When a dozen people, including 11 staffers, were gunned down at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this month, Larry Flynt, like many people, was shocked. But the iconoclastic publisher said he was more stunned by what he referred to as cowardice among several American media outlets in the wake of the tragedy.
“I was even more shocked that the mainstream media would fail to support [Charlie Hebdo],” Flynt said in a phone interview from his home. He was referencing the decision made by outlets such as CNN and The New York Times refusing to show the French publication’s most recent cover, which features an illustrated representation of the Prophet Muhammad.
“I thought that was just so spineless,” Flynt told the Scripps National Desk on Thursday. “They forgot the very basic principles of satire.”
The 72-year-old founder of Hustler magazine, published by Beverly Hills-based Larry Flynt Publications, knows first-hand what it’s like to be attacked over free speech. In 1978, Flynt was shot by a man who was reportedly upset over a Hustler pictorial that involved interracial sex. He’s been paralyzed from the waist down since the shooting.
“I was shot because somebody disagreed with what I was publishing in Hustler,” he said. “Freedom of speech isn’t free.”
In 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Flynt’s magazine when it was sued by Jerry Falwell after a satirical advertisement featuring the famous pastor was included in a 1983 issue. He said that decision is what media companies who refused to run the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoon are ignoring.
“My God, offensive cartoons are what free speech is all about,” Flynt said. “It’s only important if it’s offensive. Freedom of expression is something that cannot be taken for granted.”
When asked if he would object to Hustler printing a cartoon that included an image of Muhammad, he didn’t flinch. “We’re an equal-opportunity offender. We do a lot of satire and parody,” he said. “The only thing that’s off-limits is pedophilia. We don’t violate the rights of someone who’s not old enough to speak for themselves.”
In talking about today’s free speech climate, he said, “People are definitely more uptight today.” Flynt also emphasized, “The world needs cartoonists and editorial writers.”
Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.