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Can Courts Keep Mom from Smoking?; How to Keep Children from Seeing Porn on the Internet

Aired March 27, 2002 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: ...or is it violating your rights?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Johnita Dematteo, a mother banned from smoking in her home. Her lawyer, Joan Skein and David Dematteo, Janita's former husband. And later, Donna Rice Hughes, author of "Kids Online: Protecting your Children in Cyberspace." And Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU.

CARLSON: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Nicholas Dematteo doesn't want his mother to smoke cigarettes. That's not unusual for a 13-year-old. What's unprecedented is this: a court agrees.

A judge in New York has ruled that Nicholas' mom can't smoke, not in her car, not in her home, not if she wants visitation rights to her son, nor can she take the boy anywhere other people smoke. That includes the mall, certain restaurants, maybe even parks. Nicholas Dematteo has no smoke related health problems, he just doesn't like the smell. Nicholas' father calls the government intervention a victory for his son, for all children. Others call it horrifyingly Orwellian.

Bill Press?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Mrs. Dematteo, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Hi. Are you there?


PRESS: Yes. Thank you. And I know you're there with your attorney, Joan Skein. When your former husband joins us, he'll by joined by his attorney, Mr. Kirk Perry. Just want everybody to know we got the four guests, who is whom.

But let me start out with you, Mrs. Dematteo, I'm sure, I'm a parent, you're a parent. I just want to hear it from you, but I'm sure you love your son and you care very much about your son's health, correct?

J. DEMATTEO: I certainly do, yes. There's no question about that. PRESS: Well, if you're forced to make a choice between your smoking and your son's health, I mean isn't that a no-brainer? I mean, you're not saying that your smoking is more important than your kid's health, are you?

J. DEMATTEO: No, I'm not, but that really isn't the issue. The decision that the judge wrote was not second hand smoke. And I don't smoke in the house or the car when my son is there. What the decision says is that I cannot smoke in my house or any car, whether my son is there or not. So meaning, if I'm home by myself, and I have a cigarette, and three days later my son comes there, I cannot do that because it's environmental nicotine that the judge is referring to. Meaning if there's nicotine left in the house, you know, on carpet or couch or draperies. That's...

PRESS: Yes. Can I -- I hear you. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. But can I ask you a quick follow-up question?


PRESS: Do you think -- this seems to be like a lot for a 13- year-old to come up with. Do you think his father put him up to this?

J. DEMATTEO: I do, because of all of the things that I've been through in the last few years. I was very surprised about this because it was not a question. You know, it wasn't brought up during the custody trial until my son met with the judge during an in camera meeting which was closed doors with his attorney. The judge then asked me, you know, a couple questions, like, do you smoke? How much do you smoke? And where do you smoke? And that was the end of it. Until this -- until we received this decision.

CARLSON: Now, Mrs. Dematteo, it's Tucker Carlson in Washington. We're having some trouble getting your former husband from Utica. So I have a question for you. Your son is 13, pretty hard time in any child's life. And I wonder what effect you think you're going on television and talking about all of this, the custody battle, the court problems you had is having on him?

J. DEMATTEO: Well, unfortunately, my son is stuck in the middle. I never wanted him to be in the middle of any of this. And so I'm sure that it's very stressful for him. I do, however, would like to make one point on this. And that is if I quit smoking today, it still would not change the decision that the judge wrote. And what that states is that my son, regardless if he is with me or his father, he is not permitted to go -- I'll read it here. It says, "he shall not reside in or visit or occupy any residence or motor vehicle of the parties in which smoking of any type occurs at any time." And it even extends to outside of the home.

CARLSON: OK, well, Mrs. Dematteo, I mean, that's obviously a terrifying overreach on the part of government. And I'm completely on your side. And I hope you keep smoking. But I guess my question remains, going on television and talking about this, that you know, these terrible problems you're having in your family, I wonder what the kids in your son's class are saying about it? Doesn't it put him in an even more awkward situation, your publicizing it so relentlessly?

J. DEMATTEO: Well, I think there are many issues that are being brought up because of this decision. I mean, I am not the one that publicly said I'm, you know -- that I -- well, I'm not really the one that started this. But since it happened, I feel that I need to defend myself and defend other people.

PRESS: Well, I have an answer for you, OK? And I know maybe you didn't start it. I accept your word you didn't start it. But I'm sure when you pick up that pack of cigarettes, you looked at the warning on the side of the pack of cigarettes, and you know, not good for you. Why don't you just stop smoking? In fact, let me read you something that your son read -- I read something your son said today as to why he did this. It's quoted in "The New York Post." Your son says, "I hope it gives mom the message that I care about her and want her to stop smoking. It's not healthy for her." You know it's not healthy for you. It is not healthy for him. Stop smoking.

J. DEMATTEO: Well...

PRESS: I hear your attorney whispering there, but what's your answer?

J. DEMATTEO: What I was saying is even if I did stop smoking, it's not going to solve this decision. I mean, there's still issues that are raised.

PRESS: I understand, but the issue I'm trying to get to is the health issue. So let's talk about your son. You know, according to the Surgeon General, according to the American Lung Association, second-hand smoke can itself cause lung cancer. 3,000 people die of lung cancer caused by second-hand smoke a year in this country, especially at risk are kids. And especially at risk are nonsmokers, who then go into a house where there's a smoker. I mean, do you dispute that evidence about second-hand smoke? And if you know it's so dangerous, why do you keep doing it?

J. DEMATTEO: Well, I don't dispute the evidence on the second- hand smoke, but my son is not subjected to second-hand smoke. That's not the...

PRESS: When he walks in your house he is.

J. DEMATTEO: No, this is about environmental nicotine, not second-hand smoke.

CARLSON: OK, I think we have Utica. David Dematteo, thanks for joining us. Sorry about the delay. Now as I understand it, your concern is the effect of all of this on your son, cigarette smoke. And yet, you're in the middle of a very well publicized custody dispute unfolding on television. I'm wondering if you'll weigh for me the negative effects of cigarette smoking on your son potentially versus the effects of this incredibly nasty, very public divorce and ensuing custody battle. And I wonder which is worse. The divorce is, isn't it? DAVID DEMATTEO, NICHOLAS DEMATTEO's FATHER: Well, sir, I am -- I'm having a little difficulty understanding you, but I want to say that the smoking issue has always been a big concern and a big issue in my house when we were a family. And it's obviously a big concern and a big concern for Nick during visitation with his mother. It's a situation where Nick and other kids do not have to be exposed or should not have to be exposed to second-hand smoke against their will. And I think that's the primary issue there, sir.

CARLSON: But Mr. Dematteo, I think I do understand since I've seen it many times. It happens every day. You're using your child as a pawn in a custody dispute. You're putting him up to this, garnering all this publicity and using him to attack your wife, aren't you?

D. MATTEO: No, sir. No, I'm not -- my son is educated enough into the hazards of second-hand smoke. And because it was a hot issue when we were a family, he has taken an interest when he goes over there to let his mom know that this is something I'd rather not be part of is the second-hand smoke. And he's addressed her with that concern. And he's carried that over to his law guardian.

PRESS: All right, Mr. Dematteo, Mrs. Dematteo, we thank you both. We thank your lawyers. We hope you can work it out and not on national television. Good luck getting to the bottom of it.

Coming up next, in our zeal to protect kids from porn, are we treating them like idiots? How much censorship is too much? That's our next debate.


PRESS: CROSSFIRE, round two. When John McCain wrote the Children's Internet Protection Act in the year 2000, he may not have foreseen all the controversy it would stir up. After all, who could be against protecting kids from porn? Nobody. But the new law is being challenged in the courts by the American Library Association, which says it unfairly deprives local libraries of much needed federal funds, and by the ACLU which claims it even prevents kids from looking up information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Supporter Donna Rice Hughes is here tonight to defend the law. ACLU president Nadine Strossen is in New York to say the law goes too far.


CARLSON: Nadine Strossen, welcome. Defending pornography again. Congratulations. A long, proud tradition at the ACLU.

NADINE STROSSEN, PRESIDENT, ACLU: I'm defending family's rights, by the way, for parents to make their own decisions and not for the federal government to take that power away from them. I'm surprised that a conservative would be defending governmental interference.

CARLSON: If it were true, I'd be on your team, but let me pose this question to you. So a library has a special section for minors to use the Internet. Now what is wrong with putting a device in the computer that prevents a minor from making the same mistake I've made, my producers have made, perhaps you've made? You type up That's a porn site. is the government site. Why should an eight-year-old not be prevented from seeing the nude pictures that come up?

STROSSEN: An 8-year-old should definitely be guided had his or her use of the Internet. And that is exactly what librarians and parents are there for. No piece of software can substitute for the kind of discretion and judgment that's necessary.

Every kind of software that has been tried is both overbroad and underbroad. It blocks out very important material that parents would want their children to see, that has nothing at all to do with sex. In fact, two of our clients in this case were Republican candidates for Congress. Now some of my friends might think that that's dangerous for minors to see, but I'm sure you would disagree with that.

CARLSON: Those Republicans are saltier than you realize, but hold on. Wait a second.

STROSSEN: On the other hand, it also gives parents a false sense of security. A lot of stuff they wouldn't want their children seeing is in.

CARLSON: That may be absolutely right. And no lifeboat is perfect, and neither is any fire alarm made, but the point is you clearly haven't been in a library in a while. The idea that there are enough librarians...


CARLSON: Well, I don't know where your library is, but the one I go to, there are barely enough librarians to keep the place open during decent hours. There are enough librarians to guide each child as he searches the Internet. This is better than nothing, is it not?

STROSSEN: It's worse than nothing because it's the worst of both worlds. It does not block children from seeing materials that their parents don't want them to see. And it does block them from seeing materials that their parents do want them to see.

In addition to the persons of the librarians, the librarians have created positive websites that they can guide children toward. So the child gets online, and there are child friendly sites of materials that are affirmatively recommended. Exactly the same techniques by the way, Tucker, that have always worked with respect to books. We don't need this kind of law regarding books to protect kids.


PRESS: Let's go here to Donna Rice Hughes. And Donna, welcome back.

DONNA RICE HUGHES, AUTHOR, KIDS ONLINE: Thank you. PRESS: I know that you believe strongly about this issue. And I know that you worked on this law, supported this law with the best of intentions and that you're here tonight with the best of intentions. But you got to admit you ended up with a totally ridiculous piece of legislation.

Let me give you one example. Nadine Strossen mentioned one of the people supporting this lawsuit is a guy named Jeffrey Pollack, who is a Republican conservative running for Congress out of Portland, Oregon. One of his issues was going to keep kids from seeing porn on the Internet. And then he found out that his campaign website was blocked because he had an article on there about abortion where he used the word rape and incest. So it blocked himself. It just shows how ridiculous this is. You must admit, you drew the net too fine, didn't you?

HUGHES: You give me a lot of credit. First of all, this was passed overwhelmingly by both the House and by the Senate, signed into law by President Clinton.

PRESS: But they all screwed up, didn't they?

HUGHES: No, absolutely not because we have an epidemic happening with the intrusion of pornography. And the problem here is that schools and libraries who have unrestricted Internet access have become virtual peep shows funded by taxpayers. And all Congress is saying is, if you want to use federal e-rate funds for your Internet access, then you have to take -- filter out the illegal material.

They put a lot of control into the hands of the librarians in the schools. They can choose what technology they want to have. They can choose what else is blocked. But they're saying, look, you can't use taxpayer money to have illegal material coming in, not just for kids, but for adults as well in the libraries.

PRESS: The problem is you're depending on technology. You're depending on software, which is far from -- that's all I want you to admit that it is far from perfect. Look up the word breast. You can't look up breast cancer.

HUGHES: Actually, you can.

PRESS: You can't look up breastfeeding. You can't even look up chicken breast.

HUGHES: Yes, Bill.

PRESS: You can't even look up how to cook a chicken breast.

HUGHES: Guys, no.


PRESS: I mean, just admit that you screwed up. The law is wrong. HUGHES: No, I'm not going to admit that because the filtering technology is highly effective. The Copa (ph) Commission found that. There are independent studies out there that have shown that filters are highly effective in -- it absolutely is. Now where you get these arguments, Bill, is because the filtering companies oftentimes...

STROSSEN: Ma'am, that's the opposite of what the Copa (ph) Commission found.


STROSSEN: Yes, Donna, the Copa (ph) Commission strongly recommended against filtering.

PRESS: One at a time. Go ahead, Nadine, finish that.

STROSSEN: OK, the Copa (ph) Commission, along with every group that has ever studied filtering technology, strongly recommended against it. And the Copa (ph) Commission on which Donna sat, even the most conservative members of that commission said the best way to go in terms of protecting children as well as adults, free speech rights. And by the way, I'm glad Donna acknowledged that this law requires blocking of all material to adults who use libraries, as well as children.


PRESS: Go ahead, Donna.

HUGHES: You're not telling the truth here. But let me just explain that...

STROSSEN: People can look it up for themselves, except for in public libraries.

HUGHES: 300 percent of the schools are actually using filters now because they work. There's a 200 percent increase in libraries using filters now because they work. And the problem is the ivory tower ACLU and ALA people have their heads in the sand.

STROSSEN: Ivory tower? These are people who work in the libraries every day.

HUGHES: No, they're not.

STROSSEN: We're talking about the experts who deal with children, who are experts in sifting out...

CARLSON: Well, I'm glad you brought those up, Nadine Strossen. Let's talk about those people, the librarians themselves. Now as you probably know, last year, 12 librarians in Minneapolis filed a sex harassment complaint with the EEOC, stating that they were subject to all sorts of comments, but basically they had to live in an environment where people were on computers all day looking at Internet porn. And they found it, as the ACLU would say, a hostile work environment. That is recognized... STROSSEN: That is extremely rare situation. Let me tell you. And libraries have affirmatively adopted steps to protect not only the privacy of people who are looking at material online, but also the environment of those who are in the library through using privacy screens, through having policies that bar accessing anything illegal, by the way. You already can't do that in libraries. And through using the kind of affirmative educational guidance that has always worked with respect to traditional materials.

CARLSON: Yes, Donna Rice Hughes, in 30 seconds, is that enough?

HUGHES: Let me just say this that you cannot teach your child to understand that is not a scuba diving site. You need the technology in place, in addition to the policies. This is a problem. And this law actually allows librarians, if there's a site overblock, they can unblock it. It's not that difficult.

PRESS: Why don't you fix the law?

HUGHES: The law's fine. The law works. Librarians are supporting this law. And the government will become...

PRESS: The librarians are suing.


HUGHES: That's not true. The ALA is suing. They don't represent the librarians.

STROSSEN: Every organization that has ever looked at filtering technology opposes it. And says if we really want to protect...

CARLSON: OK, I'm afraid, we're going to have -- Nadine Strossen, unfortunately, the battle for the hearts and minds of American librarians continues. We're going to have to leave it there for now. PRESS: We've got to go online here.

CARLSON: Thank you very much.

STROSSEN: Check it out.

CARLSON: Thank you, Donna Rice Hughes, we appreciate it.

Next up on CROSSFIRE, our news alerts. They're stunning, shocking, sometimes appalling, and believe it or not, 100 percent true. Panda romance and more, when we return.


CARLSON: Welcome back. Time now for a CROSSFIRE news alert. As part of our ongoing effort to bring you the very latest on former presidential candidate Al Gore's personal grooming habits, here's the up-to-the minute report.

He's still shaving. And that's a good thing, according to the latest survey. A CNN/Gallup poll taken over the weekend found that 62 percent of Americans believe Gore looks better shorn, without a beard. And so, like Hillary Clinton's healthcare scheme and the edsel, Gore's whiskers are likely to remain one of history's stranger footnotes for now. But the political season approaches. Watch his chin.

PRESS: And what would our founding fathers think? Free speech is free everywhere except Pennsylvania. In Salem Township, near Pittsburgh, accountant Jim Barbie testified against a new sewer ordinance. Even the statements were limited to five minute each, he droned on for 11 minutes, for which he's been charged with disrupting a public meeting and could face a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail.

Think about it. Heavy fines and jail time for long winded talkers who drone on and on and on. Sounds like a good idea for the U.S. Congress, maybe even CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: Be careful what you wish for, Bill. And in today's panda news, she's 205 pounds and not in the mood. She's Mei Xiang, one of two Chinese pandas here at Washington's National Zoo. On Sunday, her would-be mate, Tian Tian, made an aggressive and typical for a panda, not very subtle sexual overture. Like a frightened Washington intern, Mei Xiang fled up a tree, where she spent the next 36 hours.

As of tonight, Mei Xiang was back on the ground, chewing bamboo and continuing to repel all advances. Her keepers described her demeanor as "nervous." Good luck, Mei Xiang.

PRESS: She probably has a headache. All right, who says there are no new tricks in politics? North Carolina Senator John Edwards already running hard for 2004 has introduced a new first in presidential politics. He's giving away free computers. This week, he sent 123 computers to the Iowa Democratic party and 53 to New Hampshire Democrats. And of course, Iowa and New Hampshire just happen to be the states that hold the first two presidential primaries.

Are state leaders embaraased by attempts to buy them off with high tech handouts? Not at all. Volunteer Kathleen Sullivan, a New Hampshire Democratic chair, "nobody's offered us Palm Pilots, but we'll take those, too."

Al Gore, are you listening? Get your Blackberries out there. That's it for us. I'm Bill Press. Good-night for CROSSFIRE. See you tomorrow night.

CARLSON: I'm Tucker Carlson. We'll be here Thursday. Hope you will be, too. See you then.


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