Do you remember the fear-mongering cover story about “cyberporn” that Time Magazine ran back in 1995?

time-cyberporn-cover

If you remember this lurid cover, you may also remember that the article triggered a nation-wide moral panic, leading to passage of a federal law (the so-called “Communications Decency Act”) that was so utterly unconstitutional it soon got struck down (nine-to-nothing!) by the Supreme Court.

Well, the author of that article, who now writes a blog for Fortune about Apple, has finally admitted that his article was full of shit, and that he already knew it was fairly crappy even while he was writing it:

The problem with the story, which I sensed as I was writing it but was too green, too ambitious, too scared of losing my cover slot to address, was the news hook — the “report coming out this week” that I’d pitched to the editors as a Time Magazine exclusive guaranteed to make a splash.

The report — an undergraduate research paper published in a law journal — made a splash all right, but not the kind that reflected well on me or the magazine.

It was immediately attacked from several quarters. By civil liberties groups who saw it as an assault on free speech. By academics who saw through its tissue thin methodology. By sociologists who disputed its most provocative thesis, duly reported in Time, that the market for online porn was driven by a demand for images that couldn’t be found in the average magazine rack: Pedophilia (nude photos of children), hebephilia (youths) and paraphilia—a grab bag of “deviant” material that includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts with animals.

One Time researcher assigned to my story remembers the study as “one of the more shameful, fear-mongering and unscientific efforts that we ever gave attention to.”

I miss paper magazines (some). But I don’t miss the big news weeklies, and this is a strong reminder of why I don’t.

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