Whose Free Speech??? Larry Flynt, Havard, and More “Hustling”

I’m sure that if you are a regular reader of this blog and my Red Garter Club website, you know about the ongoing attempts by antipornography feminists to demonize anyone from the political Left who attempts to challenge their stated views about porn being the centerpiece of women’s oppression and degradation…not to mention the source of all capitalist, racist, anti-Semetic, and other known evil.

To that end, one of their favorite pinatas has been the enterprise of Larry Flynt, the founder and CEO of the HUSTLER magazine enterprise of sexually explicit media; mostly due to the fact that not a few Leftists/liberals have been taken to use his media to suppot one progressive cause or another. A whole campaign has been launched against Flynt in particular, culminating in a website called HustlingTheLeft.com, which uses a lot of screaming propaganda and captured and altered images taken from Flynt’s flagship magazine to make their case that Flynt is the Devil incarnate who uses the First Amendment as a subterfuge to mask his innate plan for mass rape and abuse of women, people of color, Jews, and others.

The controversy first exploded back in 2004 when Flynt attempted to give his blessing and financial support to an anti-war group called Not in Ny Name for their efforts in opposing the Iraqi War. A group of antiporn feminists (led by a woman named Aura Bogado) centered around the Pacifica radio network affiliate in Los Angeles took grave issue with Flynt’s involvement, and ultimately got the group to withdraw the donation and repudiate Flynt. In the back and forth that that controversy ensued, other Leftists and feminists whom had used the media of Flynt, such as Susie Bright, Noam Chomsky, and Greg Palast, were targetted by Bogado and other antiporn feminists as traitors and enablers of violence against women; and the website HustlingtheLeft.com was formed as a major propaganda piece to that effect.

The matter then seemed to simmer down a bit..but just this month, it all boiled back to the surface once more at Harvard University, when Flynt was invited by some students there to a forum on his impact on First Amendment issues. Originally, Flynt wanted to appear solo and take questions from the audience for the benefit of a documentary on his life as an First Amendment activist and a gadfly; and he negotiated with a group within the Harvard Law School called the American Constitutional Society (ACS) to sponsor the event. The ACS, however, balked at his request, instead opting for a panel discusssion/forum discussion-type setup where Flynt would have to appear with others who opposed his viewpoints (including some antiporn feminists who were a part of the ACS council and who had strongly protested Flynt’s appearance). Flynt, citing difficulties with such a debate, rejected their request; summarily, the ACS then withdrew their sponsorship and referred Flynt to the Harvard Law School Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-HLC), which went ahead and sponsored Flynt’s appearance as a solo speaker.

In response to that, a group of Flynt opponents (led by a student named Kevin LoVecchio (more on him later)) hastily arranged a counter-forum in protest prior to Flynt’s appearance which used all the talking points and smears from the likes of HustlingtheLeft.com to tar and feather him as an misogynist, a racist, an anti-Semite, and a supporter of pedophilia. A key speaker of the protest was longtime antiporn feminist activist Dr. Gail Dines, who in no uncertain terms dissected Flynt as “intensely reactionary and intensely right wing”, a “capitalist”, and further demonized HUSTLER and all other forms of pornography as “corrosive because it distorts women’s sexuality and turns them into sex objects”.

Flynt didn’t help matters either at his turn at the mike, either: he responded to the criticism with his usual brusqueness, opining that “women are the sex objects and nothing is going to change that”; he originally denied until confronted with some of the more conterversal images that they were even published by his magazine; and in a seperate question about his publishing some controversal anti-Muslim cartoons from Denmark; he refered to some Arab critics as “towelheads”, eliciting hisses from some in the crowd.

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All this is just preliminary background to set up what took place in the pages of Nina Hartley’s official forum this last week. Apparantly, Kevin LoVecchio got wind of the discussion at that message board by commentors there (mostly sympathetic of Flynt) there, and decided to make an attempt to defend his organization’s efforts.

Posted by kvecchio (Kevin LoVecchio) Today (May 17) @ 2:52 AMA Message from the Flynt Opposition at Harvard Law School

Hello. I’m one of the students who organized the opposition to Larry Flynt’s recent visit to our campus here at Harvard Law School, as you can see from the Crimson article. Unfortunately, what often happens is that people filter news stories and events through their own beliefs. You (and I suppose others here) are naturally inclined to believe that the opposition to Flynt on our campus related to general anti-pornography beliefs, but that was not at all the central theme.

I believe strongly in free speech and the First Amendment; in fact, I have studied the First Amendment and its history in great detail for years. It’s worth considering that this is indeed Harvard Law School. We believe in the principles of free speech, and this campus regularly hosts appearances from controversial speakers in an effort to open academic dialogue and discuss issues. Flynt’s visit, however, was a far cry from these past events. The opposition to Flynt’s visit was grounded largely in the circumstances under which he chose to appear.

Free speech is merely a cover for Larry Flynt. The truth is that he refused to debate anyone at HLS, including a student. He refused to engage in a panel discussion. Students who attended his event were required to consent to being filmed for a documentary his camera crew is making, but nobody in the audience was allowed to speak. Questions were passed through note cards – and Flynt either ignored questions he didn’t like or suddenly became selectively hard-of-hearing. When presented with note card questions on these issues and some others, he flat out-lied, as the Crimson story reflects, but the audience members were not allowed to speak to address his lies. In other words, consider this: we as the opposition are being targeted as “anti-free speech” (and even anti-sex, which is ridiculous) while Larry Flynt retains his crusader image… but the only person who enjoyed free speech that day was Larry Flynt. By his own demands, everyone else was silenced. Is that what free speech is all about?

Regarding the substantive aims of our organized opposition to Flynt, I refer you to this op-ed I wrote for our school newspaper. We primarily challenged Flynt not on his pornography but rather on the racist and anti-semitic images and cartoons that regularly fill the pages of Hustler. Swastikas and Nazi symbols are the norm for Flynt’s publication. Our pamphlet and posters included a handful of these images (such as an Asian woman being dragged through the street by her chained hands and feet leaving behind a trail of yellow blood as “lines” in the road). We also included a few select “Chester the Molester” cartoons. The main purpose was to inform the audience that Flynt is a man who profits from spreading hate. Regardless of the legal limitations of such actions, a discerning audience such as our student body here at HLS can and should analyze the “should do” aspects of this imagery – not just the “can do.” We never said Flynt shouldn’t come speak, or that he shouldn’t publish. We did say that he should have to face an audience with knowledge of the full scope of his activities, and an audience with its own voice.
Here’s one of the images that Flynt was directly confronted with during his visit:

[Originally enclosed image from HustlingtheLeft.com snipped]

[Originally enclosed image from HustlingtheLeft.com snipped](Note: we took this image from Hustlingtheleft only because we had no immediately available source to reprint it without that website’s graphical changes). Not only did he lack a response, but he laughed at the “humor” of the cartoon and then lied and said he had never published it. Again, we weren’t allowed to speak to press him on his lies. What we wanted from Flynt was an answer as to why these images should be valued. We wanted him to acknowledge what he truly publishes rather than what he pretends to publish. More than anything, we wanted him to face an audience that was aware of all of this rather than just knowing the image and persona that Flynt has created for himself. What did we get instead? A highly-restrictive forum that curtailed all speech other than Flynt’s, and a pack of lies from this self-proclaimed crusader that suggests his allegiance to “pushing the envelope” stops right around the point where he is pressed on his actions.I write here only to offer you and the readers on this board the opportunity to see that there is much more behind this story than anti-porn and anti-free speech sentiment. Once you cut through initial assumptions (as everyone assumes that opposition to Flynt means association with those stereotypes), there are some things here worth thinking about. Remember, for all of your criticism of what you see as the stubborn, closed-minded anti-porn left, strong viewpoints on either side of an issue can lead people to become too attached to their own ideas. It might be worth at least considering whether Larry Flynt is a figure motivated by economics rather than the principles he preaches as cover. It might be worth at least considering whether his remarks about “towelheads” are made for any strategic reason, of if he’s instead just a man full of bitter prejudice that is reflected so clearly in what he chooses to publish. I’m not going to insist that Larry Flynt doesn’t have the “right” to publish a cartoon that shows a Hitler figure, swastika and all, proudly wearing a “Mr. Jew-B-Que” apron. That’s a debate for another day. What I am going to insist is that he be forced to own up to his own actions, rather than hiding behind the shielf of the First Amendment that he disgraces by attempting to silence his own critics — especially when he’s bringing his act to my school, where I have more of a right to speak than he ever will.By the way, unlike Larry Flynt I am not afraid to face questions. I admit that I am not a reader of this forum, nor do I have any plans to check back here to read follow-up comments. I invite anyone who would like to contact me regarding this post to do so at the following email address: [LoVecchio’s personal email address snipped]

Kevin LoVecchio
Harvard Law School
Class of 2007
/em>

 

 

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Ordinarily, such a heavy-handed attempt to impose such views on any forum, let along a forum hosted by one of the most well known feminist sex writers and progressive porn actresses, would be grounds for automatic banishment and deletion. Thankfully, in contrast to antiporn feminists who don’t even allow for such debate, Ernest Greene (who happens to be Nina’s lawfully wedded husband, a free-speech advocate, and who has even manage to work with and for Larry Flynt) isn’t one of those people, and he used his perogative as moderator of Nina’s forum to give a response to Mr. LoVecchio’s antics.

Some editing by me for syntax and mispells….

Posted by Ernest (Ernest Greene) on May 17 @ 1:57 PM
Subject: (none) Mr. LoVecchio:

As a co-owner (with Nina Hartley) 0f the Web site www.nina.com [Note: link definitely NSFW] and a moderator of this forum, [Note, ditto] I have both the ability and the right to delete your argumentative post from our bandwidth; but since, unlike others who share at least of some of your opinions who have made their presence felt here in the past, your tone is relatively civil and reasonable and the questions you raise deserving of rebuttal in kind, I choose to answer you here instead.

Full disclosure first: I edit a magazine for one of Larry Flynt’s companies on a free-lance basis and enjoy cordial relations with Mr. Flynt himself and members of his family. However, contrary to your assertion that Flynt tolerates no dissent from his views in his midst, I don’t hesitate to air my own disagreements with his statements or actions here or elsewhere. As I’ve pointed out in this space before, Flynt’s enterprises employ the most diverse work force of any publishing concern by which I have been employed in my three decades as a journalist and internal debate is a daily aspect of the creative process by which our publications are produced.

That said, I feel absolutely confident that no reprisals will come my way for allowing your contentious, hit-and-run post to stay up on our site, and to address what I see as both the weakness of its arguments and the disingenuous debating tactics it so flagrantly exhibits. That you have already made clear you intention to ignore responses made here and invite those who disagree with you to take their objections to a venue you control where they may be edited by yourself and like-minded others, reproduced in whatever form you choose and subjected to whatever slanted interpretation or criticism you or others may elect to fling at them, I prefer to make my stand on my home ground. Should you choose to return after all and read this, or if others decide to forward it to you, I have no means of preventing you from quoting as a whole or in part and no fear of your doing so. If, as you claim, you are “not afraid to face questions,” perhaps you will summon the courage to do so in a forum you do not control. This would make your claim somewhat more credible.

Now then, to the matter at hand, Flynt’s appearance at Harvard and the objections you raise. Let’s start with this statement:

“You (and I suppose others here) are naturally inclined to believe that the opposition to Flynt on our campus related to general anti-pornography beliefs, but that was not at all the central theme.”

As you admit that you are not “a reader of this forum” you are hardly in a position to speculate intelligently about what any of us may believe re your opposition to Flynt’s actions or on any other subject. We enjoy a wide spectrum of opinions among our regular contributors and it is both ill-informed and insulting to assume that we, as a group or as individuals, operate under pre-conceived notions of your positions or motivations. We might very well be inclined to address your stated concerns at face value, though clearly you don’t extend us the same courtesy.

As for your support of “the principles of free speech,” you seem to apply them rather selectively, especially for someone who has “studied the First Amendment and its history in great detail for years.” It was clear enough from all accounts of controversy surrounding Flynt’s presence on your campus that every effort was made by his opponents to create the most hostile atmosphere possible to his exercise of those principles in your midst. The smear tactics and disruptive strategies employed by those who opposed giving Flynt the opportunity to address your fellow students hardly seem consistent with any broader commitment to freedom of expression.

You seem to base most of your accusations of Flynt’s hypocrisy on this subject to his refusal to allow you and your fellow dissenters to turn his appearance into a debate. The concept of freedom of speech also includes the freedom not to speak. Flynt was invited to make remarks and take written questions, not to throw himself open to broad attacks from his critics. He has the right to decline a verbal lynching at the hands of a small, noisy claque of those who despise him just as much as you have the right to criticize him for doing so. Like many of the anti-porn left, with which you insist you have no common agenda, you confuse others’ right to ignore what you have to say with the suppression of your right to say it. Your objections and of those of your comrades were widely heard on campus and widely publicized elsewhere. Flynt’s choice not to grant you a soapbox on his time hardly constitutes an attempt to prevent you from making your opinions known. Indeed, here you are doing so, uninvited, on our Web site, and thereby disseminating them to a far broader audience than could possibly have been contained in the auditorium where Flynt spoke. Forgive me, then, if I find little sympathy for your claim to having been somehow silenced in your objections. Given the wide exposure granted to your protests, your statement to the effect that “the only person who enjoyed free speech that day was Larry Flynt. By his own demands, everyone else was silenced. Is that what free speech is all about?”” comes across as hyperbolic at best.

[continued in another post]

As your fellow student Tejinder Singh points out in his rebuttal to your arguments in The Harvard Crimson, “While debate is central to the intellectual vitality of our campus, demanding a commitment to an adversarial format from every guest speaker does not serve that function. Instead, it holds speakers’ ideas hostage to the interests and agendas of those who oppose them. The message changes from “come share your ideas if a campus group invites you,” to, “talk only if you are willing to do so on terms dictated by people who disagree with you and dislike you. Otherwise we will question your commitment and call you a liar.” Such a policy would stifle discussion and create a climate of hostility around campus discourse that encourages demagoguery, booing, and hissing, rather than nuanced debate about the issues.”I have no doubt, given the viciousness with which Flynt is routinely attacked by his critics, such as those at hustlingtheleft who conveniently provided you with the helpful “visual” you posted here with no concern for whether or not we might find it objectionable also, that there would have been plenty of “booing and hissing” had Flynt opened the floor to general discussion. Though you may claim, as members of the anti-porn left frequently do, that your ideas are somehow “censored” or “silenced,” it was clear enough from the statements made by Flynt’s opponents in anticipation of his appearance that they did not believe he should have been allowed to appear at Harvard at all and that they would do anything in their power to prevent him from getting a full hearing there. Flynt is no stranger to these tactics and his unwillingness to be subjected to them once again is not difficult to understand. A man paralyzed in a wheelchair as a result of someone else’s resentment of his exercise of his right to publish what he pleases might understandably be wary of inviting an unregulated brawl with those who make no secret of despising him.As to your assertion that your objections to Flynt’s actions as a publisher have nothing to do with his status as a pornographer (a claim of which I will prefer to remain dubious) but rather arise out of what you see as racism, anti-semitism and other bigotry evidenced in his magazine, your flimsy case is built on a very selective reading of the materials in question. To wit, your observation that ”Swastikas and Nazi symbols are the norm for Flynt’s publication” clearly implies that Flynt endorses these symbols and the odious ideas they represent, when in fact he detests them and uses them exclusively for purposes of ridicule. He holds these things up for mockery, as he does virtually every other extremist, irrational stripe of opinion, consistent with his chosen role of public gadfly. Hustler is an equal opportunity offender, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who sued Flynt for libel (and lost) can attest. The highly selective, out-of-context use of specific examples Flynt’s broad parodies is disingenuous at best. The clear purpose here is to neutralize liberal support for Flynt’s right to speak by using hot-button symbols likely to alienate those who have the most to lose by any attempt to obstruct the expression of minority views, even those they find personally offensive, as they themselves are members of minorities whose views have often been obstructed in just such a manner. It’s a low trick and I’m glad it failed. Those of us who have been subject to such tactics in the past can generally spot them with relative ease and dismiss them accordingly.

Seen in this light, your reasonable-sounding claims that

[…] [Your] main purpose was to inform the audience that Flynt is a man who profits from spreading hate. Regardless of the legal limitations of such actions, a discerning audience such as our student body here at HLS can and should analyze the “should do” aspects of this imagery – not just the “can do.” We never said Flynt shouldn’t come speak, or that he shouldn’t publish. We did say that he should have to face an audience with knowledge of the full scope of his activities, and an audience with its own voice…


ring tinny and hollow. The only “promotion of hate” made painfully obvious in this sorry affair is that of you and your compatriots. What Flynt publishes is satire. What you disseminated on your campus was hate speech, pure and simple. That Flynt responded with derisive humor rather than outrage speaks better of his ability to live in a pluralistic society than do your vicious, personal attacks against him.
The personal antagonism underlying your seemingly innocuous call for open debate fairly reeks off your own rhetoric: “We wanted him to acknowledge what he truly publishes rather than what he pretends to publish. More than anything, we wanted him to face an audience that was aware of all of this rather than just knowing the image and persona that Flynt has created for himself. What did we get instead? A highly-restrictive forum that curtailed all speech other than Flynt’s, and a pack of lies from this self-proclaimed crusader that suggests his allegiance to “pushing the envelope” stops right around the point where he is pressed on his actions.”Gee, I can’t imagine why Flynt would pass on the opportunity to directly engage such open-minded, rational discourse. Clearly, you made your point, and had you been given a chance, you would have done everything in your power to prevent him from making his. You and Fox News seem to share a common ideal when it comes to what constitutes fair and balanced commentary. You fly your colors in plain sight in your conclusion, Mr. LoVecchio, with this comment: “What I am going to insist is that he be forced to own up to his own actions, rather than hiding behind the shielf (sic) of the First Amendment that he disgraces by attempting to silence his own critics — especially when he’s bringing his act to my school, where I have more of a right to speak than he ever will.”

My understanding of the basic concept of First Amendment protection is that it applies to all. Why, then, would you have more of a right to speak than Flynt ever will simply by virtue of being able to afford tuition at Harvard?

Where you really have no guaranteed right to speak is here, on a privately operated Web site the content of which is the legal responsibility of its owners. However, I extend you that right in any case, contrary to your assertions that “everyone assumes that opposition to Flynt means association with those stereotypes (of leftist anti-porn feminism) and that “for all of your criticism of what you see as the stubborn, closed-minded anti-porn left, strong viewpoints on either side of an issue can lead people to become too attached to their own ideas.”

In doing so, I can only hope that you and some of your fellows may address your own viewpoints with similar skepticism. Alas, I’m none too optimistic about this. Your stated intention to graffitti this site with your broadside and then flee, never to return lest your purity of mind be soiled by exposure to contrary opinions bespeaks not a committment to broad freedom of expression, but rather the cowardice of a vandal who spray paints a swastika on a synagogue and skulks off into the night.

Ernest Greene

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I believe that I will leave it up to you to decide truth from fiction….of course, I do have my biases….

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One thought on “Whose Free Speech??? Larry Flynt, Havard, and More “Hustling”

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