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Commentary: Mr. Cambria Goes to Washington
Christian Mann Responds to Critics of Cambria’s Senate Testimony
By: Christian Mann
North Hollywood, Calif. – After watching the proceedings in front of the Senate Committee, culminating with Paul Cambria’s statement and the ensuing Q&A, I expected the litany of second-guessing and armchair lawyering from the gallery, i.e. the different gossip sites and the assorted web-hacks who fuel them.
The usual suspects, wanna-be muckrakers whose existence is dependant on the exposure of anything negative, were bound to weigh in, opining on what they would have done or said, how they would have somehow put on a better performance. In this regard, I knew that Cambria’s job would be thankless: you can’t please everyone and the nay-sayers will always be the loudest.
Even the Free Speech X-Press, the newsletter of the Free Speech Coalition, took a thinly veiled shot, referring to Mr. Cambria’s answer to Senator Ted Stevens’ angry question (about the lack of a self-rating systems among adult sites) as “an unfortunate response in the eyes of some observers." Because the FSC elevated the criticism of Mr. Cambria’s testimony by giving it a forum in the Free Speech X-press, I am compelled to point out some fallacies in the new conventional wisdom about our representation in Washington.
First, Cambria needs to be lauded, as it was his relentless letter writing, calls and publicly voiced demands on behalf of the AFF (Adult Freedom Foundation) that finally got ANY representative of the adult entertainment industry an invitation to testify. Let’s not forget that pro-censorship witnesses, with no rebuttal whatsoever, usually populate these hearings alone. That said, let’s review the substance of the criticism.
Cambria responded to Senator Stevens’ last question by saying that his clients were willing to discuss ratings and that it merely involved some organizing and some feedback from the Committee as to what specifically was being suggested. Given Cambria’s tenure in the top echelon of First Amendment defense, he knows that ratings cannot be legally imposed, just as surely as Jack Valenti knows that the MPAA ratings must be voluntary. Now comes the criticism, to wit: Cambria should have told the Senator that the PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) or ICRA (Internet Content Rating Association) answer that need, and therefore no problem, no lack of self-rating, exists. Given that the earlier testimony about peer-to-peer dissemination is a substantial part of the concern, and that materials in that environment can only be filtered if the content, not the site is rated as is the case with PICS, Cambria would have opened a Pandora’s box that should not be opened in that setting, absent more research and consensus from his clients and the adult community at large. In other words, Cambria’s supposed gaffe, his failure to tout PICS/ICRA, was a careful restraint that comes with years of experience in the trenches, at the trial level where a shot-in-the-dark is often a shot-in-the-foot.
Putting aside the off-target critique of the specific answer given by Cambria, there remains an unexamined by-product of Thursday’s testimony. While many of the pundits lambasted Mr. Cambria for not “winning” the battle in the exchange with Senator Stevens (one claimed Cambria “kissed Stevens’ ass”) they exposed their own naivete about the objective of the appearance itself.
Anyone who thought we should send our man to Capitol Hill for the purpose of kicking some Senate-ass and winning a battle of wits with a Committee Chairman is missing the big picture. Such an arrogant deed, possibly an ego-stroke for a neophyte litigator, would ensure that we would not again be called back, taking us back to square one with our side having no voice at all. Thankfully, Cambria recognized that his task was to stay on message, to let it be known that we want to be involved in the solution of a legitimate concern without needlessly damaging our ability to do business in the long run.
The other misconception has to do with the target audience of the testimony. Cambria was speaking to members of Congress, the legal community, policy makers, the movers and shakers of the mainstream Internet industry, etc. I’ve seen some of the feedback Cambria received from outside our business. A United States Senator e-mailed Paul: “Your presentation made the most sense and you had a disarming tone in what could have been a much more hostile environment.” Again, Cambria recognized that his priority was to win over the people of influence who up to that time had not had any input whatsoever from anyone speaking on behalf of the industry. In contrast to the Free Speech X-press claim that Cambria’s response was “unfortunate in the eyes of some”, I would say his responses were very fortunate in the eyes of the people who understand what was truly at stake.
Full disclosure: I am one of Paul’s clients. That said, I’ve seen Cambria in court: he knows how to win a battle. I’ve now seen him in front of a Senate Committee: he knows how to win the war.
Christian Mann is the president of Video Team.
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