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Drawing the Line Between First Amendment, Pornography

June 20, 1991|DOUG SMITH

At news racks up and down several well-traveled streets in Glendale, anyone who has two quarters and just a little nerve can pick up a copy of "L.A. X...Press."

Last week's issue featured color art of a frizzy-haired blonde named Tabitha Stevens posed backward, hind quarters lifted in the general direction of all passing eyes, a string bikini ingeniously laced across the flesh so as to be almost invisible.

A line of large black letters claimed a circulation of 60,000--probably no exaggeration. Lower on the page, "Porn-O-Rama" was printed in blue letters and "Nude Models on Call" in yellow.

The inside pages deteriorated in the quality of the photography and the clarity of the prose, in direct proportion to their increase in license, which was considerable.

The presence of this not-so-graceful publication raises the question that can turn studied, resolute and fair-minded jurists into pathetic babbling windbags: "What is to be done about pornography?"

At the outset, let's assume that community standards in Glendale--at least as understood by those in public office--would not favor confronting every person who walks up Brand Boulevard with a view of Tabitha's fanny.

Those who know their history will remember that City Atty. Scott H. Howard had some of his brightest moments in court litigating the porn industry's challenge to a 1975 ordinance that limited the number of news racks on the street and gave preference to large circulation dailies.

The city won every appeal, professing all the way that it intended to clean up only the clutter of news racks, not the clutter inside them. That line, crafted to keep the constitutional guarantees of free speech from becoming an issue, proved truer than some people expected because now the city has L. A. X...Press alongside the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

At the moment, even though no one is howling about this in City Hall, the problem is being pursued in Sacramento.

Glendale is represented in the battle by Mickey Dunlap, a high-level reserve officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. More to the point, Dunlap could be called the creator of the community's standard of wholesome imagery through his nearly 45 years as proprietor of Dunlap-Turney, the name synonymous with yearbook, grad night and wedding photography.

Dunlap has recently been reappointed by Supervisor Mike Antonovich to the Los Angeles County Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.

The task, he says, is "like trying to push the ocean back with a spoon. But somewhere you have some small success."

Dunlap reports that the present battle line against the pornographic news rack has been drawn around the issue of access to children.

"Any kid with the right amount of change can get this stuff," he points out.

Accordingly, the commission is encouraging public support for AB 184, a bill authored by Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach).

Ferguson has already gotten through a law requiring blinders to cover two-thirds of any news rack that sells "harmful matter," that being defined as anything "displaying to the public" any of seven specific items including female genitalia.

In spite of this law, the Glendale news racks have no blinders and, if you get up close, you can see why. There, just at the spot where the violation would occur, and barely perceptible, is Tabitha's string bikini, covering up.

Ferguson's new bill would require 24-hour adult supervision over the sale of any material that "contains," rather than merely displays, any of those same seven offensive items.

As Ferguson's legislative aide, Dean McEwen, puts it, the woman on the cover "could be wearing Shakespearean clothes" and the publication would be "harmful" if the prohibited material was inside.

If the bill passes, the sales frontier of L. A. X...Press would, in theory, be pushed back to the convenience stores.

But, let's face it. There isn't much hope for that approach, which takes government under the covers, so to speak, in a private transaction.

A more promising idea might have occurred to anyone who bought last week's issue of L. A. X...Press.

Half of its cover page--the part below the fold--was entirely devoted to a lengthy and reasonably well-written news article about the sentencing of a woman who posed as a doctor.

Containing no mention of sex and presented in the dullest news format, the article appeared to represent some kind of code, put there to tip off the savvy porn seeker that this is what he is looking for.

It seems probable that the magazine would only be presented that way if somewhere its distributor had been forced to keep the nude models out of sight.

Perhaps direct community pressure could persuade L. A. X...Press to load its news racks with the photo down and the boring text up.

That wouldn't save the morals of any 8-year-old who knew the code.

But it would ease the distress of a lot of grown-ups who know when they see it that Tabitha's bikini isn't the line they'd want to stand on to defend the First Amendment.

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