I didn’t see that coming.
In the L.A. Times‘s original article about Judge Kozinski’s controversial material, there were two things that really grabbed your attention. Things that made it sound like there was a connection between Kozinski’s material and the obscene material that was the subject of the trial.
One was the infamous reference to a video of a “half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal.” As we now know, this video was a humorous video that is on YouTube and has been shown on television.
The second disturbing thing was the paper’s statement: “There were also themes of defecation and urination, though they are not presented in a sexual context.”
I’ll grant you that if you parse the words very carefully, it says “themes” and not “depictions.” But I believe most casual readers interpreted that line as an assertion that the images depicted urination and defecation — albeit not in a sexual context.
Which sounds pretty damned weird.
The “themes of defecation and urination” line quickly spread across the Internet. Glover’s article was reprinted at the website of the local TV station KTLA, with that line included. The line was quoted by Kevin Roderick in a post at L.A. Observed, which is very popular with L.A.’s elite. The line was quoted by Eric Alterman at Media Matters.
The “defecation and urination” line was also quoted at the widely read legal blog Above the Law, as well as by Stephen Bainbridge. It made its way into Alex Kozinski’s Wikipedia entry. And I quoted it here, in my original post on the controversy.
A search for “themes of defecation and urination” coupled with the term “kozinski” yields 724 hits on Google.
Most sites that quoted the line were fairly appalled. I’d say the reaction of the person at this website would be pretty typical: “This sucker Is One Sick Puppy!” As a commenter at the widely read Defamer blog asked: “How could those NOT be presented in a sexual context?!”
I’ll tell you how.
I have now reviewed most of the material on the CD I received from Cyrus Sanai, and I can confirm what you had probably already guessed: that any references to urination or defecation on the server/website were humorous.
See, the newspaper told readers that the “themes of urination and defecation” were not presented in a sexual context. But the paper did not explain that these themes always appeared in a humorous context.
There is a tremendous difference between material that alludes to urination and defecation in a humorous context — “pee-pee/doo-doo” humor — and material that depicts urination and defecation in a non-humorous context.
Pee-pee/doo-doo humor is everywhere. By contrast, many folks would consider non-humorous depictions of urination or defecation to be perverted.
In my post that published some of the images from Kozinski’s server/website, I already presented one image that had a theme of defecation. Here it is again:
Another “image of defecation” is presented in this video from an Australian “funniest home videos” show. It shows a fully clothed woman showing the camera how a horse is so docile, you can even crawl through its legs. When she does, the horse defecates on her head. And the audience laughs. View that video, if you must, here.
And now for some examples of material with a theme of urination.
There is a file labeled “Women’s Bathroom” with this image:
There is a comedy skit from a television show in which men are standing at a urinal. You can’t see them below the waist. As the audience laughs, the men end up holding each other’s penises, to free up their hands to drink beer and smoke. View this silly video here.
The line about the “themes of urination and defecation,” together with the line about a “half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal,” certainly made it sound like the judge was presiding over a trial about bestiality and defecation, while possessing images that appeared to relate to the same topics.
That’s the conclusion I came to in my initial post:
[I]t’s hard to see how a judge who has depictions of defecation and “cavorting” suggestive of bestiality can preside over an obscenity trial featuring defecation and bestiality.
That’s what they wanted me to think. And it worked.
I’m so ashamed. After years of training myself not to trust a thing this newspaper says, I find myself accepting what they say as true.
If even I fell for it, what about the people out there who are even less suspicious and more gullible than I am?
But my complaint here is not limited to the paper’s outrageous distortion of the “urination and defecation” material.
It’s also the way the paper has caused that line to disappear from the online version of the story, without explanation.
It used to be there. The line still appears in the KTLA version of the story linked above.
But on the L.A. Times web site’s version, this line is Down the Memory Hole. Read the story. It’s not there. There’s no line to say that it was removed, or why.
Now, I assume that this is not nefarious. Probably, the original version of the article was published on the Web, and then it was edited for the newspaper, and some editor took out the line. Then the Web version of the story was edited to conform to the print version.
Which all sounds terribly proper and understandable — until you realize that the net effect is that the newspaper has simply disappeared any evidence that they ever published that line, without saying a word to explain it.
That’s not a responsible way to handle content — especially in a story as widely disseminated as this one was. Especially with a line that had as great an effect as this one had.
I think the paper needs to explain what happened here, and revise their procedures for altering online stories, to increase transparency.
And in the future, they need to be more careful about the clear implications of their language — especially when someone’s reputation is on the line.
P.S. I plan to do a post with a more comprehensive overview of the material on the CD I received. It will likely be published tomorrow.