Journalistic Research or Child Pornography?

By Shepard, Alicia C. | American Journalism Review, May 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Journalistic Research or Child Pornography?

Shepard, Alicia C., American Journalism Review

Journalist Lawrence C. Matthews was at his home computer in Silver Spring, Maryland, at 1:13 a.m. September 19, 1996, when he sent an image over the Internet of a 7- or 8-year-old naked girl involved in a lewd sexual act. Unbeknownst to Matthews, the recipient, "Blonde 1024," was a federal law enforcement officer.

It was one of more than 150 images of underage children having sex that Matthews, 55, sent and received between July and December 1996, according to FBI agents. He could often be found in a chat room called "Preteen," where child pornography is frequently traded, according to court records.

"While in the chat rooms, Matthews would use screen names such as Mr. Mature, Dd4SubFem and LCMinMD," records say. "Once in the chat room, Matthews would ask that other members in the chat room send him, via computer, graphic files containing visual depictions of child pornography." Other times, agents say, he had sexually explicit computer conversations with individuals pretending to be 13- or 14-year-old girls.

On December 11, 1996, armed FBI agents searched Matthews' house, confiscated three computers, a scanner, disks and a printer, and later retrieved pornographic pictures from his hard drive. Last July, Matthews entered a conditional guilty plea to two counts of trafficking in child porn. In March, Matthews, who now works as a temporary producer for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and fined $4,000.

The fact that the respected 30-year veteran radio journalist sent and received kiddie porn is not in dispute. But his motivation in doing so is.

Matthews, who is appealing his sentence, says he was working on a freelance article about child pornography on the Internet. He had done a similar stow in 1995 while working for WTOP-AM radio in Washington, D.C., and after leaving the station, says he wanted to update the story for a freelance piece. Although he says he'd talked to editors about selling the stow, he had no contract, which is not unusual for a freelancer. His involvement with child pornography was strictly for research, he says.

"I am not a pedophile, and there's not any evidence to indicate I ever had any personal interest in this in the past," says Matthews, the father of four. "I had done the stow before for WTOP, and I wanted to see what else is under this rock. Is it simply people trading pictures or is it evidence of something more sinister?"

Matthews says he found that the FBI couldn't seem to do much to stop child pornography on the Internet, and in fact, he contacted the FBI several times when he became concerned about some of what he saw.

But U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. saw the journalist's actions differently. Last June, he refused to let Matthews use the First Amendment as a defense (see The Press and the Law, page 86). Federal law makes it illegal for anyone to possess or distribute child pornography, with the exception of law enforcement officials.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Journalistic Research or Child Pornography?


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?