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from www.syracuse.com – ustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt famously faced free speech issues 25 years ago, and now he’s ready to face the challenges of today’s world, including social media and the changing print industry.
The controversial figure speaks at Syracuse University in a lecture titled “Fighting for the First Amendment” on Tuesday, March 5 at 5 p.m. in the school’s Goldstein Auditorium. Tickets for the event are free to the public through the Schine Box Office.
Before his visit, Flynt told syracuse.com and The Post-Standard he’s looking forward to speaking in Syracuse about the landmark decision, Hustler magazine vs. Jerry Falwell, now taught in law schools like SU’s College of Law across the country.
The televangelist sued Flynt for libel and emotional distress after a satirical Hustler cartoon suggested Falwell’s first sexual encounter was with his mother. Falwell won the case initially but the Supreme Court found on Feb. 24, 1988, that protecting free speech is more important than protecting public figures’ emotions and reputations.
“The decision indicated that you can’t award damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, which was one of Reverend Falwell’s claims,” Flynt explains.
“It’s an important case — a lot of people might disagree with me because of the offensive nature of the satire, but I think free speech is only important if it’s offensive: If you’re not going to offend anybody, you don’t need protection of the First Amendment.”
He added concerns that free speech rights are eroding in America, but believes technology and social media won’t change people’s rights to express themselves.
“We pay a price for everything and the price we pay to live in a free society is toleration. We have to tolerate things that we don’t necessarily like so we can be free. I tolerate Fox News, for example,” Flynt says with a chuckle.
The 70-year-old political advocate is also getting ready to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hustler. The porn publication was first published in 1974 but Flynt admits it might not appear in print much longer, like Newsweek, Spin and The Sporting News.
“I think magazines are becoming passé,” he said. “They’ll always be around for people who enjoy that coffee table copy of their favorite magazines, but for the most part I think print media is on its way out, including us for that matter. That’s why we’re going up with a digital/online version.”
Flynt’s business savvy has managed to keep bringing attention — and readers — to Hustler, which has grown to an empire that includes adult TV channels, 11 Hustler Hollywood stores, strip clubs and a casino.
He’s offered money to various celebrities such as Casey Anthony to pose nude, and last year offered $1 million for Mitt Romney’s tax returns.
“Well, you never know,” Flynt says. “I’m a businessman as well as a publisher, and there’s always a fig leaf covering somebody up that people are going to want to see a piece of it uncovered. So, we do that for as much a business reason as we do an editorial reason.
“We went after stories that we’ve felt were important over the years, and the best way of getting information is to offer a reward… We’ve also exposed a lot of politicians about their so-called sexual peccadilloes… We want to expose the hypocrisy, you know — you say one thing and do another.”
Flynt’s personal life has also taken center stage often. As depicted in the 1996 movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” he’s been handicapped since a 1978 assassination attempt left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Last week, he told The Hollywood Reporter about his sex life, detailing his use of penile implants and having relationships with other women (“but nothing serious”) while enjoying an “open” marriage with Liz Berrios, his fifth wife.
As for his speech on Tuesday evening, Flynt promises to give a “spirited” speech on the First Amendment and privacy issues. He adds that he’s not charging an honorarium, traveling to Central New York on his own dime.
“I feel that if I can offer anybody a kernel of knowledge that might help them in the world, it has all been worthwhile,” he says. “I want people to remember that I fought to expand the parameters of free speech in what I think was a good way.”
Flynt’s speech is a part of the Distinguished Speakers Series at the Newhouse School’s Tully Center for Free Speech. Those attending are invited to follow and participate in the event’s discussion on Twitter through the hashtag #FightingforFirst.