'Sexually explicit' magazines pulled from military base stores Playboy survives review of 153 publications under 1996 decency law

September 24, 1998|By Tom Bowman and TaNoah Morgan | Tom Bowman and TaNoah Morgan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Scores of magazines deemed "sexually explicit" after careful review by a Pentagon panel were plucked from military base stores around the world this week to comply with a 1996 decency law.

The 153 magazines range from such popular staples of erotica as Penthouse, Playgirl and Hustler to lesser-known periodicals that include Locker Room Tales, Nude Readers' Wives and Naughty Neighbors.

After several page-turning sessions starting last month, the Pentagon's eight-member Resale Activities Board of Review determined that 14 magazines -- including the grand old man of men's magazines, Playboy -- could continue to be sold, because they did not meet the definition of sexually explicit material.

The all-civilian board, made up of six men and two women, also agreed to bar the sale of a video, "Playboy's Story of X."

The board's review of videos is not complete, said Lt. Col. Tom Begines, a Defense Department spokesman. While Pentagon policy bars X-rated videos at the exchanges, the board will continue to review unrated videos, he said.

The offending magazines -- and those that survived the review -- were listed in a Sept. 21 memo sent to military exchange officials by Francis M. Rush Jr., acting assistant defense secretary for force management policy, instructing them to make sure that none of the rejected materials was available for sale.

"At the close of business today, we will remove the magazines off our shelves that were on the list," Fred Bluhm, a spokesman for the Air Force and Army Exchange Service, said yesterday. "Our facilities worldwide are aware of the fact."

At the Fort George G. Meade exchange, only Playboy products lined the protective shelves labeled "adult." The store manager, Yvonne Reeves, said that workers had removed all banned items Tuesday and that she had received no complaints or questions from soldiers about their removal.

Many soldiers said they didn't notice, but the news surprised at least one soldier.

"Wait a minute, I didn't know about this," said Army Spc. Brian Bourque, who said he enjoys adult magazines. "It helps keep your morale up -- especially for single or unaccompanied men. I think it's a great stress reliever."

Army and Air Force stores sell more than $11 million worth of adult magazines each year on bases worldwide, according to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Penthouse is the top seller, with about 19,000 copies monthly.

Begines, the Pentagon spokesman, said each of the 153 magazines was being sold at one military exchange or another, although no one exchange carried all the magazines. Any new magazines offered for sale will be reviewed to determine whether they meet the definition of "sexually explicit" under the new law.

It is defined as "material, the dominant theme of which is the depiction or description of nudity, including sexual or excretory, activities or organs, in a lascivious way."

Defense officials, who requested anonymity, said Playboy survived the ban because it was deemed more literary than lascivious. "I think your average citizen looking at Playboy and looking at Penthouse would see a clear difference," said one official.

Among the other magazines cleared for sale were Hustler Humor, Celebrity Skin and International Tattoo Art.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican from Western Maryland, spurred yesterday's action by spearheadeding the 1996 Military Honor and Decency Act on the grounds that the sale of such material was demeaning and could compromise "defense readiness."

But after President Clinton signed the bill into law, it was bogged down in a court challenge led by Penthouse's publisher, Bob Guccione, who asserted that the law violated his First Amendment rights.

The law was struck down by a federal judge in January 1997, but last fall that decision was overturned by a federal appeals court. In June, the Supreme Court paved the way for the ban by declining to hear the case.

Reached yesterday, Guccione said said he was "very disappointed" that the Pentagon has started removing the magazines, complaining that the Pentagon is treating the troops "like so many first-graders." Guccione vowed to continue the legal fight against the Pentagon ban, most likely in federal court in California.

"I think it's terrible and certainly unconstitutional," he said.

Bartlett has scoffed at claims that free speech was being violated with his measure, saying the military has no obligation to sell the magazines and military personnel remain free to buy such magazines off the base and bring them back.

"We're very pleased," Bartlett said yesterday. "This is a great victory for America's women. This kind of material demeans women."

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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