes himself as a devout Mormon, challenged the prosecution's definition of the community's values by subpoenaing records that showed Utah County tolerated the consumption of porn in several outlets: Utah County cable subscribers had ordered at least 20,000 explicit movies in the past two years; the Sun Coast Video store in the town of Orem was deriving 20 percent of its rental sales from adult movies, even though adult movies only made up 2 percent of the store's inventory; Dirty Jo Punsters in nearby Spanish Fork was racking up on average $111,000 dollars per year selling sex toys, blow up dolls and other adult fare; the Provo Marriott across the street from the courthouse sold 3,448 adult pay-per-view movie rentals in 1998 alone.

"I was assigned to the case, and it was a real evolution for me," said Spencer in an interview last week. "The same religious values that I have are protected by the same Constitution that protects my neighbor's rights to do some things that I might not necessarily do."

About a year after the Utah case, a similar scenario played out in Hamilton County, Ohio, a conservative Cincinnati suburb. In 2001, under pressure from an influential local antiporn group, Citizens for Community Values, prosecutors filed obscenity charges against two local video stores for selling adult videos. The Cincinnati Enquirer launched an investigation of community standards and found that:

"Last year, more than 21,000 Hamilton County residents purchased 26,000 explicit videos from one of the nation's largest mail-order companies. A company spokeswoman described those sales as typical for a community of this size. . . . In January of this year, 182,000 Greater Cincinnati residents -- an estimated 70,000 from Hamilton County -- visited an adult Web site at least once. Nielsen - NetRatings found that 21.8 percent of all residents here who went online visited an adult site. The national average for January was 21.4 percent. In recent months, Hamilton County residents bought adult movies on pay-per-view TV at about the same rate as viewers did in other mid-sized TV markets. The numbers suggest county residents are quiet contributors to the adult industry's rapid growth. And with every purchase, they change Hamilton County's long-held notion of a community standard."

Again, the community standard in Hamilton County -- which favored Bush over Kerry 53-47 percent -- was pretty much what it was everywhere else. In this particular case, one of the video storeowners pleaded guilty and paid a small fine. The other decided to fight and was acquitted in a jury trial.


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