Larry Flynt Lashes Out at Trump "Hypocrites," "Redneck" Voters and a Brewing War on Obscenity
The Hustler magazine publisher predicts spillover into Hollywood: "It does have a chilling effect on filmmakers and the First Amendment in general. You can lose free expression and free press as easily as you gained it."
In Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions — Donald Trump's pick for attorney general — Sen. Orrin Hatch, 82, asked the 70-year-old Alabama senator if he'd pursue obscenity laws targeting pornography. He also asked if Sessions would reestablish the Justice Department's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a department shuttered by the Obama administration. Sessions said that he would, noting in his response that those laws "are clear … and should be effectively and vigorously prosecuted in the cases that are appropriate."
Someone who knows a little bit about those laws is Larry Flynt. The 74-year-old Hustler magazine publisher has been publicly battling them since the 1970s. In 1981, the Supreme Court heard one of his high-profile cases, Flynt v. Ohio, which was later dramatized in the 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt. (Woody Harrelson played him; Flynt played the judge who sentences him to seven-to-25 years. He was freed after six days over a technicality.)
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Flynt just as a scandalous leaked memo — which alleges that Trump colluded with Russian officials, who allegedly possess lurid incriminating video of him — was making headlines.
Did the leaked unverified memo alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia surprise you at all?
I've known all that. We were investigating many of the same activities, but we couldn't nail it down. We knew it had to be something really, really big to get him because nothing was really sticking to him. He's going to say it's all a lie. He's the biggest liar I know. Every time he opens his mouth he tells a lie. That's why I've been so outspoken on this and critical of the press because they let him get away with it — all for the sake of ratings. He just ran right over them.
In his confirmation hearing yesterday, Jeff Sessions said he'd "vigorously prosecute" obscenity laws and consider reviving the Department of Justice's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.
Trump is appointing a guy for attorney general that's going to make us relive all that Reagan-and-me stuff from the '80s. I thought we've moved beyond that. The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that pornography in itself does not constitute obscenity. Obscenity laws are antiquated. Sessions can talk all he wants, but it's very, very difficult to get 12 people on a jury to vote to convict someone on pornography. Pornography is the purest form of art there is. And so if you want it out of magazines, if you want it out of movies, fine — but how about the thousands of art galleries around the country that display pornographic art?
With the glut of pornography so instantly available to us online in 2017, what could possibly constitute obscenity at this point?
They go looking for movies involving defecation and urination and stuff like that. The fringe aspects, scatological behavior and stuff like that. But I don't know of anybody in our business that's producing stuff like that. It comes from Europe and other parts of the world. That's probably something they could go after — and probably get an obscenity conviction.
Could it bleed over into mainstream filmmaking? Could the MPAA make it harder to avoid an NC-17?
All of this has a chilling effect because nobody wants to produce a film they can't get distributed because of the rating. It does have a chilling effect on filmmakers and the First Amendment in general. You can lose free expression and free press as easily as you gained it. A lot of people are intelligent enough to know that. Reagan was kind of bone-headed, but he had [former Attorney General] Ed Meese going after pornography, even after [researcher William H.] Johnson had done a sex study and couldn't find any correlation between exposure to it and [psychological harm]. It created a lot of havoc around the country: Meese presented victims' testimony more than offering any kind of actual trial litigation.
Was Nancy Reagan a factor in the obscenity crackdown during her husband's administration?
She was outspoken on drug use. I don't know what her position was on pornography. This dates back all the way to [19th century U.S. Postal Inspector] Anthony Comstock, who was the father of the whole antiobscenity movement. He used to prosecute people over sending erotic postcards. This has gone on for 100 years. I thought that the do-gooders had had their say, but apparently they're still at it.
What do you make of Trump, who has appeared in Playboy videos, surrounding himself with social conservatives like Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions?
They're all hypocrites. Pence is dying to get into the White House. Pence is worse than him. Pence got a law passed in Indiana legislature that if a woman has an abortion, he forced her to have a funeral service for the fetus. Those people are nuts. As for Trump, his whole game is intimidation. That's what he does with his tweeting. That's how he controls people, by intimidating them and making them afraid of him. He does the same thing with women.
Now that memo is alleging he met his match in Vladimir Putin.
That bus Billy Bush was on and Trump was talking about grabbing women by the puss and how you got to treat them like shit to get what you want? That's Trump. That's the real Trump. Somehow he got through all that before the election.
Why does none of this seem to bother his base?
I'll tell you why: because the typical Trump voter is the type of guy who'd show up to a Trump interview with a Budweiser in his hand. Those men don't have anything today, and they're not going to have anything tomorrow. They like that tough talk. He's going to make life better for them in some way. Hillary had been around for years bobbing around the ticket. You know, George Washington once addressed this issue of a misinformed electorate, and that's very important. The founding fathers recognized that, if you're a low-information voter who can make a decision without having facts — I call them the low-hanging fruit. That's the people that put Trump in office. And they're going to regret it. But in the meantime, we're going to be stuck with him for a while.
What happens next?
He's going to be president on the 20th. And what do they do? They can't impeach him, because you have a Republican Congress. But if for some reason you get him out, then you got Pence. And believe me, Pence is worse that Trump. He's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Trump's not a conservative; Pence is a conservative.
So you personally would rather have Trump as president?
The question has never been put to me like that. That's very difficult for me to answer. At some point, Trump's got to implode. Even the dumb rednecks that put him into office have to realize that they didn't get that job, that raise they were looking for. And so once he loses faith, he will go fast. He can't continue this way. His tweeting, his attack on Meryl Streep. Why does he want to do something like that? Maybe he thinks he can't turn people against him, but eventually he will. You don't have a majority of the people with him anyway. And these jobs he's pretending he's bringing into the country? That's all bullshit too. That's not happening. It's crazy. If you try to watch this thing and try to absorb this whole election process, you get whiplash.