GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut
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.
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.
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."
Adult entertainment is not the only area in which cultural tastes seem to be consistent across the country. Primetime viewing habits are very similar too.
Desperate Housewives, the hottest new show on television, features plotlines such as one in which a married woman is having an affair with her 17-year-old gardener and another in which a man murders his neighbor. Turns out, the show performed better in the November sweeps month in the red state markets of Dallas-Fort Worth (first), Atlanta (first) and Kansas City (second) than it did in the Blue state markets of New York (fourth), Chicago (fourth) and Boston (third), according to Nielson Media Research. The show did quite well in red state markets Salt Lake City (fourth) and Birmingham (sixth) as well.
In many of the social pathologies, the blue states are in better shape than the red ones. There are different ways of interpreting data, but a basic analysis of census data makes this point.
For instance, the average percentage of births to unwed mothers is slightly higher in red states than blue states. Washingtonpost.com producer Kevin Hechtkopf did some number crunching and found that the average number of births in unwed mothers was 33.2 per 100 in red states compared to 31.2 in blue states.
And if divorce is an indicator of family values, the red states lose out there as well. As blogger Andrew Sullivan pointed out recently, the states with the highest rates of divorce per capita are all red states, and the states with the lowest rates of divorce are blue states.
Follow the Money
Spencer, the Mormon defense attorney in Utah County, said he couldn't help but be struck by a larger point: Big corporate America -- a staunch GOP ally -- was lining its pockets selling raunch to the masses, including the red state nation.
"A lot of it's coming from Republicans," Spencer said, referring to the corporate culprits who profit from smut. Spencer said he considers himself a Republican.
It's almost impossible to get a handle on how much money corporate America is reaping by peddling smut. General Motors Corp. is not eager to brag about how many dirty movies it sold last year through a subsidiary.
In the Utah County trial, Spencer asked the jury why a lone, small business vendor like Peterman should be held to a higher standard than the likes of W. Mitt Romney. At the time Romney was on the board of Marriott International, which was making huge margins on piping porn into hotel rooms. Currently, Romney is the Republican governor of Massachusetts and his travels around the country have helped fuel speculation that he might run for president in 2008.
Perhaps the most extensive mainstream media treatment on this subject ran four years ago in The New York Times. In a 4,000-word investigative opus, writer Timothy Egan connected the dots between porn and big corporate profits:
"The General Motors Corporation, the world's largest company, now sells more graphic sex films every year than does Larry Flynt, owner of the Hustler empire. The 8.7 million Americans who subscribe to DirecTV, a General Motors subsidiary, buy nearly $200 million a year in pay-per-view sex films from satellite, according to estimates provided by distributors of the films, estimates the company did not dispute.
Since 1994, General Motors Corp. has given all of its $53,850 in political contributions to the Republican Party. This figure does not include the millions more spent by GM affiliates and subsidiaries since the early 1990s, including Hughes Electronics (the former parent of DirecTV), which has given 61 percent of its $878,259 contributed since 1990 to the GOP and its candidates.
"EchoStar Communications Corporation, the No. 2 satellite provider, whose chief financial backers include Mr. Murdoch, makes more money selling graphic adult films through its satellite subsidiary than Playboy, the oldest and best-known company in the sex business, does with its magazine, cable and Internet businesses combined, according to public and private revenue accounts by the companies.
Since 2000, Murdoch and family members (all executives or shareholders of the News Corp., Rupert's parent company) have contributed at least $100,000 of their personal money to the Republican Party, its candidates and right-leaning political action committees, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dy ... ge=printer