Just one look

National | That's all it took for an attorney general to seek indictment against Barnes & Noble for kiddie porn

Issue: "Honest Abe Rosenthal," March 14, 1998

David Lackey got the call last month. He says the attorney general of Alabama told him, "If I give your book back to you, I'll have to arrest you." That's when the tide began to turn in the battle against Barnes & Noble and the child pornography it distributes under the guise of art books, says Mr. Lackey: "Someone finally took a look at the photos we've been complaining about, and saw that we had a case. Before this, we weren't being taken seriously. Now we are." Alabama became the second state in which Barnes & Noble, the nation's largest bookseller, has been indicted for distributing the photography books of David Hamilton and Jock Sturges, which contain provocative images of nude children. A Montgomery grand jury handed down 32 counts of child pornography, a felony with a possible $10,000 fine on each count. Last November, a grand jury in Franklin, Tenn., indicted Barnes & Noble over the same books-Mr. Hamilton's The Age of Innocence and Mr. Sturges's Radiant Identities. And the FBI is reportedly investigating the two photographers, among others, to determine whether their work violates federal child pornography laws. A Maryland-based FBI unit conducting the "Innocent Images" undercover operation has been beefed up by an additional $10 million from Congress. "The ball is rolling," said Mr. Lackey, who serves as Operation Rescue's Alabama director. "We're going to increase the pressure now. We have more banners made and we're going to be picketing more stores." The American Family Association has also organized protests, and now the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (formerly the National Coalition Against Pornography) has joined in. Spokesmen for Barnes & Noble discount the charges and say the company has a right to sell the books. "As booksellers, we have received requests and demands over the years to stop selling everything from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to The Living Bible to The Merchant of Venice and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," a prepared release reads. "Under no circumstances will we remove books from our shelves because one or more citizens object to their content.... We do not believe that freedom of choice includes freedom to stop others from reading what they choose to read. The offerings of our stores must always remain as diverse as the society which grants them freedom to exist." But Bill Pryor, Alabama's attorney general, says these particular books are indefensible. "There is nothing artistic about the damage caused by the despicable practice of child pornography," he told reporters. "It exposes children in a disgusting and degrading manner that cannot be acceptable in a civilized society." Other law enforcement officials agree. Detective Robert Fraker of the Bethel Park, Pa., police department said the photos are "the same type of photographs that I've seen confiscated from pedophiles. To put them in a book and put a fancy cover on it doesn't make it protected, period." But even the purveyors of questionable material are due a fair trial, says attorney Alan Sears, who headed President Reagan's pornography commission. "All material is constitutionally protected until a jury or another trier of fact deems it otherwise," he said. Whatever the case, "what matters is this material is harmful to communities, and as a good corporate citizen, Barnes & Noble should take it off the shelves." The harmfulness of the material becomes evident when the books are opened, Mr. Lackey adds. "When we first went out, we were called 'book-burners' and such. But now we just show the photos. We open the book and say, 'Did you know this bookstore is selling this?' And people respond." At a protest in Melbourne, Fla., a woman was going into the store with her three daughters. When she saw the photos, she became silent for a moment, then told her girls they were not going to shop there. They left, but returned about an hour later. "We want to stand with you," Mr. Lackey says she told him. "This is wrong." Some of the most egregious photos are found in Mr. Hamilton's The Age of Innocence. Nude shots of pubescent and pre-pubescent girls bear captions such as, "Take me, take me, some of you, while I am yet young and true. Ere I can my soul disguise; Heave my breasts, and roll my eyes." "What does that picture mean to you?" asks John Oliver, president of the Middle Tennessee Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families. "I'll tell you what it means. It's telling someone 'rape me.'"

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