Born in Kentucky in 1942, Larry Flynt dropped out of school in ninth grade and, lying about his age, joined the army at age fifteen. Discharged at age seventeen, he again lied about his age to get into the navy, where he served as a radar technician. He currently heads the Hustler Publishing Company, which oversees more than twenty sex magazines and sees an annual turnover of a $100 million. In 1974, he started Hustler as a working-class magazine. In 1978, an assassination attempt left him paralyzed. Flynt was the defendant in a landmark Supreme Court in 1988 concerning Jerry Falwell in a decision that stipulated that offensive speech aimed at a public figure— Falwell, in this case—was constitutionally protected as long as it did not claim to be fact.
In 1983, when the Defense Department refused to allow American journalists to accompany the U.S. invasion force into Grenada by blockading all news concerning its activities there for two days, Flynt sued the government claiming a constitutionally guaranteed right of access for the media in combat zones under the First Amendment. The case was declared moot, because the Defense Department had lifted the restrictions against coverage by the time to case came to court. That same year, the Flynt-owned Hustler magazine ran an advertisement parody in its November issue featuring Jerry Falwell. In response to the parody, Falwell brought a $45 million lawsuit against Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt. Falwell charged that Flynt and the magazine had appropriated his name and image for advertisement or trade without his consent, that the parody represented libel—written defamation (that false and defamatory statements had been made against Falwell)—and that the parody intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him. According to Falwell and his supporters, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms cannot be understood outside of a moral framework. The First Amendment, in this view, cannot be perverted to mean that the nation must tolerate ideas that the Constitution did not intend to protect and that run counter to the moral truths they believe the Constitution embodies. There is no value in destructive speech, such as appeared in Hustler, and thus it does not fall under First Amendment protection. For Flynt and his supporters, the freedom of speech is absolute. In other words, any and all speech that does not physically threaten anyone falls under First amendment protections. Furthermore, Flynt contended that the advertisement was a joke, and any award of damages would be frivolous.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist on February 24, 1988, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the case presented the question of the First Amendment’s limitations on a State’s authority to protect its citizens from intentionally inflicted emotional distress. In reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court concluded that public figures cannot recover damages for emotional distress from issues like the one at issue without also showing that the publication contained a false statement of fact made with actual malice or reckless disregard for its truthfulness. Thus Flynt prevailed in an eight-to-zero opinion.
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Falwell, Jerry; Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1998); Obscenity