No More Monkey Business

Donna Rice Hughes charts a new course: battling smut on the Internet.

By Deanna Isaacs

Donna Rice Hughes says that once a pornographic image has been seen, it can never be totally erased from the mind. That’s one of the reasons she’s working for Enough Is Enough, a nonprofit group that seeks to protect kids from smut and its purveyors on the Internet. It’s a worthy cause, but her point holds for other images as well, including a couple of her that have proved indelible. There’s the one of a pert, 29-year-old Donna Rice perched on Senator Gary Hart’s knee during their escapade on the boat Monkey Business, for example. That was the picture that brought an end to Hart’s bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Then there’s the impudent No Excuses clothing ads that made it look like she wasn’t the least bit sorry. So we did a little double take on first encountering Rice Hughes in her new role as our instructor in the dangers of sex on the Net. We wondered, for a second, if there might be a career path here for La Lewinsky.

Rice Hughes never published an account of her monkey business with Hart (took the high road, she says). But she’s coming to the Chicago area next week to promote a book she’s just written. Kids Online is a user-friendly manual for parents that warns of the perversions kids can encounter at the click of a mouse and explains software systems designed to protect them. Some of these systems filter the Net, some block parts of it, and some, called “closed” systems, present a limited selection of sites from the Internet without allowing Internet access. Rice Hughes says the closed arrangements are the safest, and the one she particularly likes is EdView, which she says sells the only program designed specifically for schools. Among the folks endorsing her book are two current U.S. senators and the president of EdView.

After the No Excuses ads, Rice Hughes says she went underground, living a “very quiet life” that included starting up her own film and television production company in Los Angeles. In 1994 she shelved all that to marry the chief financial officer of a large information-technology corporation. She moved to his home in northern Virginia, where she hooked up with Dee Jepsen, president of Enough Is Enough. Jepsen told her that pornography perpetuates the myth that when a woman says no, she really means yes, and Rice Hughes realized that she herself might have been victimized by pornography when she lost her virginity at the age of 22–an event that she says “propelled me toward those left turns during my 20s.” She had been wondering whether God was leading her to become involved with the fight against pornography, and this realization provided “the green light for me to take a step of faith and join Enough Is Enough, even though it would mean getting involved again with the media, politics, and sexually charged issues.”

Soon after she came on board as director of marketing and communications, Rice Hughes discovered that kids on the Internet were exposed to “material adults couldn’t even get in print and broadcast.” Within two years, Enough Is Enough had narrowed its mission to making the Internet safe for kids. Rice Hughes wants parents to become Internet savvy and favors controls on any computers kids use. She thinks public libraries should be able to use filters, a view that puts her at odds with the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are both opposed to filters on Internet access for adults in government-funded institutions. The ALA says filters remove legal as well as illegal material; the ACLU says government filtering of adults’ access to constitutionally protected material is a violation of First Amendment rights.

Rice Hughes says she has no business relationship with any of the companies she wrote about, so it was surprising to find her listed as a member of the EdView advisory board. She says she’s uncompensated; nevertheless it gave us pause. So did this excerpt from her book: “Information available on the Internet can come alive in the hands of a teacher as students research, for example, the origins of nations and planets, the history of the automobile, or the future of telecommunications.” Here’s a quote from the EdView vision statement: “The Web can come alive in the hands of a teacher, as students research the origins of nations and planets, the history of the automobile and the future of telecommunications.”

Maybe it just stuck in somebody’s head, like a dirty picture.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.