Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adventures of Larry Flynt

A Slap on the Wrist

Althea Leasure Flynt
Althea Leasure Flynt

At the trial, Jerry Falwell took the stand and portrayed himself as a deeply religious "teetotaler" with a kind and saintly mother. Questioned by Grutman, Falwell conveyed the suffering he had endured as a result of the Campari parody. Later in the trial, conservative United States Senator Jesse Helms testified as a character witness, calling Falwell a "moral exemplar."

When Flynt took the stand, his pain was under control and he was anything but the wild man he had been at his deposition, answering questions rationally and calmly. Isaacson asked him if it was his intention to damage Falwell with the Campari parody ad.

"If I wanted to hurt Reverend Falwell," Flynt testified, "we would do a serious article on the inside [of the magazine] and make it an investigative expose and talk about his jet or whether he has a Swiss bank account. If you really want to hurt someone, you print something that is believable."

In giving his instructions to the jury, the judge threw out the charge of illegal use of Falwell's name and image. The jury deliberated for only one day and came back with a split decision. While they found that the Campari parody had inflicted emotional damage on the plaintiff, it also found that the ad had not libeled Falwell. The jury awarded him $100,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

Flynt breathed a sign of relief. The fines were a "slap on the wrist" compared to what they could have been, and the amount was a drop in the bucket for the multi-millionaire publisher. But Flynt was more interested in the principle at stake, so he immediately appealed the decision, once again risking financial ruin in defense of his First Amendment rights.

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