Talk Radio Host Indicted on Child Porn Charges

Popular liberal host's lawyer says he was only researching a book.

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 9:23 AM

Dec. 11, 2007 — -- A well-known San Francisco talk radio host who says he e-mailed child porn as part of research for a book has been indicted on federal pornography charges.

Bernie Ward, 56, a former priest and popular host of two local talk radio programs, was charged, in an indictment unsealed late last week, with two counts of distributing child pornography and one count of receiving the material. If convicted, he faces a minimum of five years in prison for each charge.

Ward's lawyer told ABC News that Ward e-mailed the illicit images, but only as part of his research into a book about what he believed to be the hypocrisy of the religious right. Though it is illegal even for journalists to trade or possess child pornography as part of their work, Ward's attorneys argue that there should be some leeway for legitimate research into the subject.

Jeanette Boudreau, Ward's business attorney, said Ward described on his Web site as "unabashedly liberal" told her he wanted to show that some Republicans and members of the religious right are public moralists who don't practice what they preach in the privacy of their homes. Ward and prosecutors from the Department of Justice declined to comment on the case.

"He tried to have a dialogue with people and see what he could talk them into saying and agreeing to," she said. "He lost track of himself and didn't stop and think about what he was doing."

If Ward's version of events is true, his case touches on a problem facing some journalists and attorneys who deal with child pornography.

Though journalists tackle touchy issues like child pornography, it is generally illegal to possess child pornography for any reason and federal law does not provide an exception for reporters or academic research. Reporters usually consult with or work with law enforcement to access the material, said Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press. Though it is illegal to possess the images by saving, printing or e-mailing them, it is not illegal to merely view the images, said Parry Aftab, a cybercrime expert.

Even when the images are evidence in a criminal case, defense attorneys are often required to view them only in a government facility, instead of getting copies of the pictures.