CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—A crowd of more than 400 University of North Carolina law students and others gave a standing ovation to Hustler/LFP owner and free speech advocate Larry Flynt when he gave the keynote address to kick off the university's two-day legal symposium on the First Amendment.
The gathering was sponsored by the First Amendment Law Review of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and included an interview of Flynt conducted by First Amendment scholars and attorneys Clay Calvert and Robert Richards.
"We talked about everything from Hustler v. Falwell to how he thinks Obama is doing," Calvert said, referring to the Supreme Court case in which Rev. Jerry Falwell had sued Flynt for having used his image in Hustler in a satirical ad for a brand of liquor. "He ran the whole gamut."
Of course, Flynt's appearance wasn't without its controversy. A group called Feminist Students United (FSU), which according to its website was formed about one week ago, protested outside the event and handed out a fake program booklet listing what it said were the movies Flynt had produced, as well as some dialog from one volume of Gag Factor, which Flynt had nothing to do with. Also, one university alumnus and FSU supporter who attended Flynt's speech, Anthony Maglione, had to be removed from the auditorium after hogging the microphone during the question-and-answer period that followed Flynt's interview.
"Both Bob and I asked him three times to ask a question," Calvert reported, "and he kept saying, 'I'm getting to my question,' but he never did. He was going on and on about 'Are we proud that our university would invite Larry Flynt? Do you think he should be here?' So they had to remove him, but after that, it was fine."
Calvert also worked the FSU protest into the Flynt interview.
"The one that cracked us up, one of the groups put together what looked to be a program but it was a fake program critical of Flynt," Calvert explained, "and it listed all these movies that he allegedly did and things like that. And one was called Hollywood's Nailin' Palin, and I said, 'Now, Larry, in this spoof [program] they mention Hollywood's Nailin' Palin, but I think you made another one called Obama's Nailin' Palin?' To which he said, 'Yeah, nobody's sacred,' and people just started laughing."
According to one news account, when an attendee charged that Flynt's products exploit women, Flynt responded, "That’s like saying 'Sports Illustrated' exploits sports," which drew another outburst of laughter from the crowd.
The symposium concluded today with two panels featuring advocates for both free speech and censorship, and a wrap-up session conducted Rodney Smolla, dean of Washington and Lee University School of Law, who was described by the UNC newspaper as a "nationally recognized First Amendment scholar and advocate."
The first panel dealt with current issues in free speech, and brought together First Amendment attorneys Lawrence Walters and Jeffrey Douglas with former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who bears the distinction of having prosecuted more obscenity cases during her term in office than anyone in the past two decades.
"The Fletcher case came up," Calvert recalled, "as well as [U.S. v.] Stevens, the crush video case, and Extreme Associates, and I must say the level of collegiality was very good. Jeffrey and Mary Beth Buchanan went at it a little bit but never in a hostile sense."
"The way it worked was, each panelist had about 12 to 14 minutes to talk initially, and then after that, it went to audience questions," he continued. "But sometimes they would start responding to each other, and so they got into a rebuttal, a counter-rebuttal—they went back and forth a couple of times, once over community standards and whether there actually was such a thing, and the viability of the Miller standard today in the age of the internet, whether it's possible to maintain that prong, and so they were going back and forth. That was a major source of disagreement.
"I think she still believes that local community standards exist," Calvert said, "although she made the statement today that she thought that the material from Extreme would be found obscene in any community, and she did say these cases are very hard to try, very difficult, but she wanted to dispel the notion that they brought the case deliberately in Western Pennsylvania because there would be more conservative standards. She said it was her belief that this content would be, in any community in the United States, deemed to be obscene, although she tried to suggest that forum shopping wasn't the primary reason why it was tried there in that area, and she made it clear that there were very few obscenity cases overall targeting the adult industry during that whole era, despite the publicity, and they all agreed on that.
Finally, Calvert said, Buchanan talked about "how there had been a prosecutorial vacuum during the '90s under Clinton when the content did get harder, and it was difficult trying to draw that line, figure out where that line was now going to be drawn in light of the content becoming harder. It was very well discussed and very civil."
Today's second panel brought together Free Speech Coalition executive director Diane Duke and Parents Television Council president Tim Winter, with Katharine Bartlett, a professor at Duke University School of Law, who specializes in gender studies.
"Prof. Bartlett described the various feminist critiques of adult content, the MacKinnon/Dworkin kind of stuff," Calvert said. "She kind of laid the groundwork for the discussion, and then Diane talked about the industry's position. She did a very good job identifying the various women in positions of power within the industry, from Christie Hefner to Theresa Flynt to Susan Colvin to Belladonna. She was very impressive; she ticked off a whole list of positive things about the industry. And Tim Winter from Parents Television Council spent most of his time talking about the FCC and indecency regulations rather than obscenity so much, and media violence as well, because he said, 'That's not what our organization really does.'"
"But what made this symposium unique was that it had such a well-rounded and diverse group of people," Calvert summarized. "Where else are you going to find Larry Walters, who represented Karen Fletcher, on the same stage with the woman who prosecuted her? And the Parents Television Council and a professor who described the feminist anti-porn perspective with a free speech advocate like Diane Duke? The big picture is, this is a victory for academia, when you realize that they actually did have fair representation of the adult industry at a forum like this. I don't think, ten years ago, you would have found that to be the case."