When Ted Bundy ended his last jailhouse interview just hours before he went to Florida's electric chair for the crime of murder, he left a different kind of carnage behind. Truth was massacred, logic was crippled and maimed, the ground was littered with tautologies and half-truths.
His partners in this, the last crime that he was able to commit, were the media, for the loving and devoted credence that they lent to his claims, and James Dobson of the Los Angeles religious broadcast "Focus on the Family." Ted Bundy lied all the way through his dramatic last interview, and the media didn't call him on it, and Dr. Dobson actually fostered those lies.
Dobson is a former member of the so-called Meese Commission, the pro-censorship task force assembled by our now-disgraced former attorney general. If anyone has anything bad to say about adult-oriented material, Dobson is there to hear it and add his hearty hosannas.
Bundy had plenty bad to say about sex and violence in the media. In fact, he blamed the media for his crimes. But if we are to remain a nation guided by reason and not by such jailhouse histrionics, we must formulate an answer to Bundy and, more important, to Dobson.
Let us begin at the beginning, and focus on the family, as Dobson and Bundy did. Their argument was artfully conceived. They portrayed Ted as a young boy from a perfectly fine home who was corrupted by the influence of pornography. That "fine solid Christian home" (as Bundy put it) deserves a closer look, because it allowed Dobson to extrapolate the dangers to his own constituency. "Pornography can reach out and snatch a kid from any house today" is how master manipulator Bundy put it in the interview.
But was Ted Bundy's early life average or normal? Was Ted's house "any" house? He was an illegitimate child, and the grandfather who raised him was a violent man who vented his aggressions against people and animals both. At 4, Ted was removed from his grandparents' house by his mother, who took him to Seattle, where she later married a man who was seen sending roundhouse rights in Ted's direction. If this is the "solid Christian home" that Dobson is intent on presenting, we are all in trouble.
Dobson didn't call the killer on his rather obvious lie (although all the facts are available in the numerous books on Bundy). But what was Bundy's reason for twisting the truth? The man whom Dobson asked us to believe was, of course, a pathological liar. But he had a reason for this particular lie, and he stated it: "I hope nobody will try to take the easy way out and try to blame or otherwise accuse my family of contributing (to his crimes)." Don't worry, Ted, the media will swallow your easy way out--"pornography made me do it"--hook, line and sinker.
The facts about violence and pornography clearly point away from the conclusion that Dobson wants to draw from the monstrous case of Ted Bundy. Adult entertainment is such an easy target, since many of its users are too timid or guilt-ridden to defend it. The implicit message of the Dobson-Bundy interview is that we should censor adult material. But censorship, once embarked on, has a way of growing out of control. Look to Iran, or the Soviet Union, to see about that.
Does porn cause violence? Clearly, no. In laboratory settings, viewing nonviolent sexually explicit material actually reduces aggressive tendencies. This suggests that nonviolent pornography can help reduce the rate of rape. In fact, that is exactly what happened when Denmark legalized pornography: Rape rates went down, and then stabilized at a lower level.
But that's "nonviolent" sexual material. Isn't all pornography getting more violent, as Dobson suggests? The Meese Commission itself did a study of the top dozen "men's sophisticate" magazines. The study concluded that there was a negligible violent content in these mainstream magazines--only 0.6% of the total imagery! Yet Dobson repeatedly tars Playboy, Penthouse and soft-core material with the same brush that he uses for "slasher" movies. In fact, in the interview Bundy himself did not refer to pornography without the qualifier "violent."
Predictably, James Dobson is offering the Ted Bundy interview on videotape as a fund-raising vehicle for his "Focus on the Family." It is a vile and cynical effort to inflame the censorship debate in America. The Big Lie of Dobson's argument is concealed, Goebbels-style, within his rant: If you read Playboy or Penthouse, you will turn into Ted Bundy. Does this make any sense to anyone outside the puritanical precincts of Dobsonland?
It is fortunate for us all that the lies and killings of Ted Bundy have stopped forever. James Dobson's assault against the truth continues, however. Until the debate about censorship is conducted beneath the aegis of reason, and not manipulated behind a smokescreen of emotion,the First Amendment and its guarantees of free expression remain in danger.