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Copyright (c) 2000 Kentucky College of Law
Kentucky Law Journal

ARTICLE: Reporting on Child Pornography: A First Amendment Defense for Viewing Illegal Images?

Fall 2000 / 2001

89 Ky. L.J. 13


By Clay Calvert*& Kelly Lyon**



When it comes to speech, child pornography 1 is perhaps more reviled in the United States than any other form of expression. Its distribution and possession fall outside the scope of First Amendment 2 protection. 3 Even "virtual" child pornography-images that merely appear to be of minors engaged in sexual conduct-is banned under federal law. 4

And when it comes to professions and occupations, none is perhaps more loathed and distrusted than that of journalists. 5 After sensational and excessive coverage of the scandal between President Bill Clinton and erstwhile intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998, 6 public anger at news organizations was "boiling over." 7 Recent surveys confirm what common sense suggests-that many people today see journalists as often biased individuals who invade others' privacy and over-sensationalize stories to sell newspapers. 8

Now put the two together, and it seems clear that a journalist caught transmitting and receiving child pornography on the Internet is highly unlikely to receive any public sympathy. "Lock up the pervert and throw away the key," one can imagine onlookers shouting at the offending reporter as he's hauled off to jail.

But it may not always be that simple or quite such an open-and-shut case. A rush to judgment may not only be hasty, in fact, but thoroughly shortsighted and seriously misguided. Consider the following questions, each adding complicating facts to the above-mentioned scenario:

What happens if the journalist was viewing the offending images as part of his research for a news story "investigating ...
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