Hey, I'm quoted in today's New York Times Magazine

For writing the worst story of my career.

From The Return of the Techno-Moral Panic:

The July 3, 1995, cover of Time Magazine featured, below the glowing face of an awe-struck child, a blaring, bold-type neologism that needed no explanation: “Cyberporn.” “A new study shows how pervasive and wild it really is,” read the cover line. “Can we protect our kids — and free speech?” The story cited a new study that made eye-catching claims: that nearly a million pornographic files were available through online bulletin-board services; that 83.5 percent of images stored there — available to anyone, including minors — were pornographic.

The story was a sensation, inspiring a “Nightline” feature and drawing the attention of politicians. The full text of the Time article was entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Chuck Grassley, who urged his colleagues to act “to help parents who are under assault in this day and age.” With strong bipartisan support, Congress soon passed the Communications Decency Act, as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which broadly criminalized the transmission of “indecent” and “obscene” materials to underage internet users. (A Supreme Court ruling in 1997 essentially defanged it.)

Today the article has been disavowed by its writer, the veteran tech journalist Philip Elmer-DeWitt, as the worst of his career “by far.” The undergraduate engineering student who conducted the study, Marty Rimm, changed his name and went into hiding after his work was exposed by critics as profoundly flawed. It was, perhaps, the prototypical mainstream moral panic about the internet...

My take: For dredging up this dreadful memory, a link to Apple 3.0 would have been nice.


  1. John Kirk said:
    I posted this on Twitter, but I guess it’s worth repeating here.

    If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough and you’re not taking enough risks. No one would accuse you of either, PED. 🙂

    December 10, 2017
    • David Emery said:
      We love you anyway, PED 🙂

      December 10, 2017
  2. Gregg Thurman said:
    If only I could go back and redo parts of my life I’m not proud of today.

    December 10, 2017
    • David Drinkwater said:
      But if you did, you wouldn’t know now what you didn’t know then.

      December 10, 2017
  3. Robert Paul Leitao said:

    After 22 years, can you give yourself a break? In 1995 the Internet was pretty much the domain of geeks, research students and avant-garde artists. You cited a study soon to be released through a top American university as one reference point in a much larger story about Internet content at the time.

    The fact that your story was commandeered by politicians fearful of an unregulated Internet and without much first-hand knowledge of this new means of communication wasn’t your fault. Their ignorance was a much greater transgression than your reference to an eventually discredited research study.

    We all have good days and not-so-good days. If that story 22 years ago is the worst story you ever wrote, I think you’ve done well.

    December 10, 2017

Leave a Reply