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Stars and Stripes, Newsweek Tut-Tut Concerns about Porn on Military Bases

You'd think a headline like “Soldiers Say Porn Ban May Hurt Morale” would appear in a newspaper like the New York Times or maybe as a column in Playboy.  On May 5 that headline ran in Stars and Stripes, a paper that serves military members deployed around the world. 


The article, written by a team of reporters at American military bases, bemoans pending legislation introduced by a Republican congressman that would restrict the sale of men's magazines like Playboy and Penthouse at military bases overseas.  The story uses 11 statements from military members who think the ban is a bad idea. 


In contrast the article takes one statement from the Web site of Paul Broun, R-GA, the congressman sponsoring the legislation, refers to another statement Broun made in an interview with Newsweek, and mentions he is a former Marine.  It also includes two statements from women, one a military spouse and the other an active duty member, who think the ban is a good idea. 


It isn't hard to see which side the reporters support:

The prospect of missing out on men's magazines was not welcomed by soldiers at Grafenwöhr.

"We all read 'em," said Pfc. Paul Rubio, 31, of Bakersfield, Calif. "There are times we just read 'em for the technological parts like the new gadgets that come out. They have good stories sometimes too."

Sgt. Simon Brown, 34, of Daytona Beach, Fla., said men's magazines build morale. "It's not all about the pictures, although 80 percent of it is," he said.

Pfc. Greg Smith, 21, of Northboro, Mass., a regular Playboy reader, said soldiers should be allowed to buy nudie magazines at the exchange.

"Playboy is good entertainment while you are on the can. They have jokes and good stories," he said.

The reporters also discussed the ban with soldiers stationed in South Korea:

Some troops in the Pacific region said the proposed legislation would impinge upon their personal freedoms.

"They're making it a point of undermining soldiers to almost make them feel like we're back in elementary school," Pfc. Nickolas Sears said Friday at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. "We're all adults here, and if it's something we want to do, we should feel free to choose as we please."

Other than on base, there's no place in South Korea to buy magazines like Playboy, he said.

In reporting Broun's purpose for the legislation, Stars and Stripes quotes his Web site. One wonders if it was too difficult to solicit a firsthand response from the congressman, especially when the reporters gathered so many firsthand comments from soldiers.

"Allowing the sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by: escalating the number of violent, sexual crimes; feeding a base addiction; eroding the family as the primary building block of society; and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad," Broun says on his Web site.

 The statement in and of itself is solid and stands on research that shows pornography does cause an escalation in sexual harassment, violence against women and contributes to the dissolution of marriage and families.  (Click here for a longer analysis on the effects of pornography on culture.)

The Newsweek article to which Stars and Stripes refers includes a picture of soldiers in Vietnam looking at a Playboy pinup photo, and provides more detailed information about the ban that currently exists on “sexually explicit” material being sold on military bases.  But the entire tone of Newsweek's Web-exclusive article reads more like a snarky refutation of any concerns about pornography, beginning with the first line, “You know something's wrong when the word areola appears in a bill circulating on Capitol Hill.” 

Newsweek reporter Dan Ephron also dismisses concerns about men's magazines by stating that magazine pornography is much less viewed by soldiers than Internet porn, which “is never more than a couple of clicks away,” and that magazine sales at military bases are insignificant in number.  The reporter goes out of his way to carefully parse words about causal effects of porn on sexual violence and suggests that the real reason Broun is introducing this legislation is because he is up for re-election.

Broun says the point is pornography shouldn't be subsidized by taxpayers. And he insists nudie magazines have taken a toll on the armed services. "Sexual assault is going up within the military, and I certainly think there's a very high likelihood the pornography being sold in military PXs is contributing to that," he says. Both points are off the mark. Anstey says 98 percent of AAFES's budget comes from income generated at its stores—not from the government. And most studies have shown no link between the kind of pictures featured in Playboy and sexual violence.

Where a link does often exist is between a politician's rising rhetoric and his quest for re-election. Broun has been in Congress since last year, when he was elected to replace the 10th District representative, who died of cancer. This July he faces a primary vote against a conservative member of the state's House of Representatives, Barry Fleming, in a district Broun describes as very Republican. But Broun denies the bill is linked to the election. "The purpose is just to get DoD to uphold the law," he says.

Neither article used psychologists or experts to discuss the effects of pornography on those who view it.  Nor did either article address the fact that women make up approximately ten percent of the active duty force. 

A 1996 law bans the sale of “sexually explicit” material on military bases.  A committee comprised of a variety of military types, including retirees and spouses, convenes every two years to review titles to see if they meet the “sexually explicit” threshold.  So far that committee has found that Penthouse and Playboy contained enough content that was nonsexual to be acceptable for sale on military bases.  Broun's legislation, the “Military Honor and Decency Act,” would lower the threshold on what is considered “sexually explicit.”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.