Flynt's criticism of Charleston newspapers puts First Amendment ignorance on display

jkidd@beaufortgazette.comMay 6, 2013 

To my knowledge, Larry Flynt did not try to purchase an endorsement advertisement in The Island Packet or The Beaufort Gazette for tomorrow’s 1st Congressional District special election. (And if you’re thinking of purchasing one, it’s too late — the deadline has passed and all endorsement letters have already been published.) I think I know what our answer would have been, but since neither I nor anyone else in the newsroom would have made that call, that would be conjecture and out of school.

What I can say definitively is that Flynt, publisher of the pornographic Hustler magazine, takes full advantage of the First Amendment, but apparently doesn’t understand it.

As the Packet and Gazette reported last week Flynt lashed out at two Charleston newspapers for refusing to run his advertisements “endorsing” Republican Mark Sanford in his race against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Bush.

Sanford dismissed the endorsement as “silly,” returned a campaign contribution from Flynt and called both attempts to embarrass him to the benefit of his opponent. (Say this for Flynt: He might not understand the First Amendment, but he understands how conservative voters are likely to respond to his “endorsement.”)

Flynt responded with (feigned?) indignity to two newspapers’ refusals thusly:

“I was surprised and dismayed that a distinguished newspaper like The (Charleston) Post and Courier decided to act as a censor and refused to publish my paid advertisement endorsing Mark Sanford for Congress,” Flynt said in a statement. “I was even more surprised when the publisher of the Charleston City Paper also refused my family friendly advertisement endorsing Mark Sanford. These newspapers’ shameful decisions to act as censors instead of voices of democracy damage their reputations as standard bearers of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.”

In an article, Charleston City Paper publisher Noel Mermer stood behind his right to refuse the ad.

“I was approached about running this ad by LFP, Inc. and rejected it on the grounds that I thought it was an inappropriate mockery of our local election,” says Mermer. “I knew it would garner a lot of press, but it wasn’t the kind I wanted us to be associated with.”

S.C. Press Association executive director Bill Rogers agreed.

“This is not a First Amendment issue,” Rogers told The Charleston City Paper, noting publishers regularly reject ads for reasons that include libel, obscenity and false information. “This is a decision by a publisher not to accept an ad that does not meet his or her publication standards.”

Moreover, to assert that an outlet that refuses to publish submitted content — whether advertising or editorial — violates someone else’s rights perverts the First Amendment. Freedom of the press protects us from government intereference and accrues to those who own presses.

We tend to be quite generous in publishing letters to the editor and comments on our website. But you have no more right to be published in the Packet, the Gazette — or Hustler, for that matter — than you do to come live in my house without my permission.

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