Blue Blockers

The crusade against hotel porn


For a guy who hates pornography, Phil Burress seems to know an awful lot about it. In a September 24 story about his campaign to eliminate "adult" movies from hotels across America, USA Today reported: "Hotel room pay-per-view offerings have become more graphic in recent years, showing close-ups of all manner of sex acts, Burress says."

Apparently, keeping up with the latest porn offerings at local hotels is part of Burress' job as president of the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV). Last summer three hotels in the Cincinnati area—a Travelodge and a Comfort Suites in Newport, Kentucky, and a Marriott in Mason, Ohio—pulled their X-rated fare after Burress' group convinced local prosecutors to threaten them with obscenity charges. Now CCV and other anti-porn groups want the U.S. Justice Department to intimidate hotels across the country into following suit.

It's not clear that prosecutors would win such cases, even in Cincinnati. In 2001 Elyse Metcalf, the owner of a Cincinnati store that sells porn videos, was acquitted of obscenity charges, despite the city's reputedly conservative community standards. Last fall, on the other hand, a jury in the same county convicted Jennifer Dute, who offered porn videos starring herself for sale online, of pandering obscenity. Unlike Metcalf and Dute, few hotels will be willing to risk the negative publicity of a trial. As is often true with attempts to limit the availability of sexually explicit material, the hassle factor may be more important than the legal merits.

"We're going to put on a full-court press," Burress told USA Today, "to educate people that hotels are distributing hard-core pornography." The secret may be out. According to Cabil Corp., which provides billing services for in-room entertainment, porn typically accounts for 50 percent or more of a hotel's pay-per-view sales, bringing in something like half a billion dollars a year in the U.S.