Dear Dr. Laura ...


Brian writes \"Friday was my day off, so I watched Dr. Laura\'s TV show about pornbraries. My impression is that she\'ll get cancelled fairly quickly in many markets; she doesn\'t have much of a TV presence, sighing and hmmphing around the set like a little kid. (I could be wrong: I didn\'t think Conan would stay on the air after I saw him shaking his way through his monologues at the beginning.) The big revelation was that an e-mail address was given out on the air: [email protected]. I noticed a bit of misinformation given on the show and on the Web-based Dr. Laura Activism Center she plugged, so I sent a note encouraging her to go do the right thing and take a moral stand for truth:

Read on for the letter...======

Dear Dr. Laura --

I am a librarian at the public library in a suburb of Chicago. I had the opportunity to view your "Lewd Libraries" program on TV and the "Dr. Laura Activism Center" on the Web, and I noticed some information which was inaccurate or misleading. I am writing to encourage you to correct anything presented on your program or website which was not truthful. I\'m sure you agree that making such corrections would be "the right thing" to do, as you don\'t want to be the bearer of false witness. I also ask that you consider adding a link on your Activism Center to a website I have written about filtering in libraries. The site is called filteReality,\">\">filteReality, and it is located at

I believe that you have left your audience misinformed on several points, including:

1. On your television show you made a point of saying things to the effect that the American Library Association "thinks it\'s important" that children access pornography and that ALA\'s concept of intellectual freedom means that children have access to "any and all information." I believe that this is a misrepresentation of ALA\'s position, as indicated by a number of documents available on ALA\'s website. In 1998, the Intellectual Freedom Committee of ALA issued guidelines recommending that public libraries adopt policies to prohibit the use of Internet computers to access obscenity, child pornography, and other illegal material, in accordance with local laws. If you read other ALA statements about Internet access, you will notice that they all include explicit references to "constitutionally protected" material; as you know, the distribution of hardcore pornography to minors is not, in most cases, constitutionally protected.

2. The point that children cannot go to an R-rated movie or rent one from a store, made more than once on the show, is not relevant to public libraries, which are government agencies. A federal district court in Wisconsin ruled 30 years ago that the government may not use MPAA ratings as the basis for denying minors\' access to films. (Engdahl v. Kenosha, 317 F. Supp. 1133) To my knowledge, there have been no federal rulings issued since then which indicate otherwise.

3. At the end of your show, you expressed a view of the First Amendment which seems to limit the amendment as offering protection to people who "speak out against the government." The U.S. Supreme Court has not taken such a restrictive position for quite some time, having said in 1969 that crucial to the First Amendment is "the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences." (Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367) This broad application of the First Amendment was affirmed by the Court just a few months ago: "It is through speech that our convictions and beliefs are influenced, expressed, and tested. It is through speech that we bring those beliefs to bear on Government and on society. It is through speech that our personalities are formed and expressed." (U.S. v. Playboy Entertainment Group, no. 98-1682) The Court has also said that children have rights under the First Amendment, which you didn\'t seem to recognize on your show.

4. The librarian on your show misled your audience when she said that people on both sides of the filtering-in-libraries issue have determined that less than 1% of information is wrongly blocked by filters. The "less than 1%" statistics have all been fabricated by an advocate of filtering, who compared bad blocks to such inapplicable populations as the total number of sites accessed or the complete Web. As a scientist, you surely understand that, when one wishes to measure the incidence of bad blocks, one compares bad blocks with the total number of *blocked sites*. Making this proper comparison, one discovers that incorrectly blocked material accounts for around 5% of blocks or more. This may be seen even in data collected and published by pro-filter activists, which is likely biased towards under-reporting bad blocks. There are indications that personal and student websites are more likely to be incorrectly blocked than those of commercial enterprises or large organizations. In addition to the thousands upon thousands of websites which are clearly blocked by filters in error, there are also a large number of borderline sites which are blocked. These are websites which may include sexual content, but not in a way that meets statutory definitions of obscenity -- publications with the type of context you mentioned on your show after a young man asked about sex in Shakespeare. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that sensitive tools are required to distinguish protected from unprotected speech, and filtering programs ain\'t very sensitive.

5. One of the arguments listed in favor of filters on a page in your Activism Center ( includes some erroneous assumptions. It says, "By not implementing proven computer programs and devices that effectively filter pornographic images and extreme content, children are left exposed to violent, obscene and graphic images that can rob them of their innocence." This ignores the fact that filtering software has *not* proven to be effective. The former president of Filtering Facts once even commented that it was extremely easy to find pornography let through by filters, and a number of the "incidents" of pornography access in libraries which he collected for his _Dangerous Access 2000_ report happened in libraries that had filters up and running. In my own testing of CyberPatrol, a filtering product mentioned on your Web page, I found that non-blocked porn could be displayed within minutes, using a very slow Internet connection and search methods familiar to most adolescents. You should also be aware that blocking pornographic websites -- rather, *attempting* to block them -- does not address what law enforcement officials say is the greatest online danger to kids: predators who communicate with young people for the purpose of arranging sexual contact. Filters are also unlikely to block much child pornography, since my understanding is that known sources are quickly shut down.

While it\'s true that many libraries need to deal more appropriately with minors and adults who use library computers to commit illegal acts, filtering software is not the answer. There is at this time no evidence that filter-using libraries are any safer for children than non-filtering libraries, nor is there evidence that Internet-related crimes committed in libraries differ from non-Internet crimes. (The most serious thing I\'m aware of happening in the library where I work was an incident of a man exposing himself to a girl while they were both using *the library catalog*.) Considering your regular \"nagging\" about parental responsibility, it seems ironic that you\'re so eager for corporations to secretly decide which websites everyone\'s children may see. Another irony is the presence of a VISA ad banner on your Activism Center page: Credit-card subscriptions fuel the cyberporn machine, so an argument can be made that your page sponsor is much more responsible than libraries for the easy availability of pornography on the Web.

I await the moral stand you\'ll make for the truth in the matters I have described. Please see my filteReality website for more information.

By the way, I agree with you that parents should be able to find out what items their children have checked out from the library. You must recognize, though, that kids who really want privacy about their reading selections will find other ways to keep their parents in the dark.

Good luck with the new TV show.

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