opinion

Flirting With the FBI

Tom Hymes
Something happened a few months ago that was reported in the adult media but which caused barely a ripple in the industry, and you really have to ask yourself why there was no outcry about it on the boards, and no phone calls or emails into the office asking for clarification or follow-up information.

That something was a "secret" meeting in Washington between seven adult companies and the FBI. The subject under discussion was 18 U.S.C. § 2257, the notorious federal labeling and record-keeping regulations that continue to haunt the industry, and purposelessly so.

Actually, I knew about the meeting in advance and even saw a copy of the letter sent by the FBI to one of the seven companies, but the name of the company in question was redacted. The gist of the letter was that the FBI wanted to talk about the 2257 inspections process, but it was unclear what they wanted to discuss or why they invited the particular companies. There was, as I recall, a reference to "leaders in the industry."

What struck me about the letter was the fact that no confidentiality was requested, which one would certainly expect the FBI to request unless they wanted the fact of the meeting — and what happened at the meeting — to go out to the adult industry. I planned on writing about the upcoming meeting, but was asked — no, implored — by an industry attorney not to write about it beforehand, and to drive the point home he told me that I would do "inestimable damage" if I did. I wrote and said nothing, but I did stay in close contact with the attorney up to the date of the meeting, attempted independent contact with the coordinating FBI agent (to no avail), and received a guarantee by another lawyer who was going to be in attendance that coverage would be provided us.

It was and it wasn't. Adult media got a story to post afterwards, but we could have written the copy ourselves without even having been there! No details were forthcoming, and certainly no specifics as to what the FBI said or what was said to the FBI. At the time, it made me wonder what the point was.

As a result, I was in this column going to excoriate those in attendance for staying so mum, but then Greg Piccionelli sent in his column, which will appear here tomorrow, in which he provides a great deal of detail about the meeting, much of it very interesting but some of it confusing.

He says, for instance, that the supervising agent called the meeting in part because of "concern about a number of adult media industry stories that were inaccurately reporting information regarding the inspection process." This is a particularly interesting comment considering the fact that in the process of writing coverage of each of the inspections XBIZ writers placed calls to the FBI for comment and to fact check. Unfortunately, all they were ever told is that inspections took place.

So the FBI can hardly complain about the results of adult media coverage if they decline to comment for that coverage. Piccionelli also states that at the end of the meeting the supervising agent "reiterated his sincere desire to establish a dialogue with the industry," and seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of communicating directly with adult media companies.

I hope so. We have calls in. We are waiting to hear back.

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