The Justice Department has decided not to prosecute fashion designer Calvin Klein for a series of jeans ads showing young models striking suggestive poses.
The department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section “independently verified that minors were not used as models in the particular photographs that raised questions,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kevin V. Di Gregory wrote Klein’s lawyer Wednesday.
Some of the photographs were deemed offensive by a broad spectrum of observers, including conservative media critic Donald Wildmon and President Clinton and his wife, Hillary.
But because minors weren’t used in those photos deemed questionable, they do not violate federal child pornography statutes, Di Gregory wrote.
His four-sentence letter was sent to Klein’s lawyer, Arthur Liman of New York.
The ads ran - on television, in print and on the sides of city buses - for less than two months before Klein agreed Aug. 28 to drop them under pressure from the public and retailers.
The father of a teenage girl, Clinton called the ads “outrageous. It was wrong to manipulate those children and use them for commercial benefit.”
He pounced after reading an advance copy of a newspaper column written by Hilary Clinton condemning the Klein ads as disturbing exploitation.
“We’ve known from the start the Calvin Klein ads were cynical, exploitative and immoral,” said C.J. Doyle of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
Federal law prohibits “lascivious exhibitions of the genitals or pubic area of a minor,” according to Patrick Trueman, a former head of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section who now works for Wildmon’s American Family Association. He wrote his former colleagues urging them to investigate.
One 15-year-old, Bijou Phillips, daughter of pop singer John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, appeared in the ads. But the photo of her in a tight tank top and jeans, leaning against a ladder apparently did not raise legal questions under the federal law that bans exhibitions of the genital area of a minor.
Civil libertarians had predicted the government would have a hard time prosecuting Klein.
“The government is bowing to political pressure,” said Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “There is no evidence that the models were sexually abused, and the ads, whatever you think of them, don’t descend to obscene.”