Flying Bimbo leads blitz on cyberporn

DONNA RICE, the Miami model whose sexual allure proved the downfall of a US presidential candidate, has taken up arms with the angels of righteousness in the war against cybersmut, writes John Carlin in Washington.

What to do about pornography on the Internet is a question that has been generating heated debate in Washington, exposing in a novel manner Americans' age-old struggle to reconcile the secular right to free speech with the Heaven-ordained tradition of Puritan "family values".

Ms Rice, the woman who did to Gary Hart in 1988 what Gennifer Flowers failed to do to Bill Clinton in 1992, has straddled the contradiction and emerged purer from her experience.

She herself is a victim of free speech, as is Mr Hart. His chances of securing the Democratic presidential nomination were wrecked after a picture appeared in the press showing Ms Rice frolicking on his lap aboard the good ship Monkey Business. His explanation that "she just fell on my lap" sealed his fate and secured her place in history as the "Flying Bimbo".

Initially unrepentant, she compensated for her refusal to accept a treasure trove of kiss-and-tell offers from the tabloids with a lucrative modelling contract from No Excuses jeans. Then, wracked by confusion and pain, she discovered God.

She became a born-again Christian, married a Republican divorcee, and joined a group called Enough is Enough! dedicated to the proposition that sex should be a private affair. A zealous anti-pornography campaigner, she has been lobbying Congress all year to introduce legislation curtailing public access to dirty pictures and lewd language on the Net.

"If I can do some good somehow, it's all worth it," she recently told an interviewer, explaining that her particular concern was to protect children.

The crusade appears to have paid off. On Friday night the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to introduce new legislation imposing heavy fines and prison sentences on people who knowingly transmit material that is deemed "indecent" or "filthy" through cyberspace.

Newt Gingrich, himself a dedicated cybercadet, has ridiculed attempts to restrict the free flow of information on the superhighway. Supporters of the planned law, eager not to be perceived to be opposing America's most treasured constitutional right, say the restrictions would apply only to graphic or explicit material deemed to possess neither literary, nor artistic, nor social value. That may in time reignite the embers of the Lady Chatterley's Lover controversy, for already debate has been initiated by a more petty matter.

A decision last week by America Online, the country's biggest Internet vehicle, to ban the use of the word "breast" from cyberspace has caused outrage among women's groups. The Electronics Frontier Foundation, a watchdog for civil liberties on the Net, sees it as a harbinger of a witch-hunt.

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