Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt
with a special introduction by Alan Dershowitz
Imagine your reaction if you were to open the pages of a nationally circulated magazine to find yourself portrayed as a drunk having sex with your mother in an outhouse. It is not surprising that the Reverend Jerry Falwell was outraged when he saw Hustler magazine's parody of the popular Campari ad in which he described "his first time." Nor is it surprising that that a Virginia jury awarded Falwell $200,000 for the emotional distress he suffered.
What is surprising is that a unanimous Supreme Court - in an opinion written by its most conservative member, Chief Justice Rehnquist - ruled that the First Amendment fully protects Hustler's gross and offensive parody, irrespective of how much intentional distress its publisher intended or caused. Rehnquist candidly acknowledged that he would have preferred to find a rule that protected only the sort of reasonable political cartoons that appear in our daily newspapers, while condemning the kind of gross distortions Hustler publishes. But he doubted whether a court could devise any standard or rule for distinguishing the reasonable from the gross.
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