May 20, 2007

Flynt On Falwell

Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, writes a remembrance of the odd friendship that he shared with the founder of Moral Majority, Rev. Jerry Falwell. His recollections should remind us that the personal and the political need not become inseparable. The story picks up after their joint appearance on the Larry King show, when Flynt had prevailed in a libel lawsuit:

I was in my office in Beverly Hills, and out of nowhere my secretary buzzes me, saying, "Jerry Falwell is here to see you." I was shocked, but I said, "Send him in." We talked for two hours, with the latest issues of Hustler neatly stacked on my desk in front of him. He suggested that we go around the country debating, and I agreed. We went to colleges, debating moral issues and 1st Amendment issues — what's "proper," what's not and why.

In the years that followed and up until his death, he'd come to see me every time he was in California. We'd have interesting philosophical conversations. We'd exchange personal Christmas cards. He'd show me pictures of his grandchildren. I was with him in Florida once when he complained about his health and his weight, so I suggested that he go on a diet that had worked for me. I faxed a copy to his wife when I got back home.

The truth is, the reverend and I had a lot in common. He was from Virginia, and I was from Kentucky. His father had been a bootlegger, and I had been one too in my 20s before I went into the Navy. We steered our conversations away from politics, but religion was within bounds. He wanted to save me and was determined to get me out of "the business."

My mother always told me that no matter how repugnant you find a person, when you meet them face to face you will always find something about them to like. The more I got to know Falwell, the more I began to see that his public portrayals were caricatures of himself. There was a dichotomy between the real Falwell and the one he showed the public.

This is the danger of judging people strictly on their public policy stands. Too often, policy debates get cast in terms of evil and criminality, and that approach too often dehumanizes people. Flynt got a chance to meet the real Jerry Falwell, and found a friend, even though Flynt disagreed with him on most every topic they discussed.

I've refrained from giving my personal opinion about Falwell out of respect for his family, friends, and followers, but the time seems right to discuss it now. I have always been conflicted about Falwell. I admired him for speaking on behalf of the values of millions of ordinary Americans about the degradation of the culture, even when I thought he went too far. He brought a clear voice to the fight against moral relativism, and at the same time allowed people of faith to argue for their values in the political square. He didn't want a theocracy, no matter what some of his critics conjured in their fevered imaginations, but Falwell wanted to make clear that values have a place in democratic political environments.

Unfortunately, Falwell too often took the easy and dehumanizing path himself. He notoriously blamed the 9/11 attacks on gays and lesbians invoking the wrath of God, for which he rightly apologized later. He referred to Ellen DeGeneres as "Ellen Degenerate" after she revealed her sexual orientation and tried to work it into her sitcom at the time. For that, he received well-deserved criticism and eventually a degree of marginalization. Calling people playground names and blaming an act of terrorism on one's domestic political opponents are foolish, immature, and ultimately self-limiting mistakes.

They do not amount to evil, though, and the gloating among some Internet commentators was far more vile. Falwell tried his best to argue for his beliefs and to work for the good of his community. He made plenty of mistakes, for which he should be held accountable, but they do not amount to evil by any stretch of the word -- and coming from moral relativists, the accusation is more laughable than offensive.

Falwell leaves behind a conflicted legacy, at once audacious and historic as well as needlessly divisive and cautionary. He will fascinate historians of later generations, and fascinated analysts of his own.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Flynt On Falwell:

» How To Eulogize Your Enemy from Outside The Beltway | OTB
Predictable though it was, the tidal wave of vitriol that has followed Jerry Falwell’s death earlier this week has been truly disgusting. De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum? Forget about it. The death of a public figure now serves only to underscore th... [Read More]

» Can sixteen moral degenerates run a major news network? from Prose Before Hos
Liberal outrage: Liberals hate families. Liberals hate conservatives who love families. And when you aren’t looking, the liberal communist feminist minority gay jew alliance will come into your house and turn your children into interracial... [Read More]

Comments (15)

Posted by Lew | May 20, 2007 2:54 PM

Jerry Falwell represents so many ideas on public conduct that one hardly knows where to begin, but two come immediately to mind.

First, Jerry Falwell and a few likeminded contemporaries literally forced the issue of faith onto the public agenda with his proclaimation of the notion of a "Moral Majority" as a political reality. Before that time, religion was merely a footnote that a candidate had to explain on the way to dinner like JFK's one sentence burial of the issue in 1960. Jerry Falwell made the very existance of faith an unavoidable part of every discussion about every issue on the public agenda, and as Mitt Romney can testify we are still thrashing about trying to deal with it to this day.

The second notion that Jerry Falwell brings to the table is the idea that none of us has the capacity to peer into anyone else's soul. We may, and I would assert we must, pass judgement on the acts of our fellows in this life but we may not and can not pass judgement on the person themselves. Jerry's failures, like all of ours, often came back to our inability to remember that duty when the case was so loaded with passionate certainty that emotion drove a response that later seemed ill conceived.

The relationship between Falwell and Flynt has many parallels in history and rings true to both men in retrospect. It also speaks much more kindly to both of them than any of us would have expected. Maybe that says somethng about all of us that bear's thinking about?

Posted by Casey | May 20, 2007 3:49 PM

Both Falwell and Flynt were great exploitive opportunists. It does not surprise me all that much that they would find things in common. Under the surface political differences there's always what kind of person you are morally that matters more.

Posted by Jeanette | May 20, 2007 4:01 PM

I never paid attention to Falwell politically. As a Baptist I did watch his church services years ago and found a minister who preached the Word of God whether modern man liked it or not. If God said something was wrong a million years ago He still means it's wrong.

People don't understand that and want to belong to the church of what makes you feel good, regardless of what God has to say on the topic.

I found him to be a great preacher, and the kind look on his face, always smiling with a twinkle in his eye showed he was at peace with himself and with God.

He never condemned the sinner, but he did condemn the sin and that's what made people uncomfortable with him, but he was true to the teachings of the Bible and has earned his reward in Heaven for it.

Posted by Monkei | May 20, 2007 4:10 PM

God's Speed Jerry Falwell ... I think you will need it.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | May 20, 2007 4:51 PM

This is the danger of judging people strictly on their public policy stands.

For all the warmth and goodness Falwell's personal friends describe, the man will be remembered by his own self-made image, the one he projected upon the world: callous, judgmental, bullying, and above all, calculating.

As for his infamous words after 9/11, "but he said sorry!" won't cut it. Falwell had a knack for saying things he'd later retract, understanding the public's propensity to forget. But, as they say, words mean things, and Falwell often meant what he said.

I don't gloat over his death, and his presence will be missed by those around him. But I don't believe he left America better than how he found it.


Posted by Carol Herman | May 20, 2007 6:01 PM

HINT: Both men had empires. Flynt, his readership. I gather you can still buy Hustler. And, Jerry Falwell had his "liberty enterprise." Which I'm not so sure did as well, towards the end; as it had done in its hayday.

And, the idea of debating your oponent goes back to Lincoln. Who turned it into a HIGH ART OF GAINING NATIONAL RECOGNITION. Here? Just one of those things that "happen" down on college campuses.

Mort Sahl found that mother lode, after the IRS went after his career. His wonderful comedy got too close to those in power. Think "Nixon."

Afterward? Mort Sahl and Eugene McCarthy, not only became friends, they did a wonderful comedy album, together. Around 1992? Certainly easy stuff for anyone with a sense of humor.

But IF Falwell carried his mission into the stratosphere of bucks, It's also true that places like that absorb money like sponges. And, in time?

Well, here's a business lesson for ya: IF you can't replace "lost" customers; either because they grow up and go away; so you need the group that's very young, to apply. Or you just run out of your customer base. Eventually, you'll fall short in making sales.

Yes, this is very complex.

But th3e GOP didn't have the problems it has today, when Reagan was President. And, Reagan's reputation shined thru the dozen years of his Alzheimer's decline. Yes. This caught our press by surprise.

But it's good to remember we're in a free country.

And, if you had to decide just what it is that you're watching ... You'd get to pick from the view that you're happy. Nothing else matters.

Or, that the GOP is tanking. Yet not short of older white men. Shorter, however, of making an impact in what exists, here, in America. ACROSS THE BOARD.

I don't know about Hustler. But you wouldn't surprise me to say it reaches many groups, whites and blacks, from old to young. Who buy the magazine. (The same is true with Oprah. Just in case you think only blacks buy her stuff, that's not true. She's rather good "across the board.")

Toothpastes. Boxes of cereal. Cake mixes. Colas. All of them market themsleves into as many different groups as they can. (Oh, and they use other languages, including Spanish. Right here in American markets.)

Yes, we're a huge Country. If you just stared down from the North Pole, you'd see how there's Russia, off to the side. There's Alaska, with Canada, and then us. And, then the Hawaian dots in the Pacific. This is a HUGE SWATH of territory!

Now, try to figure out why the GOP is on a bender, going down, when it comes to getting ideas that gain traction and support.

Because the problem is right there.

Can Jerry Falwell's empire met days were it wasn't as strong as it was, when it was able to grab political reigns? Yeah. I think that's true.

That Larry Flynt is a businessman? Yes. I think that's true. That it has to do with naked women, and photos of parts that usually never get seen? And, when they're seen in a hospital setting, you're shaved "down there?" Yes. I think that's true.

But Larry Flynt sells his stuff. Or, as he said, look at all those copies of the latest issue that were on his desk. And, no. The insides didn't look like medical textbooks. They get air brushed. Where it's hard to tell the implants from the real deal.

But for magazines, there's a market.

For religion? Funny thing. In every college campus venue, when these men went to debate; the kids could have come from the religious right. But then? They'd be exposed to Larry Flynt's stuff!

Larry Flynt's stuff? Gets around. In a market place where he has to vie it out with Playboy, I guess?

But those lectures? Didn't make it to national attention.

What the press got here is a man's views; during obituary season. Which shows ya that you can have interesting philosophical talks. As long as you also throw in the cha-cha-cha.

Monkeys for zoos. And, clowns for circuses.

While in politics? FDR played HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, from the Great Depression, into WW2. He never thought he had to change the music.

And, the GOP, now has real problems. Because Bush made a few mistakes. No photo oportunity ahead is gonna correct it.

While one good article I read has all the 8 candidates vying for George Allen awards. As if there are now straight jackets out there. And, the white guys in the GOP are forced into them.

Have you every asked yourselves "why?"

Posted by mrlynn | May 20, 2007 7:05 PM

I come from a liberal Democratic background, and so even when I became conservative always thought of Rev. Falwell and televangelism in general is just plan tacky.

But in point of fact Rev. Falwell consistently pointed out what was happening in secular, immoral America, where (in Moynihan's seminal phrase) we have been busily "defining deviancy down" for decades now.

Ultimately perversion and degeneracy of any sort are destructive of character, and character, is the keystone of the arch supported by freedom and democracy; without character, there neither can survive. Rev. Fallwell understood that, better than I did.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by mrlynn | May 20, 2007 7:09 PM

I come from a liberal Democratic background, and so even when I became conservative always thought of Rev. Falwell and televangelism in general is just plain tacky.

But in point of fact Rev. Falwell consistently pointed out what was happening in secular, immoral America, where (in Moynihan's seminal phrase) we have been busily "defining deviancy down" for decades now.

Ultimately perversion and degeneracy of any sort are destructive of character, and character is the keystone of the arch supported by freedom and democracy; without character, neither can survive. Rev. Fallwell understood that, better than I did.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Jason | May 20, 2007 7:30 PM

Wow, even here - and several days after his death - people still say vicious, mean-spirited things about Rev. Falwell. I'm reminded of a great saying. You may have read it before.

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first."

I've little doubt that those words - spoken by Jesus - were not often far from Rev. Falwell's mind.

And let's be a little more accurate with our information, Ed, here's the full quote from Falwell regarding 9/11:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

He didn't just blame gays and he didn't blame them first. I think it's unfortunate that he backed down after criticism from people who don't understand a dang thing about Christian beliefs. For those of us who know the history of the nation of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament, we know that calamity always follows rebellion from God. How many times were the Israelites handed over by God to their enemies hands because of the ancient version of "pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle?" Or the ancient people who were trying to secularize Israel? I don't disagree with Rev. Falwell on that statement, but I wish he'd have gone farther, saying that it is also the fault of lukewarm, weekend Christians - which it is.

Posted by Carol Herman | May 20, 2007 8:27 PM

Well, if you go into a public forum, Jason, you'll hear free flowing conversation. It's not a "wow" aren't people mean, experience. It's just that you'll pick up divergent thoughts.

And, Jerry Falwell was also a businessman. So, what you begin with, is a piece (that also shows up on Drudge), where Larry Flynt said Jerry Falwell came to his office.

IF the reason was to "save" him, Falwell failed. If the reasons, however, involved going out and debating each other. Then Falwell was successful. Since Flynt says they visited college campuses. And, debated the "finer points of free speech." And, I'm sure, "getting saved."

What did you want? A song and dance that says "Thanks for the memories?"

No. Israelis don't owe anyone else in this world explanations for the views they hold. The tOld Testament, when they are "explained" by Christians, misses the point. Rabbis have written and created both the Mishna and the Gamarrah. The second selection is known as the Talmud. And, it's one of the arts of splitting hairs.

Richard Feynman, who tried to show some orthodox Jews a way they could use elevators on Shabbat; (by building a bridge to contain the spark) that happens when you "press the button" ... so the elevators would work, anyway; only said "don't get started arguing with rabbis. They are trained to do it. And, they beat ya at it every time.

While Lewis Black also riffs on this subject. And, yes. It's funny. Jews are allowed to question. And, to laugh.

As to erasing history? I doubt it.

But what comes next?

I keep thinking in the miracle department, Israel survives. And, does so against great odds.

It's also such a pleasure to see Olmert still in the prime ministers seat; when evil men from James Baker, to all sorts of media hypers, kept trying to bring him down. For what? So Bibi can come into the prime minister's chair? Without elections?

Today, he wants to be a landlord. He wants to shut the water to gaza off; you call this smart?

I call the whole thing one big charade.

And, perhaps in the future, the way religions raise money will change? Organizations don't always make the profits you think they do. And, sometimes, if they build big? They end up having to worry about what to do when the bills come in.

I'm told praying, here, isn't all that advantageous. If it were, nice people would win lotteries. And, the distribution of wealth would be better.

By the way, Falwell was very personable. And, that's true about lots of people who meet the public, through the public eye.

As to the handicaps to the GOP through the blue-noses; you either see the problem. Or you don't. But one of the advantages the Ma and Pa Kettle Show has, is that today's youth aren't buying into prohibitions on abortions, among other religious messages that seem to be falling on deaf ears. To each his own.

Posted by Lyle | May 20, 2007 8:39 PM

Jason, just because the world hated Christ doesn't mean that all hated persons are therefore Christlike. The world also hated Idi Amin.

Whenever I read or heard one of Falwell's condemnations, I was reminded of a great saying. "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
But it seems that you and Falwell rather preferred judgement to forgiveness.

Sure, you might be right about the God of the Jews wreaking calamity on his people for their disobedience. And maybe you should be concerned about the atheists, abortionists, feminists and homosexuals in Israel now, particularly if you are a fundamentalist Jew. But the central tenet of Christianity is that Christ made the ultimate sacrifice to forgive all sin, even for the pagans and abortionists and adulterers and prostitutes and tax collectors who had not yet been born. By repeatedly returning to the fire and brimstone destruction in Jewish history, and by insisting that God wants to do the same to you and me today, you are rejecting Christ and his sacrifice, and that is blasphemy.

Posted by Jason | May 20, 2007 8:47 PM

Hey, Lyle. Try reading the verses after Matthew 7:1. Please stop taking one little verse out of context.

Posted by Casey | May 20, 2007 9:15 PM

Jason -
Speaking as a member of the group that Falwell did name in his tirade "pagans" I think that I have every right to condemn what Falwell said. How is blaming 9/11 on a religious group aka "Pagans" aka "Wiccans" in any way acceptable discourse in America? He could have just as easily have blamed it on the Jews with his reasoning and would have been condemned to high heaven for it. The only reason he wasn't condemned for the "pagans" remark as well as the "gays" is that the msm doesn't really know much about Wicca yet and didn't catch that he was actually blaming a religious minority for the attacks. There's nothing more reprehensible than that in public dialog. It should be shunned. It was this that offended me even more than the gay bashing in what he said. So I don't really think you have a leg to stand on in your argument about his ordering. I think that he was actually being more disgusting with the group he chose to blame first for the attacks. I was blamed for 9/11 by him becuase I choose to worship my god differently. Thats really filthy and obscene. Falwell and Flynt had plenty in common.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | May 20, 2007 9:47 PM

And If God brings such retributation to the unChristian, why hasn't he sent a few hurricanes down Holland's way? Instead, He sees it fit to regularly punish the Gulf Coast.

Serious people do not imagine disasters, natural and otherwise, to be the Will of God. Otherwise, you have to come to the conclusion that His attempts at punishment are extremely ham-fisted, ineffective and cruel.


Posted by John in Nashville | May 21, 2007 3:00 AM

It is unsurprising that Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt developed a friendship. The two had much in common.

Each is/was a huckster with his own constituency of patrons: Flynt has the purchasers of his magazine, (who enjoy portrayals of sexual conduct as something vulgar and nasty,) and Falwell, had his congregants and contributors (who enjoyed (other people's) sexual conduct being portrayed as something vulgar and nasty).

Flynt curried his patrons' favor by bashing Falwell, who in turn curried his patrons' favor by bashing Flynt.

Flynt exploits libertines for financial gain. Falwell exploited prudes for financial gain. (Who but a major league prude would give a flying fip about what Tinky Winky does with the genitalia that it does not have?) Each man's patrons made his champion rich. Each group of patrons regarded the other group as ignoble.

The essence of the Flynt/Falwell brand of hucksterism is captured in President Lyndon Johnson's explanation of the appeal of racial demagogy: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

Larry Flynt gives libertines the prudes to look down on. Jerry Falwell, before Satan called him home, gave prudes the libertines to look down on. Both groups emptied their pockets in response to their champions' hateful schtick.