Novelist John Grisham apologized Thursday for saying in an interview that many men imprisoned for child pornography offenses in the U.S. probably just had too much to drink and "pushed the wrong buttons."
Grisham told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph that U.S. prisons were "filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who have never harmed anybody, would never touch a child."
He said many of those jailed "got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn."
Grisham made a distinction between "real pedophiles" and those he said were being punished too harshly. He said offenders did deserve punishment, but "we've gone nuts with this incarceration."
Child welfare advocates criticized the comments, made during an interview to promote Grisham's latest legal thriller, "Gray Mountain."
Jon Brown of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children told the BBC that "every image is a real child who has suffered and every time these images are clicked on or downloaded it creates demand that ultimately fuels more child abuse."
In a statement issued Thursday through his publisher, Random House, Grisham said his comments "were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children."
"I can think of nothing more despicable," he said. "I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all."
He said that anyone who participated in child pornography "should be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
In response to his initial comments, "John Grisham" became a trending topic on Twitter and other social media platforms on Thursday.
So I'm guessing John Grisham decided he's sold all the books he feels like selling
— PEAR-SHAPED BRAIN (@TadKosciuszko) October 16, 2014
John Grisham's publicist this morning. pic.twitter.com/8IepcrVzaW
— Carol Byrne (@Carolb10) October 16, 2014
I got drunk once and looked at a John Grisham novel. I deserve my punishment.
— Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford) October 16, 2014
— Rosie (@Rosie) October 16, 2014