Larry Flynt should be remembered as a 'scourge on society,' not a free speech advocate

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, right, makes a point while appearing with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt on CNN's Larry King show in this Jan. 10, 1997 file photo in New York. A Liberty University executive says the Rev. Jerry Falwell has died. | (Photo: AP / Todd Plitt, File)

A national organization that combats sexual exploitation said pornographer Larry Flynt, who died Wednesday at 78, should be remembered as "a scourge on society," not championed as a free speech advocate. 

Flynt, the founder of Hustler magazine, is famous not only for his pornographic publications but his involvement in legal matters centering around what qualifies as freedom of speech and expression in society.

Defenders of porn have maintained that pornography is a form of speech and is thus constitutionally protected. Opponents have countered that obscenity, particularly sexually explicit content, is not a First Amendment matter and have in recent years framed the issue as a public health crisis given its myriad harms and links to societal ills such as domestic abuse and human trafficking.

In 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in Flynt's favor in the case of Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, ruling that the First Amendment and 14th Amendment bar public figures from recovering damages for the tort of the intentional inflicting of emotional distress if such distress was caused by a caricature or parody that a reasonable person would not have interpreted as the truth. 

Flynt had depicted Jerry Falwell Sr. as an incestuous drunk in an advertisement in Hustler magazine's November 1983 issue. Yet because Falwell was a public figure, the high court said that the ad was not sufficient reason to deny First Amendment protection to this kind of speech. The story of this litigation and a biographical exploration of Flynt's troubled life were depicted in the Oscar-nominated 1996 film "The People v. Larry Flynt." 

In a statement Wednesday, the Washington-based National Center of Sexual Exploitation said the pornographer ought to be remembered as "a scourge on society."

"He directly contributed to and profited from the sexual exploitation of women for the majority of his career, and our culture is poorer for it,” said Dawn Hawkins, NCOSE senior vice president and executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. 

“Flynt should be remembered by the simple fact that he put an image of a woman being fed into a meat grinder on the cover of his magazine. That image conveys the ugly truth of Flynt’s life and his misogynistic and harmful attitude toward women.”

Spurning the idea that he was a First Amendment hero, she added: “Flynt’s lasting legacy is that the pornographic content he pushed into the mainstream has led to the rampant abuse, racism, and child sexual abuse material found on tube sites like Pornhub."

Some mainstream journalists joined in with their disgust, noting the pornographer's documented sordid behavior. 

"Before you memorialize Larry Flynt as a hero please remember his daughter Tonya Flynt-Vega said he was a child molester and a monster," CNN's Jake Tapper tweeted Wednesday.

Aura Bogado, senior reporter for Reveal, tweeted that she was glad to see him dead. 

"Larry Flynt tormented me by commissioning racist caricatures of my likeness and written hit pieces against me. He also commissioned a photo spread in which it was suggested that I should be raped. For a while, I wasn't sure how I'd feel once he died. To be honest, I'm thrilled," she tweeted Wednesday. 

Anti-porn scholar Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, commented on her Facebook page Thursday that although Flynt is dead, his magazine "paved the way for the mainstreaming of today's hardcore porn. It pushed the envelope by grooming the public into accepting hardcore porn as normalized (who can forget the meatgrinder image, or Chester the Molester?), and was the bridge between the covert misogyny of soft-core pinups of Playboy and the overt misogyny of sexual violence rebranded as 'kink.'" 

"One more pornographer dies without ever being held accountable for the enormous damage he did to women."

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