Presidential report studied pornography in America

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Presidential report studied pornography in America

A 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on obscenity, Stanley v. Georgia, ruled that people could view and read whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. The following year, the U.S government brought the details of America's porn consumption out into the open.

By the time of the Supreme Court's decision, the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography had already been in existence for a few years, having been commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The committee, made up of religious leaders, librarians, politicians and sociologists, was to report on three subjects: "the constitutional and definitional problems related to obscenity controls; traffic in and distribution of obscene and pornographic materials; and the effects of such materials, particularly on youths, and their relationship to crime and other antisocial conduct."

One of the most notable components of the report came from Dannish sociologist Berl Kuchinsky, who reported that legalizing pornography in Denmark "had not resulted in an increase in sex crimes."

The commission published its findings in a 656-page, unillustrated report it titled, "Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography." The report was released on Sept. 30, 1970; by then, Richard Nixon, who ascended to the presidency in January 1969, had made his mark as a virulent enemy of materials he deemed pornographic and obscene. 

Earl Kemp

Among other recommendations, the commission advocated for sex education among America's youth; it recommended that the federal government fund research into the effects of pornography; and it recommended against restrictions on pornography for adults.

"It's not surprising that the commission's members stated they didn't believe exposure to obscene materials was a big problem plaguing society," says Dennis Bell, president and CEO of The Bob Mizer Foundation. "And, as one might expect, both Congress and President Nixon rejected the findings of the report."

The federal government's very public rejections of the commission's report meant little to editor, publisher and literary critic Earl Kemp, who published gay-themed erotic paperback novels under the company Greenleaf Classics. By the time the commission's report came out, Kemp, himself a heterosexual, had earned the unofficial title, "Godfather of gay publishing."

Kemp published an illustrated version of the commission's report, reprinting every salacious image and graphic to which the commission's members had been privy. Kemp printed copies of the new volume on Nov. 11, 1970, and they went on sale in bookstores across the country on Dec. 13, 1970. Copies of the illustrated report sold for only $12.50. 

Kemp didn't enjoy his success for long, however. He and Greenleaf owner William Hamling were sentenced to prison for conspiracy to mail obscene material. Hemling received a four-year prison sentence, while Kemp was sentenced to one year but only served three months and a day. Kemp, now age 87, is retired and living in Arizona. 

Only a few copies of the Illustrated Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography are available for sale online, though all cost several hundred dollars apiece. The Foundation has two copies in its library at its headquarters in San Francisco. 

Check back on the Foundation's blog next week, when we cover the 1986 Meese Report, commissioned by the Reagan Administration.