Freedom of the Press and essay

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Authors Donald Lively and Russell Weaver describe Hustler Magazine as Falwell's "antagonist (p. 79)," no doubt representing for Falwell abuses of our Constitutional freedoms.

"In 1983, Hustler Magazine decided to parody Falwell using a Campari Liqueur advertisement. The actual Campari ads portrayed interviews with various celebrities about their 'first times.' Although the advertisement actually focused on the first time that the celebrities had sampled Campari, the ads portrayed the double entendre of the first time that the interviewees had engaged in sex. Hustler mimicked the Campari format and created a fictional interview with Falwell in which he stated that his 'first time' was during a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse (p. 79)."

The Oregon Commentator, May, 2007

There is probably no limit to the outrage that was felt by Falwell, and by his support base, both of which would have been offended, first, by using Falwell in any way to entertain the subscribers to Hustler Magazine. The image, however, depicts a relaxed, even family-like, photo of Falwell resting his chin on his hand. In the right-hand section of the ad, is the Campari Liqueur with glasses of presumably the alcohol in two of the ways it might be served, and then, at the left margin, the name "Campari," with the words, "You'll never forget your first time (the Oregon Commentator, 2007)." The page also contains a mock and fictitious interview with Falwell in which it is suggested that Falwell's "first time" was with his mother in an outhouse. The ad, taken as a whole, suggests that not only did Falwell have an incestuous encounter with his mother, but that he was "a hypocrite who preaches only when he is drunk (Lively and Weaver, p. 79)."

Our legal system sometimes eludes our own personal sense of dignity and moral values; and in this case Falwell could not sue Hustler for defamation, because that legal cause requires "a false assertion (p. 79)." At the bottom of the, Hustler covered itself using a disclaimer that read, "ad parody -- not to be taken seriously." Hustler, thereby, established its use of the inflammatory material as a parody, an abstract expression of its reaction to Jerry Falwell in his role as a champion of American faith, family, and tradition. It conveyed Hustler's idea that Falwell was flawed, human, and, horrifying as it might be to his support base, had originated from a sexual act, and ostensibly an act that required some sexual imagination and fantasy as might be depicted in the magazine. Also, that Falwell his self probably had sex, and perhaps even suggesting that Falwell could not attract the sensual, sexy women depicted in the magazine, and, therefore, would have sex with the one woman who truly loved him, despite his narrow-mindedness -- his mother.

Our legal system does, however, if one looks hard enough, offer a number of other ways to deal with this kind of inflammatory depiction. Falwell brought suit against Hustler Magazine and its owner/publisher, Larry Flynt, on grounds that the magazine had intentionally harmed him by inflicting upon him mental distress (p. 79). Indeed, one can easily concede that Falwell's distress was great given that his constituency was a post World War II public morality whose sensitivities were protected even by the television industry, which required its public television dramatizations of people in bedrooms, on beds, to have one foot out of the bed and on the floor (Chunovic, 2000, p. 17).

Falwell was successful in his suit, and a jury awarded him compensatory damages in the amount of $100,000, and punitive damages in the amount of $50,000 (Lively and Weaver, p. 79). It was not, of course, the financial win that Falwell was most interested in, but the win involving the control the decision exercised over freedom of the press and free speech when it came in conflict with the values and traditions of his constituency. The challenge was one that Flynt was not prepared to accept, and Hustler appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which delivered a blow to Falwell when it reversed the lower court, and issued the following opinion:

"In answering the question in the negative, the Court emphasized that the First Amendment emphasizes the 'fundamental importance' of allowing people to express themselves 'on matters of public interest and concern.' The Court also recognized that 'robust political debate' is likely to result in speech that is critical of public officials and public figures 'who are intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions, or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.' Moreover, those who comment on public affairs are generally against liability (p. 79)."

Other cases in American law have gained further ground and established precedents in protection of free speech and free press. The Supreme Court's decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (376 U.S. 254), set limits on the amounts that could be awarded to a public figure who successfully challenged the press for libel or defamation. Joining in their opinion, Justices Black and Douglas said:

"The half-million-dollar verdict does give dramatic proof, however, that state libel laws threaten the very existence of an American press virile enough to publish unpopular views on public affairs and bold enough to criticize the conduct of public officials. The factual background of this case emphasizes the imminence and enormity of that threat. One of the acute and highly emotional issues in this country arises out of efforts of many people, even including some public officials, to continue state-commanded segregation of races in the public schools and other public places, despite our several holdings that such a state practice is forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment. Montgomery is one of the localities in which widespread hostility to desegregation has been manifested. This hostility has sometimes extended itself to persons who favor desegregation, particularly to so-called "outside agitators," a term which can be made to fit papers like the Times, which is published in New York. The scarcity of testimony to show that Commissioner Sullivan suffered any actual damages at all suggests that these feelings of hostility had at least as much to do with rendition of this half-million-dollar verdict as did an appraisal of damages. Viewed realistically, this record lends support to an inference that instead of being damaged Commissioner Sullivan's political, social, and financial prestige has likely been enhanced by the Times' publication. Moreover, a second half-million-dollar libel verdict against the Times based on the same advertisement has already been awarded to another Commissioner. There a jury again gave the full amount claimed. There is no reason to believe that there are not more such huge verdicts lurking just around the corner for the Times or any other newspaper or broadcaster which [295] might dare to criticize public officials. In fact, briefs before us show that in Alabama there are now pending eleven libel suits by local and state officials against the Times seeking $5,600,000, and five such suits against the Columbia Broadcasting System seeking $1,700,000. Moreover, this technique for harassing and punishing a free press -- now that it has been shown to be possible -- is by no means limited to cases with racial overtones; it can be used in other fields where public feelings may make local as well as out-of-state newspapers easy prey for libel verdict seekers (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 2010, found online)."

The decision not only supports freedom of speech and the press, but it causes the public official or person whose fame or celebrity is used to shape public policy, or, indeed, who might be responsible for the behavior of individuals working under them to enforce or carry out public policy, to accept their role in the public light as a precarious one in terms of how their role might be perceived by the public or interpreted and described by the press.

Silencing Free Speech and Press

When Bill Clinton ran for the office of president, he ran as the model of American family values. In that effort, his daughter, Chelsea, was visible during his campaign, completing the picture of the ideal American family. However, later, after Clinton was elected president, the Clintons issued a directive that their daughter, Chelsea, would be off-limits to journalists (U.S. News and World Report, 1996, p. 32). While American values had evolved such that film, television, and other media are more sexually explicit than they were in the mid twentieth century, and especially in the early 20th century; the press respected the Clinton's wishes. Of course, any member of the press with a White House press pass would, because not to do so could impact that journalist's work. Perhaps they would be overlooked during eventful news conferences, or would not be called "off the record" for breaking stories or insight to existing news reports. Additionally, journalists seemed to have a conscience where Chelsea Clinton was concerned. She was an awkward and not very…[continue]

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