Falwell v. Flynt: 1984
Flynt Duels With Lawyer
When it came time for Flynt to testify, he did so from the wheelchair to which he had been confined since 1978 when a would be assassin's bullet left him paralysed. Earlier, the defense failed in its attempt to suppress a foulmouthed videotaped deposition that Flynt had given to Grutman. That allowed the jury to see Flynt at his worst. Now they had the opportunity to observe the publisher in a far different light. Flynt protested that pain and medication had rendered the deposition meaningless: this, he assured the court, was the real him. "What," asked chief defense attorney Alan Isaacman, "was intended to be conveyed by the ad?"
Well, we wanted to poke fun at Campari … because the innuendoes that they had in their ads made you sort of confused as to if the person was talking about their first time as far as a sexual encounter or whether they were talking about their first time as far as drinking Campari. … They [the public] know that it was not intended to defame the Reverend Falwell, his mother, or any members of his family, because no one could take it seriously.
Isaacman explored whether Flynt had deliberately intended to damage Falwell's reputation by printing the satire.
Flynt scoffed. "If I really wanted to hurt Reverend Falwell, I would do a serious article on the inside … talk about his jet airplane or maybe Swiss bank accounts … I don't know if such accounts exist, but if you want to really hurt someone … you put down things that are believable. You don't put down things that are totally unbelievable."
The duel between Flynt and Grutman, neither of whom attempted to conceal their poor opinion of the other, was much awaited. They were old protagonists. Grutman had previously represented Penthouse magazine in an action against Flynt and lost. Here, as the two crossed swords, Judge James Turk several times had to defuse the rhetoric. But Grutman pounded away. "Mr. Flynt, have you ever said, 'Free expression is absolute?'"
"Yes, I believe free expression is absolute …"
"And "absolute' means that you can say whatever you want?"
"Yes," replied Flynt, adding coolly. "You want to bait me?"
Grutman shrugged off the taunt and played a televised interview in which Flynt charged that his deposition had been a parody of Grutman's conduct in this case. "Do you deny having said what appears to have been uttered by you, as it was shown on that video monitor?"
Flynt sighed. "Yes. It's very difficult to take you seriously."