You will hear a lot of really bad things about Hustler founder and publisher Larry Flynt, and all of them will probably be true. He was a porn peddler. He had very bad taste. He degraded, demeaned, and objectified women. He fought with religion. He’s probably the only guy to be attacked by preachers and feminists at the same time. He was no real champion for decency or humanity. The guy’s magazine had a regular cartoon called “Chester the Molester,” as though pedophilia is something we can have light-hearted jokes about. But, because of Larry Flynt, we have the freedom to publish cartoons like Chester the Molester.
Larry Flynt used to argue that if the First Amendment protected a pervert like him, then it’s going to protect the rest of us. He put his money where his mouth is…and probably a lot of other things.
Larry Flynt had one legal battle after another (he once wore an American flag as a diaper to court, which still isn’t as offensive as beating a cop to death with an American flag on a pole during an insurrection), and he was always championing the First Amendment. While leaving a court house after fighting that our First Amendment rights protects his magazine of sexual fetishes, someone put him in a wheel chair for life with their Second Amendment fetish.
I was having a spirited argument with a conservative cartoonist a few years ago. This guy is the kind of conservative who is hypocritical, narcissistic, and has an inability to comprehend. Yeah, I know…they’re all like that. But we were discussing the First Amendment and I told him he owed a thank-you to Larry Flynt. He said he didn’t owe anything to a pornographer like Flynt as though somehow his First Amendment rights were different from my First Amendment rights. But again, if Larry can publish Chester the Molester, that cartoonist can publish cartoons that Joe Biden is a hair-sniffing groper. He owes Larry a big thank-you.
Larry Flynt hated hypocrites, even if he was one. But he especially hated religious hypocrites. His favorite target was the biggest hypocrite of them all, Jerry Falwell, the leader of the Moral Majority. So, Larry being Larry published a satire of a Campari liquor ad that was popular at that time. It was titled, “Jerry Falwell talks about his first time.” First time doing what? Uh oh.
In this fake ad, Jerry Falwell is endorsing the liquor and reflecting on how it was a big part of his first sexual escapade…which was with his mother…in an outhouse.
In this satire, Larry Flynt didn’t just have Jerry Falwell endorsing and drinking liquor. He didn’t just have him having drunken promiscuous sex. He didn’t just have him having drunken promiscuous sex with his mother. He had him having drunken promiscuous sex with his mother…in an outhouse. As someone who makes his living at satire I have to ask: How is that not funny? How is that not just fucking hilarious.
The only thing possibly funnier is Jerry Falwell not finding it funny.
Jerry Falwell didn’t find it funny. Falwell was so upset that he sued Larry Flynt in 1983 for $45 million for libel and emotional distress. A Virginia court rejected the libel charge because the satire was obviously satire. Duh! Nobody likes Campari. But that court did agree Falwell was emotionally distressed and awarded him $200,000 for his pain and suffering. Not sure if his mother was awarded anything.
While $200,000 was nothing to Larry Flynt, a man who was probably worth more than $400 million, the principle did matter. Larry Flynt took it all the way to the Supreme Court.
The smut peddler who published cartoons about pedophiles, rapists, bestiality, and a preacher diddling his mom in an outhouse, won over the most respected televangelist in the nation. The Supreme Court didn’t just hand Flynt a victory. They handed him a unanimous victory. In case you’re a Republican, “unanimous” means all of them. Even staunch right-wing lunatics like William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia voted in favor of Larry Flynt over Jerry Falwell.
The highest court in the land ruled that public figures can NOT be awarded damages for emotional distress caused by parody, caricature, or satire, even if it is INTENTIONALLY inflicted, which, quite frankly, most political cartoons are.
Justice Rehnquist, of all people, wrote in the majority opinion, “The appeal of the political cartoon or caricature is often based on exploitation of unfortunate physical traits or politically embarrassing events — an exploitation often calculated to injure the feelings of the subject of the portrayal.”
He also cited the “intentionally injurious” cartoons Thomas Nast inflicted against Boss Tweed and wrote, “Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoons portraying George Washington as an ass to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartons have played a prominent role in public and political debate.”
And this is where my story starts.
When I was staff cartoonist at The Free Lance-Star, I had a lot of battles over my cartoons. There were days when I’d draw over five ideas just to have each killed. This was really hard for me, especially coming from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin where they weren’t afraid of anything and believed in hiring a weird cartoonist and leaving him alone. the only thing an editor at the Star-Bulletin ever changed was the word “heinie” in a cartoon because he thought it was a slur against Germans (really), so he made me change it to “okole,” the Hawaiian word for “ass.” I actually resisted this change because I had used “okole” so much in my cartoons, I was afraid our readers would think it was the only Hawaiian word I had learned. Also, who cares if I offend a bunch of Germans in Hawaii? Dave Shapiro, our great managing editor, cared.
My FLS editor, who has since passed away, was afraid of everything.
A lot of stuff was killed over it not being the paper’s position. Other stuff was killed for taste. Some stuff was killed because my editor just didn’t get it or didn’t think it was funny. But I lost a lot of battles because my editor was afraid we’d get sued. That was a battle we had a lot.
Sometimes to shut me up, my editor would take a cartoon to the newspaper’s lawyer. He figured that if the lawyer would back him up, then I didn’t have a case. But every time he took a cartoon to the paper’s lawyer to see if it was libelous and would get us sued, the lawyer always, each and every time, shot him down. The lawyer even once said, “no rational person would find this libelous.” So, my editor stopped taking the cartoons to the lawyer. He started taking them downstairs to the news desk where he had backup.
I didn’t fight over everything that was killed, but I did fight every time they said it was “libelous” when I knew it wasn’t. My reply to, “We’ll get sued” being, “So what? Fuck those fuckers” wasn’t winning any arguments. I had to do better. I had to know my audience.
Every time he took a cartoon to the news desk, they agreed with him. “We better be safe and not run this cartoon” or “This is totally libelous,” and “You can’t make an accusation in a political cartoon like this.” Blah blah blah. I was even told I was wrong because my opinion was in the minority, which I would reply with, “I’m not going to be wrong on this just because the rest of you are wrong.” I cited the Flynt Vs. Falwell case that went to the Supreme Court and I was told, “That’s just a movie.”
It wasn’t just a movie and I thought, “I have to prove this and fight for my work.” So, I ordered a book about the case so I could have something to cite other than Woody Harrelson, and you really can’t make a strong argument in a newsroom if you’re quoting Courtney Love. But I would have this book as backup for the next time they killed a cartoon over concerns about libel, which I wouldn’t have long to wait for. And guess what. I found something to cite that wasn’t in the movie.
What I found was that there were many “friends of the court” briefs on the side of Flynt. Naturally, they were from organizations and others who had an interest or stake in First Amendment rights. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) was one of those groups. These briefs, officially called “Amicus Curiae,” are written by parties who are not a part of the case, but offer expertise, insight, or information on the subject.
The next time we had the argument at the news desk, I pointed out the Flynt/Falwell case wasn’t “just a movie,” and that my association, the AAEC, had supported Flynt with a “friend of the court” brief and that a lot of newspapers, you know…our business…had also written these briefs on the side of Flynt. They said it was probably just a bunch of liberal newspapers. I pointed out one of those submitting a brief was the Richmond newspaper, which was a right-wing newspaper. They replied, “Well so what? That’s just Richmond. They’re idiots.” That was true, they were idiots…but also right on this subject. But then I pointed out another newspaper that wrote a friend of the court brief.
That newspaper, writing a brief on the side of Larry Flynt, the smut peddler, Vs. Jerry Falwell, America’s most trusted televangelist, in defense of the First Amendment, was none other than…wait for it…The Free Lance-Star. The paper we all worked for, where the editors were screaming that my cartoons would get us sued, had argued on the side of Larry Flynt for our First Amendment rights. My newspaper, which kept killing my cartoons out of fear of libel, had argued on the side of the porn king. You would think the newspaper would remember that.
One editor already knew this and said he was hoping I’d never find out (I was already difficult to live with). The reason being, he didn’t really think the cartoons were libel. They were just afraid of making important people angry which brings us back to “fuck those fuckers.” The rest of the editors, including mine, were shocked. Our paper supported a smut peddler? No. Our paper supported the First Amendment. Just like all those feminists were on the same side as evangelicals against Hustler Magazine, we were on the same side as the smut guy in fighting for the First Amendment.
I argued our paper had a strong history, right up to the United States Supreme Court, in supporting the First Amendment, so you, my editors, should continue to support the First Amendment instead of soiling yourselves and curling up underneath your desks in the fetal position every time I show you a strong cartoon. Granted, I am not the best at arguing my position without pissing editors off. My cartoon was still killed that day. But I was still right. Fuck those fuckers.
When I argued with my conservative cartoonist colleague and with my editors, I told them they were not endorsing porn, pedophilia, bestiality, or degrading women by siding with a porn guy for our First Amendment rights. The truth is, if Larry Flynt can publish Chester the Molester and say Jerry Falwell had incestous sex with his mum in an outhouse, then I can draw our mayor as a drunken tree sloth. I did that and then a councilmember made bumper stickers of the drunken tree sloth.
I met Larry Flynt. He gave a speech at an AAEC convention in Kentucky (where he was from) and praised political cartooning. A lot of the conservative guys skipped that speech. It was like the time Al Franken was our keynote speaker, before he was a senator, and a poor bastard right-wing cartoonist from some fucknut state like Nebraska went for the steak and chicken not knowing what he was in for. Ever see an upset Nebraska cartoonist drag his wife out out of a banquet hall while Al Franken was speaking? I have. He probably finished his steak first. Al Franken was hilarious, by the way. He can draw an American map from memory including every state, and he was very pleasant to talk to afterward at our nightly drunken party in the hospitality suite. Now there were some drunken tree sloths. Once, in Pittsburgh at one of these conventions, the maids the next morning thought they had discovered a dead body in the hospitality suite, but it was just a drunk, passed-out cartoonist from Arizona. I might have had something to do with that.
Larry Flynt was nice too. I spoke to him just for a minute. It was important to me that after all the battles I waged with my editors where I cited his fight for the First Amendment, that I thank him for that fight. I spared him the long story I just typed out for you, but I thanked him.
Larry Flynt spent millions not to pay that $200,000 to Falwell. Larry Flynt spent millions so I could draw my mayor as a drunken tree sloth. Larry Flynt spent millions so I could draw Donald Trump as a racist narcissist with a sippy cup who quite frankly, wouldn’t mind taking his daughter to an outhouse.
Larry Flynt spent millions fighting for my right to draw satire, caricatures, and parody. Larry’s fight put him in a wheelchair for life. So yeah, people like me do owe him. Even if you’re a right-wing cartoonist, you owe him. By the way, that right-wing cartoonist also drew cartoons for Playboy. Told you they can’t comprehend shit.
Thank you, Larry…you disgusting pervert.
Creative note: I drew a rough of another idea of Larry Flynt at the Pearly Gates. I’m not showing it to you. It’s not disgusting or dirty in the sexual sense. There’s no flagrant nudity (OK, just a little bit). It’s no Chester the Molester but it’s that it’s very insensitive. One of my proofers, who’s proofed a lot of my cartoons showing bare asses, confirmed this and said it even made her queasy. And I agreed with her. So, you’re not going to see it. Now, I bet you’re really curious.
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