GOV'T HOT ON TRAIL OF CALVIN KLEIN ADS;CURRENT INTERPRETATION OF 'KIDDIE PORN' AY HEART OF ISSUE

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If Calvin Klein thought yanking his ads would end the uproar over whether he was indulging in "kiddie porn," he wasn't counting on the G-men.

Late last week, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation of the designer's controversial jeans campaign featuring young people in suggestive poses.

The surprise move raised questions on what exactly prompted the probe, what direction it would take and whether it's an isolated incident or just the start of sterner attention given to advertising.

"I cannot remember, in the 30 years I've been in this business, any case where the FBI has investigated an advertisement," said Felix Kent, senior partner at Hall, Dickler, Kent, Friedman & Wood, a New York law firm specializing in advertising. "I believe some private organization put pressure on the FBI."

Others speculated that the FBI itself pushed for a probe of the sleazy Klein jeans TV commercials and print ads in an effort to placate the nation's religious right and other anti-government critics who are increasingly heated in their criticism of the FBI's mishandling of the Ruby Ridge affair and other incidents.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon, an early critic of the Klein campaign, had asked the FBI to investigate, and officials up to Attorney General Janet Reno, and even the president and first lady, have been waving the banner of protecting our children, but Justice denied that any of them sparked its interest in the advertising.

The government is trying to determine whether Calvin Klein Inc. ran afoul of federal pornography laws in the $6 million ad campaign that was pulled last month after a firestorm of consumer and media complaints.

"We are at the very preliminary stages," said John Russell, Justice Department spokesman, stressing the probe is limited to Calvin Klein. "The question is are the photos obscene or not. That's a determination that has to be made by our lawyers. They have not made it yet, and it won't happen today."

Age of models is crucial

The age of the models in the campaign seems crucial. Mr. Russell said the FBI will have to determine whether any of the models in the ads were under 18.

Delancey Bezin, one of the young men featured in the campaign, created in-house by Calvin Klein Inc., was described on segments of WNBC's news, "Entertainment Tonight" and other shows in late August as a 15-year-old model.

The Rev. Wildmon has said he has determined that one model was 16 and another 15.

Stuart Cameron, an agent with Women Model Management, said his agency placed four of the models in the campaign "and each of them was over the age of 18."

A Calvin Klein spokesman said last week: "We are very confident we have not violated any federal law and it is sheer demagoguery to suggest otherwise." At press time, the spokesman said he couldn't say how many models had been used in the campaign.

Joseph Valiquette, an FBI agent and spokesman for the bureau's New York office, said he is waiting for a referral of the case from the Justice Department, which will make its decisions based on "information pulled together by FBI investigators. We will try to ascertain if there was any violation of federal statutes that fall under our jurisdiction."

Probe limited to Klein

"To my knowledge," he confirmed, the probe "is limited to Klein" and doesn't include the media that carried the designer's ads.

Mr. Russell maintained the investigation wasn't prompted by the Rev. Wildmon and his American Family Association but rather was initiated inside the Justice Department itself. The Rev. Wildmon asked Justice to look into the campaign, but Justice said it had already begun its probe by that time.

Leading the Justice Department is Attorney General Janet Reno, a well-known children's rights advocate. And Ms. Reno's boss, President Clinton, has shown increased interest in children's issues lately.

Ms. Reno, during her 15 years as Dade County (Fla.) state attorney, was a staunch supporter of children. Among Ms. Reno's most visible actions was the 1985 Country Walk child pornography case prosecuted by her office. The case, made against two operators of a Miami area baby-sitting service, was considered one of the first such cases of pornography against pre-school-age children in the country.

President Clinton, claiming concern about children's safety, inflamed the tobacco and ad industries recently by instructing the Food & Drug Administration to assert regulatory control over tobacco. And earlier this summer, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was hypocritical for politicians to complain about sex in movies "when we use sex to sell everything in America" and urged adults not to use sex "in an exploitative way to sell products."

While Mr. Russell wouldn't identify the person inside Justice who prompted the Calvin Klein investigation, he did say it wasn't Ms. Reno. The decision to start an investigation followed that internal complaint and letters from citizens groups.

Last week, the Rev. Wildmon said: "We're not looking to target anyone else right now. We want to concentrate on Calvin Klein for the moment .....We want [the FBI] to get all the photos and tapes from Steven Meisel [the campaign photographer] and see what else is in there. There could be even worse photos or videos that they did not use .....The magazines and TV stations that ran the ads should be part of the FBI investigation. Rolling Stone is not exempt from child pornography laws."

Amy Adler, an attorney who often writes about the First Amendment and child pornography, said, "These ads may be offensive but I would think they are protected speech. However, under Knox vs. U.S. from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, child pornography laws are now very broad and vague. Any lascivious display of a minor's genitals, even if the child is clothed, can be a violation of the law. Now, this is not a Supreme Court ruling and it only affects children under the age of 18.

"I don't think this is a good case for the FBI to pursue, they don't have a solid case. But under Knox, Calvin Klein may have broken the law if any of the models are under age."

In January, the Supreme Court announced-what was widely reported as welcome news to the Clinton administration-that it had turned down an appeal by Stephen A. Knox, a Pennsylvania State University graduate student convicted by a lower court for possession of three videotapes of young girls in bathing suits.

Ms. Reno herself had filed a brief to the court saying a rejection of an earlier appeal by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Philadelphia, shouldn't be overturned. Before the Knox arrest in 1991, no prosecution had been made in a child porn case where the subjects were not nude.

Marjorie Hines, director of the Art Censorship Program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said no past cases resemble the Calvin Klein case.

Knox was "renegade" case

However, Ms. Hines also cited Knox, calling it a "renegade" case. Although the children were clothed, "the establishment was so disgusted by the video, they stretched and misread the law in this case," she said. The law, which formerly defined child pornography as pictures of naked children or kids involved in sexual acts, now includes clothed children involved in lascivious displays of sexuality.

Since the Knox case, the new pornography guidelines haven't been tested, until the Calvin Klein investigation, Ms. Hines said.

"I think that it is highly unlikely that Calvin Klein will be indicted. This case is mostly for the press and for political expediency," Ms. Hines said, adding that the case will probably not go farther than the FBI investigation.

Media and advertising groups did not exactly flock to Mr. Klein's defense last week. At press time, few of the outlets that ran the ads had much to say.

A spokeswomen for Wenner Media said Rolling Stone never discusses its advertisers. At YM, Andrea Kaplan, VP-director of communications for Gruner & Jahr, said: "We rely on our advertisers to screen their ads and use their judgment when they provide us with ad copy. I can't speculate if we are included in the investigation, but I don't think that will happen."

MTV: Music Television wouldn't comment, though it didn't seem too concerned during the Sept. 7 worldwide telecast of "The MTV Video Music Awards," during which it ridiculed the Calvin Klein campaign in a series of parodies. In one, a waifish model was seen on what looked to be the same seedy set as the Calvin Klein campaign, but instead of the disconcerting voice-over, "Beavis & Butt-head" were heard asking the model to disrobe.

At the Magazine Publishers of America, a spokeswoman said: "Some of the magazines that ran the ads are members of the MPA and some are not. But we support First Amendment rights to freedom of speech in advertising and the freedom of the press to accept and run the ads or to refuse them. We are neutral on supporting Calvin Klein either way, but we do firmly support First Amendment rights."

At the American Advertising Federation, Director of Media Relations Jeff Custer said: "Calvin Klein is not a member of the AAF and so we have no comment on the situation either way."

At the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Cathay Brackman, public relations writer and editor, said: "We have had no feedback from our members either way on the FBI's investigation into Calvin Klein, but this has just surfaced. Next week could be a different story."

Contributing to this story: Jeffery D. Zbar, Andrea Sachs, Joe Mandese and Leah Haran.

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