Flynt: A Media Hustler

Matt O'Conner
Every day, metal once used to store radioactive waste is sent to scrap-metal dealers and recycled into items you and your family use. It could be in your frying pan, your belt buckle, your dog's collar or even the braces on your child's teeth.

This isn't a wild charge; it's common knowledge among those in the metal industry. It's also common knowledge in the scientific community that prolonged exposure — for example, two years of wearing braces — to irradiated agents can contribute to cancer.

Seems like a story the major newspapers and news magazines would jump all over.

Yet, you didn't read about the possibility of contaminated metal being placed in your child's mouth in Time or Newsweek or hear about it on your local evening news. The mainstream media didn't want to touch the story. Instead, exposing the nuclear industry's dirty little secret was left to an unlikely source — Hustler magazine.

As subscribers to "America's magazine" already know (and the uninitiated would be surprised to discover), sandwiched between Hustler's raunchy cartoons and raunchier pictorials is some of America's finest investigative journalism.

In an age of lifestyle-oriented, entertainment-driven, celebrity-fixated media — when mainstream news organizations shy away from stories that might upset corporate interests — Hustler is one of the few magazines willing and able to cover stories that otherwise might get buried.

Among other stories Hustler has broken over the past few years, the magazine uncovered the truth about a contamination disaster at a Colorado nuclear weapons plant, questionable connections between the Bush family and Saudi royals and the military's use of depleted uranium and its effects on U.S. soldiers.

Story Picked Up Steam
In the 1990s, iconic publisher Larry Flynt hired reporter Dan Moldea to uncover the extramarital affairs of Republican politicians pushing for the impeachment of President Clinton. Soon after, Flynt called a press conference to announce the initial finding, and Bob Livingston, speaker-designate of the U.S. House of Representatives, resigned. The story was quickly picked up by the mainstream media and is largely credited with shutting down the Republican witch-hunt against President Clinton.

How did a magazine with a monthly section called Beaver Hunt, a magazine the publisher himself proudly calls smut, become a vanguard of investigative journalism?

"First of all," Hustler Editorial Director Bruce David tells XBiz, "Hustler magazine is Hustler magazine because Larry Flynt is a champion of truth and the First Amendment. He brings a no-bullshit, no-pretense attitude and encourages us to deflate the establishment.

"Secondly, we're in a unique position because we're not beholden to any mainstream advertisers. Our advertisers sell dildos and X-rated tapes, and don't care if we make Bush the 'Asshole of the Month.'"

While David may be understating his own role in Hustler's editorial achievements, you cannot overstate Flynt's.

Let's recognize one thing from the start: The man does not need to publish controversial stories. He doesn't need to take on the World Trade Organization, Big Oil and the White House. Larry Flynt is a rich man who oversees an entertainment empire that includes movies, retail stores, clubs, a casino and more than 30 magazines. His office is replete with bronze sculptures, Tiffany lamps and thick tapestry curtains. His wheelchair is plated in gold. Flynt's life would likely be a lot easier if he stuck to tits and ass and dirty jokes.

So why does he do print stories he knows are going to get powerful people angry? At the risk of sounding cheesy, Larry Flynt cares.

"Apathy is the biggest threat to democracy," Flynt tells XBiz. "The mainstream press is not doing their job. They wimped out on coverage of the political scene and especially the war."

Today, only five companies control most U.S. media. It's a situation Flynt sees as dangerous because these companies have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They are intimately tied to the government and dedicated to protecting their own wealth. Self-censorship is only natural within such a system; media outlets must avoid stories that undermine corporate interests.

Flynt learned that the hard way when he attempted to launch a general-interest news magazine in the 1970s. Called Rebel, the magazine was intended to compete with Time and Newsweek. Flynt invested several million dollars in the venture and assembled a first-rate staff.

"[Rebel] took an old-bard approach to editorial," Flynt tells XBiz. "If Ford made a bad car or food was contaminated, we reported it. But when you go attacking Fortune 500 companies, your advertising dries up fast. A [general-interest news] magazine that's true to itself and its readers will lose money."

Since Hustler is free of the restraints that sank Rebel magazine, Flynt feels he owes it to the magazine's readers to publish stories no one else will touch, no matter how many people he pisses off or how much trouble it gets him into.

"We use sex and humor to sell the magazine, but we still try to give readers what they need to know, to expose the hypocrisy taking place across party lines," Flynt says. "Hustler readers are extremely loyal. We try to do things for them that the mainstream press doesn't do enough of."

Adds Davis: "We reach working-class people, those who most need to be reached, giving news and information to people who wouldn't get it otherwise. It's shocking that it falls on us to do it."

If others aren't shocked that Hustler has taken up the torch of investigative journalism, they at least are taking notice.

On one side are award-winning journalists, academics and whistle blowers who turn to Hustler when no one else has the courage to give voice to their stories. They include people like BBC reporter Greg Palast, who brought to light racist scheming in the 2000 Florida election scandal; Dr. Helen Caldicott, who exposed the military's illegal use of depleted uranium during the Persian Gulf War; and international banker John Perkins, who revealed how he worked for 20 years on behalf of the United States to strap underdeveloped nations with insurmountable debts and promote unfair trade.

The Foes
On the other side are all the people who would like to see Hustler shut down and shut up. For example, after Moldea's revelations about adulterous Republican congressmen came to light, Republican National Committee Chairman James Nicholson petitioned the Justice Department to charge Flynt with the felony of obstructing Congress. Then came the war in Iraq, where, despite the widespread use of embedded reporters, Hustler was denied the privilege of placing a writer among troops. And according to the nonpartisan Censorship Project, Hustler's story on depleted uranium was one of the 25 most censored articles of 2004.

The website, run by a group called Feminists Uncovering Censorship Knowledgeably, exists for no other reason than to discredit Hustler, its stories and its interview subjects. According to one entry on the site, Hustler duped Noam Chomsky into appearing in the magazine. Keep in mind that Chomsky is widely regarded as being one of the most brilliant thinkers alive. But somehow, according to FUCK, Hustler hustled him.

"They are actively intimidating people from appearing in the magazine," David says of the outrageous charges.

Flynt seems neither surprised nor particularly troubled by such attempts to stifle Hustler's contributors and attack the character of it subjects, choosing instead to take a broader, historical view.

"In medieval times, information was controlled by the church and the state, and it was easy to control the people," he says. "Over time, because of everything from the Gutenberg Press to the Internet, it got harder for people in power to prevent information from getting out. There's so much [information] out there that the government wants to control — they are sticking their fingers in so many dikes trying to stop it from getting out."

Flynt gets a glimmer in his eye and the hint of a smile on his face when he says this, as if he finds the idea silly. Joke's on them.

"With the Internet and so many ways to communicate, the elite can no longer control people by controlling information," he adds.

Maybe Flynt is right. Maybe Big Business and Big Government are losing their stranglehold on the media. And there may in fact be a day when the truth flows freely over the Internet. In the meantime, there's always Hustler.