HONORS 195: Rhetoric of Impeachment; Fall, 1999, John Dewey Honors Program, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Vermont
Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics

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Larry Flynt:

Confronting Sex and Politics in America


Amber Lim


What has changed in the media and political culture? Why is exploitation of sex and politics on front burner of the American agenda? The private matters of the President were once just that — private matters. Now they are published and are accessible to the American public by way of the Starr Report (http://CNN.com/starr.report/)and the mainstream media. The impeachment of the President symbolizes the pinnacle of the integration of sex and politics by the media.

Flynt’s cravings for power and his obsession with sex have inspired his actions. The impeachment trials created an atmosphere in which a porn king, Larry Flynt, was able to capture the attention of the American public. This sex obsessed publisher of the notorious Hustler magazine created quite a stir by exposing the hypocritical actions of Clinton's republican opponents during the impeachment trial. His dramatic antics and vulgar tactics enabled him to gain notoriety with the American Public. Flynt turned the tables in American politics. The Republicans no longer had the offensive advantage, since Flynt allegations force them had to take a defensive status. Larry Flynt embodies important attitudes of the current status of sex and politics in American society.

Flynt's Objective and Antics

But how does this pornographer end up "setting the agenda" (Kurtz, 19 December 1998) in American politics? Flynt has been peppered in the main stream media for an extended time now. From his shocking behavior in the court systems to his announcement of the hypocrisy of Congress, he has infiltrated the televisions and newspapers of the American public. Flynt objective with this behavior is to get into media and uproot the pretense of virtues among the so-called "moral."

"Our intent from the very beginning was to shine a light on the double moral standard being wielded by the Republican prosecutors and other high-placed detractors of the Chief Executive. We wanted to illuminate the scorched bottom of the kettle as it shrilly called the pot black. The exposure of hidden shadows in the lives of Georgia's Bob Barr and Speaker Designate Bob Livingston of Louisiana highlighted the truth that the governing body railroading Bill Clinton was made up of frauds who might easily have been his partners in slime."

- Larry Flynt


Larry Flynt's purpose during the impeachment trial was to expose that the moral high ground that the GOP Congresspersons stood on was a façade, and in actuality they lacked as many (if not more) morals as the President. Since the Republicans made it fair game to drudge up the sex life of the President, Flynt believed that he would give them a dose of their own medicine. He exploited many Republicans’ private lives in order to prove their immorality. For years, Flynt has been under the scrutiny of Republican for his indecent behavior, but the impeachment trial allowed Flynt to openly criticize the behavior of the Republicans in a national forum. This criticism helped him to boost his own reputation.

Flynt issued this information to the American public in a number of ways. He invested of $85,000 for a Washington Post ad offering a million dollars for information about an "adulterous sexual encounter with a current member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking government official," (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/ad.html)This outrageous behavior caught the attention of many individuals. At the time many politicians thought that this prank would not weld any result. Little did they know…

When Bob Livington heard that Larry Flynt was investigating his private life, he openly admitted to extra-martial affairs before anything was published. He then stepped down from his position as Speaker Designate and promised to resign his congressional seat, also. This behavior baited the President and demanded that he would take the same action. Livington did not lie to the public (unlike the President); he was a martyr for the Republican Party. This episode ended in a draw between the Democrats and Republicans. Flynt exposed the Speaker Designate infidelity, however Livington still stepped down in honor. In a way Livington is like Flynt, they both want their airtime (AKA sound bite) and they will go to incredible lengths to get it.

Flynt did not publish any new information on Livington due to a request from his wife Bonnie. Flynt appeared on 20/20 with Sam Donaldson and commented on this his conversion with Bonnie Livington:

LARRY FLYNT: She said she had no animosity toward the women and Bob, but

asked me not to publish the details of the investigation. And I agreed not to.


FLYNT: Because I felt he resigned, mission accomplished; so what's the point?

DONALDSON: I read someplace where you said you had gotten the feeling about

how it hurts people after this [Bonnie's] call.

FLYNT: Well, it's true. In the heat of battle you sometimes forget that a lot of

innocent people get hurt. And I don't like to see that happen.

DONALDSON: But you're doing it.

FLYNT: That's part of the game, Sam.


Flynt notes that since Livington resigned his"mission [is] accomplished."However, in an interview with Larry King when asked if Bob Livington did the right thing he replied,"No, I don't think he should have resigned. I mean, having an affair is no reason that someone should resign."(Larry King Live, 12 Jan 1999) This demonstrates that Larry Flynt cared more that he was getting attention for his antics, then about the actual actions of Bob Livington.

Although Flynt did not disclose any more information about Bob Livington, he did not relent on his exposure of others. Flynt was playing this "game" to win and he declared war against Clinton’s opposition. Bob Barr was another main target among others like George Bush, Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, Dan Burton, Helen Chenoweth, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, J.C. Watts, John E. Peterson, Rush Limbaugh and Ken Calvert. (http://member.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/gop.html) Flynt did not stop there. He overviewed the sexual indiscretions of past American Presidents (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/our.html) and other world powers. (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/mistresses.html) He attacked Richard Mellon Scaife, Ken Starr, Linda Tripp, and Lucianne Goldberg’s characters their motives and their actions against Clinton. (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/four.html) Flynt was hunting out the immorality of individuals who strongly opposed the President, and no one was safe against his accusations.

To announce his allegations against certain GOP politicians, Flynt appeared on a number of talk shows and conducted a press conference. Flynt published his findings from his investigation in his parody of the Starr Report, the Flynt Report. (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport). Flynt used the media to get his message out to the public. Flynt's antics are an example of manipulating the mass media to exploit the sex lives of others.

Fact or Fiction

In reviewing Flynt's supporting materials, I found them not as strong as he makes them out to be. Flynt uses the media when it suits him. He enthusiastically applies quotes to support his position (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/). Unfortunately, he does not tell when or how these quotes were made. Confirming the context of all the quotes are taken is an unattainable chore. I am assuming that he does have sources to protect him from liability suits, but extracting the meaning of the quotes from the original context is a difficult task. His usage of quotes help to support his points but do not necessarily prove the validity of the statement. He is eager to include information that helps in incriminating others. However, if he disagrees with the publications, he is normally the first to discredit the journalistic ability of the author, magazine or newspaper (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/).

To Flynt’s credit, as we already noted, he "has never actually exposed sexual affairs that weren’t already part of the public record." (Walsh, 31 January 1999) The difference is that he collected scandal and displayed together the Flynt Report (http://members.flyntdigital.com/doc/flyntreport/).Of course, Flynt takes liberties in explaining the situation. The Flynt Report was a compilation of bias, opinionated articles that suited his means. He picked and chose through a plethora of would be "scandals" to find the most sensationalist stories he could. This does not mean that the stories represented absolute truth, merely they were statements that other back from another source. The Times-Picayune comments, "Unless evidence of affairs is contained in court records, they are hard to confirm." ( Walsh, 31 January 1999) The debate of he said/she said reigns in Flynt’s dirt slinging campaign.

The fact that Flynt paid for information influences the creditability of the source. A million dollars is enough inspiration for many people to lie or to fudge evidence. His method of extracting of information is an unethical means to an end.

"Flynt’s role in offering up to $ 1 million for sexual dirt on members of Congress ‘reduces the whole thing to the theater of the absurd and a lowest common denominator that even the scoundrels among us don’t want to achieve,’ said Marlin Fitzwater, who was the White House spokesman for Ronald Reagan and George Bush." (Kurtz, 20 December 1998)

Many others agree with Fitzwater and believe that Flynt’s antics are the lowest of the low. The paying for information is seen as deceiving way to uncover the truth. The Times-Picayune remark, "Larry Flynt has taken freedom of the press and made it a dirty thing. No one has the right to do what he did or even to rise to it by accepting money to expose another person’s sexual indiscretions."(Amazed, Ashamed by the Polls, 29 December 1998) A lack of validity is displayed in Flynt’s tactics. Regardless of his "discoveries" he has facilitated change. The fact that Congressman, Bob Livingston, resigned when Flynt’s allegations of his adultery surface during the impeachment of President Clinton (Phillips, 25 January 1999) helped to legitimize Flynt’s pursuits.

Flynt’s rhetoric has questionable aspects, but the response of his accused gave a level of legitimacy to Flynt’s plight. He was not out to prove all the actions of the "hypocrites"; his purpose was to cast a shadow of doubt about the immortality of certain Republican individuals. Flynt was successful in casting a shadow of doubt, regardless of his supporting materials.

Flynt received a large amount of attention, due to his allegations. A Pew Research Center Poll research revealed that:

"48 percent could name Flynt as the publisher paying for information on infidelities by members of Congress — compared with 19 percent who could name Chief Justice William Rehnquist as the man presiding over the Senate impeachment trial." (Kurtz, 25 January 1999)

This demonstrates the mentality of the American Public and the attention that they give Larry Flynt’s sexual exploits. "A Washington Post/ ABC Newspoll that found that 79% of American disapproved of the attention being paid to the issue of ‘whether elected officials have had extramarital affairs."(Baum, 17 January 1999) However, in another poll conducted by the Washington Post "46% said that news organizations should report the names of members of Congress who are found by Flynt to have had affairs."(Kurtz, 25 January 1999) How can 79% disapprove of attention towards officials’ affairs, yet 46% are interested in Flynt's sexual smear campaign. There is an overlay of 33% that disapprove of attention towards officials' affairs but still want to learn about Flynt's allegations. Although surveys may reflect a small amount of error, I believe that this illustrates the American public’s real interest in the sex lives of our elected officials. The belief that the invasion of privacy is wrong does not limit curiosity and interest into the sex lives of our leaders.

The circumstances of the impeachment trials and the popularity of penetrating into the sex lives of the rich and famous have created an atmosphere in which Flynt’s tactics and behavior could prosper. Regardless of if you approve or disapprove of Flynt, you can not deny that Flynt’s spin on the impeachment reflects an element of voyeurism in the American public.

The Man Behind the Controversy

There is no question that Larry Flynt has influenced the integration of sex and politics. But who is the man behind these strategic moves, and why does he want to expose the sex lives of our leaders? Does Larry Flynt amplify the American Dream or is he just a con man out to make a buck? Is he a proponent of our Constitutional Rights or a proponent of smut? I believe that Larry Flynt is a bit of everything. America loves to hate him, but listens to him, and consequently he has had a huge impact in America. Whether we believe him or not he certainly has caught the American Public’s attention.

Larry Flynt has come a long way since his impoverished childhood in the hills of Kentucky (Flynt & Ross, 2). This multi-millionaire owns a vast empire as the sole owner of the Larry Flynt Publications (LFP Inc.). LFP Inc. publishes 32 monthly and commemorative publications with the total revenues estimated at $135 million and yearly profit amounts to $27 million. (Grover, 18 January 1999) It is hard to imagine that this porno mogul could have been so successful since he left school before finishing ninth grade. (Flynt & Ross, 15)

Although Larry Flynt may have come from meager beginnings, he has always demonstrated a keen wit for business. He ran a successful bootlegging business, before he had to run from the law due his illegal behavior. (Flynt & Ross, 22-23) He later started in the bar business. These grew into a national chain of strip clubs. Flynt distributed a flyer on the current strippers at his clubs. This flyer marked the beginning of Hustler. Flynt ended up selling his clubs and spent all his time and energy into Hustler. (Forman, 1996) His financial adventures have definitely paid off.

Not only has Flynt been revolutionary in the porn industry; he has being testing the meaning of "free speech" since he entered the publishing business. "He pushes the envelope, he stretches the limit of what can be displayed and sold over the counter." (Munro, 9 January 1999) His bold statements have been integrated throughout the history of Hustler. In his fourth issue, there were photographs of a woman’s pubic hairs dyed the patriot colors of red, white and blue. (Flynt & Ross, 89) He continued this controversial track with the proliferation of prejudice cartoons in Hustler. The photographs grew more and more explicit with his "pink shots" (graphic representations of the female genital). (Flynt & Ross, 91) In the 1975 August issue published nude pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (President J. F. Kennedy’s widow). (Lehrer, 8 February 1999) These radical choices helped Hustler to jump off the newsstands. Flynt was successful in delivering his porn to the demanding American public. This man knew what would sell. His shrewd business sense may be the motivation of his behavior. Business Week states,

"Flynt says the outings demonstrate his distaste for the hypocrisy of congressional Republicans. However, this is as much about promotion as politics. Flynt expects to spend $2 million to $3 million paying women who provided the leads his investigators followed. ‘We’ll make that back easily with The Flynt Report,’ he says. Moreover, he figures the rush of publicity will boost Hustler’s 750,000 circulation by 10% to 12%, at least temporarily. "And every percent is worth $40,000 [a month] to our bottom line’ of roughly $27 million."

(Grover, 18 January 1999)

Greed may be a motive for Larry Flynt as taken a vested interest in the hypocrisy of Republicans.

Larry Flynt is one sick man. He has to be. How else would a man be able to attract perverts coast to coast? Flynt has claimed to have his first sexual experience at age 7. This incestuous activity was with cousin almost twice his age. Two years later he confessed to raping a chicken. (Flynt & Ross, 10-12) This sex obsessed individual just escalated his obscene behavior from here. In the interest of decency, I will not divulge into any more examples of Flynt’s sex life, but note that if you can imagine it he has probably has done it.

"Flynt’s personal life-what the public has seen of it-has usually been good advertising for his business." (Munro, 9 January 1999) Not all of it has been pretty, but it has certainly helped his uneducated backwoods pornographer to capture the limelight. Flynt was hit by an assassin’s bullet on March 1978. (Flynt & Ross, 169-170) At the time the assailant was unknown, but later, a white supremacist confessed to shooting Flynt because he disagreed with inter-racial porn that he published. (Flynt & Ross, 259) This shot left Flynt paralyzed from the waist down. He could not use his legs, but he did maintain sensation. Unfortunately, his peripheral nerve damage invoked intense pain. (Flynt & Ross, 175) Although he does have sensation in his genitals and can achieve an erection with a penile implant, (Flynt & Ross, 258) the man who obsessed with sex could not achieve an erection on his own. The lack of mobility and the pain involve seriously limited his sex life. It is ironic that a man who success revolved around sex could not succeed at his own sex life.

Flynt’s pain and frustration led to a life of drug addiction. His fourth wife, Althea, followed in his destructive behavior. She became a drug addict and later developed AIDS. (Forman, 1996) She drowned with the help of a heroin overdose in the bathtub (Flynt & Ross, 254) at the tender age of 33. (Campbell, 17 Jan 1999) Flynt "true love" died, and with her death he lost faith. His aggressive behavior to expose the sex lives of others may be his yearning to make others as unhappy as he is. He claims to have the noble reasoning that he is acting on the behalf of the interest truth, but Flynt’s actions may because he is lashing out to make others feel the pain that he does.

Flynt’s motives are not as clear as he makes them out to be. His greed or vindictiveness that may be the basis of his actions rather then his admirable search to expose hypocrisy. I feel that Flynt yearns for power, and he will get it any way he can. Involvement in the impeachment trials compensated his desire for fame. American society is in awe of this controversial character. On one hand they hate him and every thing that he stands for; on the other they idolize him and wish they can be rich, powerful and famous. This reflects the status of our society. We have reached a collision of morals. No longer does the individual need respect or morals to embody the American hero.

Sex in Society

The interest in these discoveries shows that the American public wants to learn about their government officials' sex life. This is a fairly new engrossment of the public. For a long time, the American public and media covered up the indiscretions of government administrators, however now the status of politics and sex has changed.

Sex has long been seen as a taboo in society, yet we are all fascinated by it. Our country in engulfed in sex on an everyday level. From the movies to music, sexual topics radiate in to the mainstream. Almost every facet of commercial advertising markets sex. Let us face it, SEX SELLS! Sex is found in multi-levels of the media, so why has the distinction between sex in society and sex in politics been such an important one? Politics is based on traditional basis of our government. Politicians are elected to represent the public. In theory, they exemplify what American should be. In the past, out of respect, people did not want to know about the sex life of their leaders.

Thomas Jefferson, James Garfield, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are all presidents that were known to have affairs, (http://members.flyntdigital.com:8080/doc/flyntreport/) but they were not subject to the public’s intrigue as Clinton’s recent actions. People would not address these presidents' indiscretions since there was clearly a separation between professional and private careers.

Howard Kurtz discusses the changes of the press interest in the private lives of politicians. He notes that

"For the press, which was uninterested in sexual high jinks as recently as John Kennedy’s administration, change came slowly. It was a rare event in 1976 when The Washington Post reported that then — representative Wayne Hays was having an affair with a staffer, Elizabeth Ray, who famously declared she could not type. Hays decided to seek reelection three months later, citing ‘the harassment my family and I have taken from The Washington Post.’

In 1987, when five Miami Herald reporters staked out Gary Hart’s Washington town house, the resulting story about Hart and Donna Rice knocked him out of the presidential campaign. But five years later, candidate Bill Clinton survived the allegations of a long—term affair by a onetime lounge singer named Gennifer Flowers." (Kurtz, 20 December 1998)

The sex lives of politicians no longer represent a taboo in society. Presently journalists exploit the indiscretions of public officials across the mass media, and Flynt, a publisher, is able to influence of one of the most powerful politic systems in the world with his allegations.

This interest about the sex lives of our leaders demonstrates the integration of sex and politics in our society. We have become a society totally emerged and obsessed in sex. The sex lives of our leaders do not influence their capacity to govern. The reality of the situation is that the growing curiosity of the American people that propels the leap of private matters into public matters.

Larry Flynt's actions demonstrate how Americans are obsessed with sex and how politics are obsessed with power. The reason behind the prolonged partisan conflict during the impeachment trial was that that so many Republican politicians wanted to heard. They, like Larry Flynt, wanted their chance to gain the limelight. The mass media allowed them to become acclaimed, but only in the moment.

The driving force in politics has been ego. The idealistic sentiment to make change to enhance the whole is dead. We live in a capitalist society that values the individual and like wise the individual is out to make their position in society better. This attitude has allowed the mass media to support characters like Larry Flynt. Egoistic driven and power hungry individuals, like Larry Flynt, relish in the glory that the mass media gives them.

Larry Flynt reflects the state of sex and politics in American society. Obsession with sex and power has long plagued America. The retreating morals and the public disclosure of the immorality of our"most respected"leaders are personified in Larry Flynt.


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