Bernie Ward, the "liberal lion" of San Francisco's KGO, and one of our heroes around here, has been indicted for downloading child pornography from the Net; e-mailing it on to others, and discussing the material in Internet chat rooms.
Bernie has acknowledged he viewed the porno- he says he was researching a book.
"Everything I've done in my life has been with good intentions," he told the SF Chronicle after the charges against him were made public.
Possession of child pornography is a felony no matter how good your intentions may be.
Unfortunately, there's no First Amendment exception to this. Journalists have been charged with possessing child pornography, but the courts have treated them like any other kiddie porn defendant. Prosecutors compare it to drug possession- you cannot buy or possess illegal drugs just because you're doing a story.
Federal laws give a defense if you accidentally possesses three or fewer child porn images and you immediately destroy them and reported it to police.
We can't really be sure if Bernie Ward's intent was journalistic and not prurient. But Wonkette is reporting even if his intentions were jpournalistic, they may not have been so noble.
Bernie, according to the mainstream DC gossip column, was writing a book on the sexual hypocrisy of the right, so he downloaded some pictures and e-mailed them to some right wingers he didn't like, hoping he could entrap them. "One of them," says Wonkette, "skeeved that someone was sending him sick child porn over the internet, reported it (as is required by law) to the police."
(Jeez, Bernie: there are so few examples of right-wing sexual hypocrisy...)
This hardball attempt at a partisan dirty trick- so thoroughly unbecoming to a true liberal and devout Catholic- backfired with karmic thunderation, and an indictment.
Bernie could go to jail for 5 years for each of his two counts of distributing child pornography and one count of receiving it.
His attorney said, "He tried to have a dialogue with people and see what he could talk them into saying and agreeing to," she said. "He lost track of himself and didn't stop and think about what he was doing."
Once the charges against Ward were made public, KGO management took him off the air until further notice, "We were just recently made aware of these serious charges and are surprised and concerned by their nature."
The facts in the case don't seem to be in question, his good intentions will only serve him in determining his punishment.
What's sad is that Bernie might have written his book in peace if he hadn't fallen prey to the song of his lesser angel who tempted him with a gotcha on his enemies.
A solution, however, must found for this conundrum for reporters- and it's legislative:
As Debbie Nathan writes in Counterpunch, "Journalists need some kind of system or First Amendment permit to allow them to do their reporting. Otherwise, the public will remain ignorant about what’s really going on with child pornography. And media people trying to find out will risk indictment, or worse."