United States of America vs. Sex

In 1970 Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography found no link between its object of study and antisocial behavior; it recommended the abolition of obscenity laws. Fifteen years later, faced with increasingly candid sexuality throughout the country’s popular culture and outcries from a conservative constituency, President Ronald Reagan called for a reconsideration of pornography as a public problem. Attorney General Edwin Meese announced the appointment of a new panel in May, 1985. Where the earlier Commission undertook two years of primary research and operated with a two-million-dollar budget, the Meese Panel worked with $400,000 and was charged with finding more effective ways in which the spread of pornography could be contained.

Public hearings were held across the country, followed by short work sessions. Various institutions including RCA, CBS, Ramada Inns, and Warner Communications were identified as pornography distributors. The Commission was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and PENTHOUSE and PLAYBOY magazines. Southland Corporation agreed to withdrawn various magazines from its 7-Eleven outlets. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VS. SEX was written by two editors of the PENTHOUSE FORUM and published by a division of PENTHOUSE. Its approach to the Meese Commission’s work is predictable. At the same time, the study is thorough and carefully reasoned, if disposed to indulge its subject for humor as well.

Nobile and Nadler emphasize the Commission’s lack of primary research, its dismissal of contrary opinions stemming from social science findings, and the confusions that attended its procedures. The authors end with a thoughtful series of personal recommendations. Also included are commentaries submitted to the Commission by William F. Buckley, Jr., John Updike, and others, these largely concerning literary censorship, and eleven dissenting opinions on the Meese Report by such figures as Betty Friedan and Barry Lynn of the ACLU.