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Jewish World Review June 12, 2000 / 9 Sivan, 5760

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas
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Consumer Reports

Ma Bell, call girl --
"MR. WATSON, COME HERE; I want you'' will take on a whole new meaning for AT&T, which has decided to carry the Hot Network, a pay-per-view channel that shows sexually explicit films on its cable television system. AT&T already carries Playboy and the Spice network. Instantly, AT&T became the top provider of subscription TV services when the FCC approved its $58 billion purchase of MediaOne Group, Inc.

How much is it worth to Ma Bell to be transformed from a family-friendly company with a positive image into a call girl that cares only about profits and apparently little about the delivery system that sends filthy images into people's homes? Does AT&T think it has no responsibility to the the victims of pornography, which include not only those who consume it but innocent children and women who are the targets of sexual predators acting out what they've seen on their television screens? For AT&T, the bottom line now begins at the panty line.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it was to serve the deaf in whom he had a lifelong personal and professional interest. When the American Telephone and Telegraph Company was founded, it carried the imprint of Bell's integrity and commitment to serving the public. Older Americans remember "The Bell Telephone Hour'' on NBC, which carried high-quality family programming. AT&T, like Disney, once guarded its image. Now we get this from AT&T spokesman Steve Lang about the pornography his company carries: "It's a product that appeals to consumers and makes us a more competitive provider of multi-channel video.'' Wouldn't his mother be proud?

In the pursuit of ever-greater profits, anything goes. AT&T has shown its willingness to sell its heritage and reputation in a manner that would shame Alexander Graham Bell and what he stood for. We are awash in pornography, but fewer corporations are principled enough to resist temptation and serve as positive examples.

Last June, Forbes magazine carried a story on the mainstreaming of pornography, a $56 billion business and growing. Porn companies trade on the stock exchanges. Two years ago, 8,948 hard-core videos hit the U.S. retail market, up from 1,275 in 1990, reported Forbes. X-rated videos generated about $5 billion in sales last year, double the revenue of five years ago. Prepaid phone cards allowing people to access pornography on the Web are next. David Shaw, the man behind this idea, says his goal is to sell the cards at every corner store and truck stop.

For all the titillated men who get their jollies from pornography and do not engage in criminal acts, many other men are transformed into sexual addicts, predators and abusers. Visit the Web site for some of those stories. Some people refused to believe executed serial killer Ted Bundy when he said, "I have lived in prison a long time now and I've met a lot of men who were motivated to violence just like me. And without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography, without a question, deeply influenced and consumed by an addiction to pornography.''

We hear a lot about "corporate responsibility'' when it comes to pollution and the environment. What about some corporate responsibility when it comes to polluting the mind and soul? Don't AT&T executives have children, wives and mothers? Are they proud to carry this filth? Would they show it to their closest relatives?

AT&T has been my family's personal and business long-distance carrier for as long as I can remember. No more. I'm switching to a company that doesn't carry pornography on any of its owned properties. AT&T won't even notice the loss of my business, but I'll feel better knowing I'm not contributing even a penny to a company that has sullied the memory of Alexander Graham Bell and transformed the image of Ma Bell into a harlot.

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