BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The First Amendment entitles Larry Flynt to freedom of speech. It also entitles the rest of us to cover our ears.
When the Hustler magazine publisher declared his interest in buying the Cincinnati Reds this week (STORY), the prudent path was to ignore him, to dismiss it as another cheap publicity stunt by the cheapest publicity stuntman in America.
But here was the Sultan of Sleaze leading the 11 o'clock news, as if there were some shred of legitimacy to his latest scam. Larry Flynt has about as much chance of buying the local ballclub as he does of opening a porn shop at the Vatican. Statistically, this amounts to squat.
Someone at Channel 5 needs to learn the difference between news and noise, and the enduring value of credibility. My first impulse upon watching Thursday's lead story was to check the calendar to see if it was April 1. My second reaction was to reach for the remote control.
"I'm definitely capable financially of making the purchase," Flynt said Friday from his office in California. "I've made an overture that I'm interested, and I'm awaiting a response. If I can enter into something that's satisfactory to Marge (Schott), we'll move forward."
Goal is publicity
Larry Flynt has a genius for generating attention by making outlandish offers he fully expects to be refused. For decades, the Low Priest of Porn has been publishing an annual list of 10 women he would pay $1 million to pose distastefully nude for his magazine, a clever ploy which has generated great gobs of publicity and not a single photo session.
In 1976, Flynt's $1 million offer was made to such prim personalities as Caroline Kennedy, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Mary Tyler Moore and Barbara Walters. That same year, and in the same spirit, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels offered the Beatles $3,000 if they would reunite on his show.
Presumably, Larry Flynt would also be willing to pay $1 million for videotape of Bill Clinton's liasons with Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson's confession or Elvis' exclusive diary of the afterlife. The point is moot, as is Flynt's interest in the Reds.
First, the moralistic Marge Schott would have to agree to sell her shares to a man who once claimed to publish "the greatest sleaze porn in the world." Then, the prudish patricians in the Reds limited partnership would have to elect not to match Flynt's offer. Then, Flynt would have to gain approval by baseball's image-conscious owners.
A camel will negotiate the eye of a needle before Larry Flynt owns a big-league ballclub. Asked Friday if Flynt could finesse either the Reds limiteds or major-league owners, one Reds partner replied: "No and no."
"Knowing Marge as I did, she'd probably be more interested in selling to me than any of those pinheads who own (shares) in the Reds," Flynt said. "I tell you what, I could raise the ante and make them pay more for the team if they want to keep me out.
"I think they'd have a hard time not approving me. I might be a controversial individual, but I've never been convicted of a felony -- all my major legal cases have been reversed on appeal. They'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to refuse to let me be an owner."
No reasons needed
Here, the Prince of Prurience is playing coy. He has to know that the owners have no shortage of excellent reasons to exclude him from their shared enterprise. The baseball business is still predicated on bringing families to the ballpark, and Flynt is the antithesis of family values.
Spectators have come to expect game programs to carry a scorecard, not a centerfold. Baseball should be associated with apple pie, not edible underwear.
Moreover, the owners are not obligated to take Flynt seriously. They can reject him on a whim. Five years ago, they forced San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie to take $15 million less for his franchise rather than sell it to Florida interests.
Membership to this lodge remains a privilege. So far as baseball is concerned, Larry Flynt's rights don't outweigh his wrongs.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.